Cover Story

Dynamic Downunder

Sydney, Australia

Eleven years after its establishment, GAC Australia is now one of the Group’s solid, profit-making performers.

“There’s a strong sense for what is commercially viable and the courage to pass on non-viable opportunities. The company has been willing to expand into new service areas such as logistics. This is already making a good contribution to the company result. High levels of GAC spirit and a commitment to taking care of staff and investing in their development has proved its worth.”
Lars Bergström, Group Vice President for Asia Pacific

Scott Henderson

Scott Henderson has been with GAC Australia since the start, and he took over as MD in 2014. He gave us his take on what is behind the company’s success.

Where did GAC Australia stand five years ago?

Back then, the company had raised staff numbers from 25 in 2007 to 50. In October 2013, we secured the agency contract for Mitsui OSK (our largest customer in terms of volume with more than 1,000 port calls per year) and that enabled us to boost our staff by another 12.

Where do you stand now?

We’ve seen steady growth. We didn’t see any huge contracts until we recently secured the Ocean Network Express (ONE) agency contract. But we picked up a lot of small contracts from owners and charterers.

There’s been a big increase in business for our offices at Gladstone and Dampier as a direct result of the rapid expansion of the LNG export business in Australia. Five new export terminals have opened in the past three years and two more are due to open soon.

Tanker at Opera House

How did you get there?

Ship agency is a tough business with huge pressure on rates. But that comes with at the risk of reduced quality of service to customers. I firmly believe that quality service provides a better economic outcome than simply offering the cheapest price.

Australia has a complicated regulatory system for ship agents so an experienced, motivated, proactive and quality-focused agent can save a Principal money over the course of the year. This has paid off and we have recently secured contracts despite not being the lowest bidder.

What was your No.1 priority when you took over as MD?

I’ve been with the company since the start. I took over as MD when Phil Coolican, our inaugural MD, retired and, at the time, the business was running smoothly. My main focus since then has been on increasing efficiency to make the best use of our assets.

Who have been your key allies in achieving your goals?

Gladstone, Aus ex Gareth Long

I couldn’t do my job without the assistance of a great management team. Financial Controller Rehan Abeyakoon and Accountant Ying He make sure I have a clear overview of our financial position. Gareth Long, our National Operations Manager, has come up through the ranks having been a ship agent since leaving school. He has worked in many ports and has a strong knowledge of our network and customers. I can rely on him for an overview of our day-to-day operations.

Without our great group of Port Managers and Operations staff we wouldn’t be in business. They work 24/7 to keep our customers updated and their ships turned around efficiently.

How did you get your team on board?

More than half of the 25 staff who joined GAC Australia when we started in 2007 are still with us. They took a big risk joining a new company and were incredibly motivated to make the new business a success. They still are.

We work hard to maintain GAC Australia’s reputation as a great place to work. It takes a great team and good systems and procedures.

What were the most important contributors to the company’s success?

The business has steadily grown over the last 11 years. Some years have been better than others, but we have consistently been heading in the right direction.

Securing our three largest customers - Caltex Australia, Viva Energy and Mitsui OSK - sent a message to the market that GAC Australia is here to stay and a force to be reckoned with in the Australian agency business.

People; Gladstone, Aus ex Gareth Long

What part did luck play?

None. It has taken a lot of hard work by all our staff to build our reputation and our business to where we are now - one of the country’s largest ship agency networks.

Opportunity is another matter. Business doesn’t just fall into your lap. You have to be ready to adapt quickly to take advantage of any opportunity that comes along, whether that means opening a new office to serve a customer or expanding your team to support a new trade.

What’s the best thing about working in Australia, and the most frustrating?

Australia is a great place to both live and work with a well-educated pool of labour, both Australian-born and from overseas. Of the 16 staff in our head office, we have people born in nine different countries, but they’re all proudly Australian.

As a Scot, I never take the climate for granted. A Sydney winter is like to a Scottish summer - and I know which I prefer.

The most frustrating thing is the overall lack of understanding of how shipping works at all levels of Government in Australia. Our capital Canberra is a landlocked city populated by bureaucrats and the red tape involved in shipping can be quite restrictive.

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