Steering a ship called life
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.