Group Business Development Manager
First off kindly tell us a bit about the history and main business of Hull Blyth Group.
Hull Blyth has been operating in West Africa for 170 years, making it one of the oldest companies in the region. Previously known as “Elder Dempster Agencies” in Nigeria and “Liner Agencies and Trading” in Ghana, the company was re-branded as the Hull Blyth Group in the 1990’s. In 2007 Deutsche Post sold the Hull Blyth Group to Mr. James Baldwin, who was the group’s managing director and remains its sole shareholder today.
Hull Blyth developed a wide range of agency related services in Angola, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and the Ivory Coast, as well as a specialist liner agency portfolio over the last 20 years.
These days Hull Blyth is a multi-sector agent with activities in the liner and non-liner sectors as well as logistics/clearing and forwarding activities. Hull Blyth additionally operates a range of inland container depots (ICD’s) in both Ghana and Nigeria to complement the liner agency services.
With these additional services Hull Blyth has developed beyond an ordinary ships agent, and through our workforce of national and international staff, present an unrivaled experience in all sectors of ships agency and related services.
You have a strong focus on Africa as a shipping agent, what makes you strong in this rather difficult market and are you not afraid that if you are too successful that the shipowner may wish to open their own offices and take over the agency themselves?
First, I’d like to highlight our long experience again, which provides deep roots and strong market recognition in our countries. The local shippers and consignees are comfortable with Hull Blyth and our premises are based in prime locations adjacent to the ports of Tema and Lagos. Operating mainly in West Africa I can proudly say that we are capable of providing a first world standard of service, and constantly push ourselves for improvements and internal KPIs to respond pro-actively to the requirements of our clients.
As a multi-sector agent, representing different interests under the same roof is our raison d’etre. We have established a strong concept of dedicated management and staff for each major principal to ensure no conflict of interest. Our principals appreciate this concept and investment in their business, and it has proven successful over the last decade.
Another quality stamp for Hull Blyth is as longstanding members of the largest worldwide agency network, Multiport Ship Agency, which restricts membership to one agent per country and subjects all potential and existing members to independent annual financial checks. Multiport has gained an international reputation for self-discipline and its best of breed concept.
As to shipowners opening their own offices, that is a very good question and is to some degree the nature of third-party agencies. The truth is, and I refer here directly to the liner industry, that principals who sustain and eventually succeed in these very dynamic and sometimes challenging, but also lucrative markets, do indeed consider an in-house agency concept after a certain period. However, very few principals would take this step as a new entrant to the market, and so it is our role to support and build up the principal’s business from the beginning, and then if they decide to open their own offices, to some degree it is a mark of the success we have had in establishing their brand in the marketplace.
Also, our relationship with our principals does not tend to end when they are ready to establish their own offices, and we have remained JV partners in these ventures and service providers to some well-known names after being their dedicated agent for several years. This demonstrates the mutual appreciation of the relationship we form with our principals.
Besides acting as a shipping agency can you also provide freight forwarding and inland transportation services in Africa? What are your strongest markets or countries in Africa in your opinion?
Yes, Hull Blyth is also a key provider of clearing and forwarding services with a firm grasp of the high standards of this crucial industry sector. In addition to that, we are proud to be the agents of Panalpina in Ghana and AMT Necotrans in Nigeria, and a partner to numerous other freight and forwarding companies.
Looking specifically at our countries, South Africa clearly leads with its economy and size, followed by Nigeria being the strongest economy in West Africa and a population of almost 190 million people.
For us, the strongest markets have always been Nigeria and Ghana. In view of the declining oil & gas sector and, you could say the downturn of the entire shipping industry, Nigeria has experienced a severe recession over the last two years. We are glad to say that we are now reaching the end and we see some light at the end of the tunnel. Volumes are picking up again and a growing consumer confidence has been noted lately.
It is being said that the Chinese are “controlling” Africa, is that something that you can see in the countries where you are active, or is it just a rumor?
That really depends on which country you are looking at. There are certain governments who opened the doors for the Chinese more than others. What you can broadly say is that there are many infrastructure and development projects the Chinese are involved in, and I would say the pricing factor plays a big role here. China with its enormous growth has a vast demand for energy, and China’s investments and the commitment to Africa expects in return some beneficial trade deals which many African countries are ready to meet.
From a simple liner trade perspective into our West African countries, I can confirm that the Asian trade has taken over Europe trade in recent years. I wouldn’t say that China is controlling Africa but surely has taken a front seat.
What are the biggest “headaches” when doing business in African ports – is corruption an issue in Africa these days?
Doing business in African ports still comes with issues, especially surrounding efficiency and delays, poor infrastructure, and a lack of a commercial mentality with some state institutions. It requires a lot of patience and experience to find solutions to these issues, and we can proudly say that we have developed a rock-solid setup to meet and deal with all these challenges. That said, things are changing for the better, and we have seen this most recently in the introduction of the paperless system in Ghana.
Hull Blyth has a solid reputation in the market for integrity, high standards, transparency, and professionalism. We are compliant with all aspects of the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act. Unfortunately, corruption remains an issue in Africa, and Hull Blyth has an important role to play in educating our principals in the dangers and pitfalls that they may come across, and advise on the best ways to remain compliant in a difficult environment. The situation has certainly seen improvement over the last years, but is still difficult and will require a shift in thinking on many levels before real change is achieved in this area.
Tell us about your organization a bit – where is your headquarter located and whom to approach for a quote for a vessel call or an inland delivery in Africa?
The key management is based in our respective countries, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa. Our Group head office is located in London and is looking after finance, contracts and group commercial activities.
Our departments are run by dedicated expatriate managers who directly liaise with new and existing clients.
General Manager, Mr. Peter Kotze
General Manager, Mr. David Hepburn
Managing Director, Mrs. Fiona Calitz
All countries (including Hub Agency Services and other African countries)
Group Business Development Manager, Mr. Andreas Posdziech
Tell us about yourself. How long have you worked for Hull Blyth Group? Why did you choose a career in shipping and what do you like about it?
I started with Hull Blyth working in Nigeria in 2011 looking after Hapag Lloyd and Arkas Line. I spent a year in Angola with Kuehne & Nagel before returning to Hull Blyth in Ghana in a non-liner role, and Ivory Coast as managing director. I am now based in the group head office in London as the group business development manager.
Maybe the ‘why shipping’ questions should be rephrased to: “why did I start digging my own grave?”, just kidding. I grew up on the Baltic Sea and always had a link to the ocean. I saw the shipping industry as a door opener to the world which turned out to be true. I started my career in Bremen. Since then I have met so many interesting people and have built up a global network in all different directions of this comprehensive industry. It never gets boring and we all know how frustrating the job can be, but on the other hand, it comes with so much excitement and some great opportunities.