Herman Venter, BSS General Manager

Striking the right balance – an interview with Herman Venter, General Manager of BMMI Shipping Services

Following a successful first year of operation for our newest division, BMMI Shipping Services (BSS), and as the division prepares to launch its first office outside of Bahrain, we sat down with BSS  General Manager, Herman Venter, to learn more about the team, division and their philosophy.

What factors are most important to you when define success for the BSS team?

In my opinion, the main factor behind success in life is ‘balance’. Regardless how you approach anything, or what your strategies or goals are, you will never be able to deliver without balance. If you are extreme in any manner, or imbalanced, you are destined to fail.

There are a few factors I believe contribute to finding balance, including communicating effectively, being reliable, delivering quality, exceptional service, operating with honesty and integrity, and being adaptable and open to change. Another thing is not being scared of confrontation. It’s better to confront a bad situation rather than just leaving it.  To me, that’s the ultimate recipe towards finding balance, which will lead to success.

Why do these factors matter in the world of shipping?

If you aren’t doing these things, the chance of you succeeding or gaining balance are probably going to be very hard. The reality is that in our business these factors are critical to our success. But what’s crucial is not just saying that, but living it. This is what we strive to do at BSS. Of course, I can’t say we are a 100 per cent there yet, as I don’t believe anyone will ever stop working towards it. There’s always room for improvement. However, I am proud that the whole team is committed to these values.

Tell us a bit more about BSS’ formative year and being part of the BMMI Group.

We’re very fortunate because many of the main factors of success determined on a group level are the same values we hold dear. We take a holistic approach by looking at people, performance and profitability. Our team always strives to go beyond what we’re doing presently and to look for improvement opportunities, gain new business and ultimately ensure sustainability and longevity. These are the same principles that BMMI lives by, and being part of the team, we live by them too.

One of the key guidelines I received from senior management when we formed BSS was to always ensure we follow a systematic approach, with clear goals. That has been at the heart of our planning, strategy and business.  We are privileged that we were able to expand to Saudi Arabia in such a short time, but this was by no means a rushed or haphazard decision. Sustainability is our aim, and we study every opportunity to ensure we use a measured and systematic approach to avoid losing any business or reputation, while strengthening our team and ensuring client satisfaction.

How do you believe BSS contributes to the BMMI Group?

BMMI’s heritage was built on shipping when it was formed over 135 years ago, and we always remember where we come from. With BSS, we are now dedicated to bringing shipping to the forefront as an in-house service one again.

Shipping cannot operate solely in one location and must continually grow. Being a part of BMMI, BSS helps the organisation expand in certain locations where it might not be present now.  Even though BMMI has the greatest reputation and a wonderful brand in Bahrain and several key locations, we’ve had the opportunity to introduce BMMI in new markets through our work and networking. For example, in conferences we attended in Poland and Cyprus, to visits to the USA, Europe, India, Singapore the UAE and more. We’ve made it our mission to represent the diverse range of businesses and services BMMI offer.

Importantly, it’s also our role to support BMMI businesses, as the Group is our biggest single customer when you combine segments within it. We play a crucial role in BMMI’s supply chain and contribute to the success of our various divisions and businesses.

How do you work towards ensuring customer and client satisfaction?

We’re in the service industry and one of the main things that strengthen the customer experience in this industry is interaction. If we don’t communicate with our clients or don’t have a relationship with the customers, how will we keep selling our service? Communication is key, and we use face to face interaction whenever possible, supported by personal telephone calls and emails.  

When we have a choice, we prefer meeting our customers and speaking from the heart. We want to build relationships and get to know people. Our team doesn’t just get in touch saying, “I want or need your business – so I’m going to cut you a deal.” We want to form lasting bonds, because in our industry, that’s the core way to gain sustainable business. We might not realistically always be able to visit every single customer, but we’ve got our targets and goals and we go after those. I believe this is why BSS is going places.  

What makes your team different?

I would say dedication, experience, team spirit and working towards a common goal. Our team works 24/7, because we cater to clients and customers in all time zones and are always adaptable to meet their needs. Constant monitoring of situations and being available to our clients is the way we do business. I’m truly proud of how committed our team is to offering unparalleled levels of service.

We’re also very fortunate to have a management team at BSS, where each member has next to 20 years plus of experience. We’re a young but experienced team and we know where we came from and what we want. The team are specialists and are top notch leaders in their field. This makes the quality and value of the services we offer our clients and customers incomparable.

Furthermore, we truly work together as a team, never give up and never stop trying new things. No matter what our situational position is, we stand together. Each member has a role to play. Together, we learn as much as we can. We’ve had trials in getting the right team together. But I believe we now have the team that will eventually take BSS to the next level in order to become a regional player, and eventually and hopefully a global player.

As a unit, we’re committed to the clear goals we’ve set and the requirements to deliver. We were strict with ourselves, but never unreasonable, because we understand how hard it is for a new business to deliver results initially. But we did, and although it was very difficult, we tried our best. We managed to crawl, before we got on our two feet and took a few first steps. We started our second year more stable and focused, and this is due to how exceptional our team truly is.

What kind of things does BSS do to reinforce team spirit and a positive working culture?

Communication is key and for our management team it’s the most important thing. We communicate and support each other, and we hold weekly management meetings to discuss the business, opportunities, developments, problems, our teams, and the nice things, as well as the uncomfortable things. Overall, the entire BSS team is not one that operates in silos. We have different sub-teams working in different positions and segments, but we are one team. We all help each other out and that’s what makes the team strong and strengthens team spirit.

The team also makes sure to hold regular social activities and team building events every quarter, such as barbecues, jet skiing days and more. Whenever we can involve our employees’ families as well, we do so. If our team are giving up their family time to come to a team building event, we try to include their families into our BSS team whenever we have an opportunity. And the team really appreciate this.

This all comes down to the fact that if you don’t value your people, your main resource, you will never succeed. Without balance or creating a rewarding environment for your employees – you aren’t walking the walk and at BSS, as I mentioned, we live what we preach.

Do you have any advice for businesses in their first year of operation?

Keep evolving, being adaptable to the market and never stop trying new things, regardless of your situation and position. The industry we are in is hard and competitive. We’ve heard of many agents failing completely, shutting down or going through extreme hardships - then you look at BSS and we were profitable in our first year. It must mean that the BSS team is doing something right. Yes, it’s not always easy, it’s not always pleasant, and we have to work hard, but this has now led BSS to be on the right track. Never give up.