The accountability of the Ever Given in blocking the Suez Canal lies in forensics, as one IMD alumnus knows well
An IMD MBA gave Hans Ottosen the holistic view he needed to acquire tech companies that are innovating in the evolving maritime industry.
As part of an investigation into what caused the Ever Given container ship to crash into the bank of the Suez Canal last month, blocking a crucial artery of global shipping for six days, divers continue to inspect its underside.
They have spotted some damage to the bow of the ship, now anchored in a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south ends of the canal, but not enough to take it out of service.
The ship’s next movements will depend on legal requirements, part of which will involve handing over the Ever Given’s “black box”, formally known as a Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) in the maritime industry.
And it’s the work of companies such as Danelec Marine, acquired by Hans Ottosen (MBA 1997), to develop these crucial tools.
Data to the rescue
Ottosen likes to sail. But that’s something of a side story to how he ended up on a decade-long odyssey at Danelec, a firm he acquired and then sold, before settling down as Investor and Board Executive.
The equivalent of airplanes’ black boxes, VDRs collect data on vessels and as such, weather conditions, radar images, position, speed and audio communications. In the event of a collision or another incident, VDRs help ascertain who was responsible and why.
“Our work is about utilizing data in a proactive manner. It’s like an autopsy on a patient who has passed away; if you can predict someone is ill before they are gone, all the better. Applied to shipping, we ask how we can use data to avoid accidents,” Ottosen explained.
For such a technical field, the former naval officer cadet has little background in tech himself. Ottosen gained most of his know-how and acumen with business degrees – first an Msc in Business Administration from Copenhagen Business School, and later an IMD MBA.
“If you spend lots of money developing tech, you have to be sure you can monetize it – in other words, be sure you’re not developing it just for the fun of it,” he said.
From management opportunities to acquisitions
Immediately after his time in Lausanne, Ottosen was offered a position as European Sales & Marketing Director at Philips in France. He credits his MBA with opening the doors for him to dive into international, higher-paid positions that facilitated part of what he also needed to acquire companies: a bird’s eye view.
“Theoretically I felt strong before, but IMD gave me a holistic view and taught me about business execution. Until then, I hadn’t in the same way grasped how to see a problem, address it and work with it,” he explained.
He says the role as CEO at Danelec, which came up in summer 2011, was the latest in a line of top management roles in international firms spanning various industries and which marked the difference between life prior to and post MBA. As CEO, he was able to orchestrate a change in management and ultimately allow the tides to turn in his favor, given “it had long been [his] dream to acquire a company”.
“I really like the idea of having a base to build on,” he explained. “I sold off the majority of Danelec about a year ago – just before COVID, in fact. That was pure luck! I sold it to the Norwegian private equity PE firm Verdane; I am now the minority owner and remain active in the company. Before I sold it, I had hired a new COO – he became the CEO in October last year.”
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, since right back to when I would rent a bus and sell bus tickets as a child,” said Ottosen, and believes that you either possess an entrepreneurial mindset or you don’t.
He is most drawn to opportunities where he can become an investor and also a very active board member: “If I don’t feel I have a contribution to make, I feel I might as well just buy shares and be a passive investor.”
While he would “never say never”, Ottosen is not interested in starting a company from scratch; he’d rather invest in companies where the groundwork is done. This thirst for acquisition means more takeovers are on the horizon. Specifically, he is looking for organizations that have a bit of existing turnover – but not too much.
“They have to have a bit of turnover but not too high,” he said. “I like a company I can build up and get to the private-equity stage. Also, one with a B2B, tech element – its own product. It has to be international, too.”
Ottosen finds these opportunities by remembering he does have an extensive network and making the most of it.
“It’s about knowing people – your network – and spreading the word,” he explained. “But it’s also a case of talking to organized brokers. I would typically look at a majority stake in a smaller company, or else make a consortium with others to make a majority stake.”
Whilst Ottosen fishes around for his next acquisition, reports are emerging that Egyptian authorities will not allow the Ever Given to leave the Suez Canal until its owners pay USD 1 billion in costs for freeing the vessel. Whether Evergreen Marine Corp, the charterer of Ever Given, will be covered by insurance or by findings from the formal investigation – the stuff of VDR data – remains to be decided.