Mark Wurdeman joined the BMMI team in 2020 and took over leading our BMMI Shipping Services department in the beginning of May of this year. We recently took the opportunity to sit down with Mark and learn more about him, the challenges facing the department in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and his vision.
Tell us more about your background.
I’ve been blessed to have a vast range of experience, not only on the shipping side, but also when it comes to retail. So, besides my passion for shipping, I am also passionate when it comes to the retail and wholesale side. I’ve also happened to work in several countries including Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Nigeria, and South Africa – mainly in General Manager positions in the shipping or retail industries. On the personal side, I am an avid runner! I’ve even managed to get the silver medal in the Comrades Marathon, the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race that is 89 kilometres long.
What was it like joining the team at such a challenging time?
When I first arrived, I had the chance to go into the office and meet the team. When you join any new place, it takes time to get to know the people you are working with, the culture and clients. Low and behold, during this period with the pandemic spreading in Bahrain, we started working from home.
Honestly, it was extremely difficult at first because it is not how I was used to getting to know a new environment. However, slowly but surely you adapt to your new situation. One of the things that Herman had initiated was we had a team meeting every day on Microsoft Teams. It was very helpful for me to get to know the team better and also our operations. Today, we continue to have team meetings three times a week and it is extremely helpful for us to touch base and learn from each other.
When it comes to moving to Bahrain, I’ve found the people to be very, vary warm. Respect needs to be earned, and I’ve found that when you lead by example, keep yourself in check and deliver on your promises, you do gain that respect here and people will put their trust in you.
What challenges did COVID-19 present to BSS?
We faced several obstacles with the spread of the pandemic and the restrictions that were put in place as a result. For example, there were various restrictions on who can enter and call on the port, including our Boarding Offices, and some of our customer or potential clients had to then call on ports other than Bahrain’s.
Another challenge faced was networking. I speak English, Afrikaans, Dutch and German so we planned to reach European customers. However, with the pandemic, it meant we couldn’t travel to approach potential clients.
On the cargo side, we’ve seen a major decline with lockdowns in place, since demand for usually high-volume products has decreased. The Liner business has also slowed down and tends to fluctuate, where we make expected profit for a month and then for a few months it’s challenging and so forth. Keep in mind that there is a decline in a lot of containers coming in as priority is on fruit, vegetables and your normal consumer commodities.
As another example, one of the major things affecting the marine side is that we cannot do crew changes with restrictions in place, which was a good income stream for our business. Crew changes also include services such as transport and accommodation, and this service alone accounts for 37% of our business which is now no longer coming in.
How does the team try to address these challenges?
At the beginning of the pandemic, we met as a team and theorised that the consequences will not end all of a sudden and will probably last until 2022 or beyond. We had to try to do different things than we are used to and look for different methods and opportunities to target.
As an example, we had to come up with another plan to get in touch with our clients. I designed a customer call list for each one of the managers in the division to approach European customers. We have found this to be extremely successful and have been able to on board a few European clients. We still face issues with embargoes for example and with many people not working from their office, it is a challenging to get in touch at times. However, relationship building remains a crucial focus, whether to finalise new opportunities or lay the groundwork for future collaboration.
Customer service continues to be a priority for us in order to retain current clients and attract new ones. The team always tries to build solid and personal relationships with clients and potential customers. We have also been getting an increasing volume of queries from people looking for our services, and we make it a point to attempt to get back to them within an hour of receiving a query. Customer questions and concerns must always be acknowledged, the worst thing to do is if you delay your response because they will then go to competitors.
Even in the current situation, I remain positive and try to instil the same spirit in the team. We just need to ride the wave and fight our way through. Again, our biggest strong point is our customers, and you must remember to be on the top of their minds regularly, because they will then think of us when looking for new service providers. And we always want BSS to be amongst the first of those they consider for the job.
What’s your vision for the department?
My original vision was over the next three years, but with the pandemic and its consequences we need to be realistic. So now, our goal is in the next five years to become the largest market shareholder in Bahrain across all our shipping services: cargo, liner, marine and surveying. Currently, on the marine side, even with the decline in business we stand at number one, and we have done more ship calls than anyone else. We are working towards being the top service provider across all our categories within the next few years.
Our second goal is to continue strengthen our market share in Europe and expand our customer base there. We hope with the eventual lifting of COVID restrictions, we will be able to have a strong foothold in the continent within a few years.
How do you continue to keep the team motivated with all the challenges faced, and how would describe your leadership style?
Our team meetings help us stay connected, touch base, discuss concerns and brainstorm ideas. I always make it a point to greet the team with a friendly attitude and always with a smile on my face. I try to communicate with the team that yes, times are tough and hard – but so what? It doesn’t mean it should affect our attitude and how we approach things. It’s important to remain positive especially during tough times. Furthermore, the team knows I am a no-nonsense guy and deliver on my promises. This has helped maintain their respect for me. I’m also a people person, I really do believe in people and that has always worked in my favour. My team knows that I truly listen. I believe they respect that, and it has helped us lean on each other during these times.