Steer­ing a ship called life

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG - By EMMA DAI in Hong Kong em­madai@chi­nadai­

Hel­muth Hen­nig, whose fa­ther and grand­fa­ther were both sea­men and also built ca­reers with Jeb­sen, has in­her­ited the fam­ily pas­sion for the ocean.

Ev­ery other week­end, Hen­nig jumps onto his 15-me­ter­long per­for­mance cruiser, Vineta, catches the wind and sails to­ward the open seas.

“Sail­ing is what I en­joy the most among many other things,” Hen­nig said. “Hong Kong is a very good place to sail. The wa­ter is close and there are very ac­tive rac­ing schemes to Hainan Is­land, Viet­nam and the Philip­pines as well.”

Last year, Hen­nig took his boat to the Philip­pines, three to four days’ sail­ing from Hong Kong, and had a pri­vate va­ca­tion with his three daugh­ters there. “We sailed from is­land to is­land, stay­ing in the bays, cook­ing. It was very nice, a bit hot, but a lot of fun,” he re­called.

On­board with a team of 10 to 12, Hen­nig said sail­ing on the ocean throws up the same chal­lenges as run­ning a busi­ness. “It’s about team­work, prepa­ra­tion and ex­e­cu­tion, and hope­fully achiev­ing the tar­get at the end.”

“Oc­ca­sion­ally things do go wrong. Boats can sink in the waves (en route) to Viet­nam,” he said. The best way to weather the storm and all other ac­ci­dents is to face them, un­der­stand the risks and get pre­pared. “Then, if the weather does go wrong, at least you have a very good chance of get­ting through it with­out a scratch.”

“It re­quires a lot of ef­fort,” Hen­nig said. “But if things work well, you would feel good about it.”

Af­ter join­ing Jeb­sen Group “un­in­ten­tion­ally” in the early 1980s as an as­sis­tant man­ager for its ship­ping di­vi­sion, Hen­nig wit­nessed the trans­for­ma­tion of the group and has been at the helm since 2000. For him, the key to mak­ing a busi­ness last for­ever is to be open at all times.

“As an or­ga­ni­za­tion we have to be adapt­able. The only way to adapt is by keep­ing your­self open to change, be will­ing to see things around you de­velop and move (with the times),” Hen­nig said. “Maybe things you thought were cor­rect five years ago have moved in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. If you don’t have that will­ing­ness to open your eyes and rec­og­nize that, it’s go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult.”

“The pace of change has been re­mark­able in our core mar­ket. At the same time, the fam­ily share­hold­ers al­low the man­age­ment team a lot of free­dom to de­velop the busi­ness,” he ex­plained. “It’s not easy to move the busi­ness for­ward, (a busi­ness) which is over a hun­dred years old. It takes a lot to move the goal­posts and get peo­ple to un­der­stand things are shift­ing. But once we have got that mo­men­tum, it be­comes a very in­ter­est­ing jour­ney,” he added.

View­ing books as es­capism, Hen­nig has lit­tle faith in man­age­ment guides but is a fan of the his­tor­i­cal novel, as they are “an eas­ier way to di­gest history”.

He is cur­rently read­ing The Moor’s Ac­count, by Laila Lalami, a book about the Span­ish con­quis­ta­dores’ dis­cov­ery of South Amer­ica.

“I’m in the mid­dle of the book. The Span­ish are dy­ing like flies and the In­di­ans are win­ning. It’s a true and very in­ter­est­ing story.”


Hel­muth Hen­nig, who has in­her­ited the fam­ily pas­sion for sail­ing from his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther, be­lieves it throws up the same chal­lenges as run­ning a busi­ness, as it is all about team­work, prepa­ra­tion and ex­e­cu­tion, with a tar­get to be reached at the end.

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