Panos Patsadas: The dream of becoming a Shipbroker
It was about 3 years ago I shared my thoughts and feelings about young people wishing to pursue a career in Shipbroking, and my only intention at the time was to provoke thinking. The response and engagement was overwhelming, and made me realise how little people outside of shipping know about our industry.
I have since been getting tons of messages from people in and out of shipping, asking for guidance, either how to enter the industry, or how to shift from technical, or seafaring to the commercial side.
So it got me thinking: What do you say "today" to someone wanting to get into shipping, or someone wishing to turn to shipbroking?
The industry is going through transformation, digital, as well as structural, yet a few things have not changed. For all you out there asking about qualifications that will help you land a job in shipping, seagoing and practical experience will beat academic qualifications every single time, whether you hold a certificate, a BSc, MSc or a Phd. The chain of determinants is Connections, Practical or Seafaring Experience, Luck, and Academic qualifications. In this order. Is it still a glamorous industry? Hardly. The last 10 years, the majority of segments have not been seeing blue skies and green pastures, and for the bigger part it has been a struggle for people and companies to keep their head above water. Still the majority of people contacting me express an interest in the area of chartering and shipbroking, while the real demand in the present industry is for people with technical and seafaring experience.
The truth of the matter is that the industry is oversupplied with academically qualified people eager to enter the commercial areas of shipping, yet undersupplied with technical personnel. And to avoid any misunderstanding, I am referring to the young generation, not the 50+ here. There is plenty of super experienced technical professionals in our industry, but this is mostly the case for the 50+. The younger generation is solely inclined towards the commercial side. Although the absorption rate of shipping engineers, in Greece and abroad is nearly 100%, it remains an area that fails to attract more of the young generation. Would it not make sense to turn to the technical or seafaring side of shipping, knowing that you are guaranteed an entry in the business, and a very promising career and renumeration prospects thereafter? It all boils down to what you really want out of shipping, as I wrote in my previous piece 3 years back. If a steady career that will earn you a good income is the requisite, I still cannot understand why people, especially young fellow Greeks, will go through hell and fire to land a job as a Shipbroker, with 700-800 Euro starting salary + commission, (if market conditions make it worth fixing), and not opt of Shipping Engineer, or Seafaring, where salary will be higher, and in the case of Engineers they can easily be earning 3000 - 5000 Euros a month by their mid 30s? This only leads me to think, that for a lot of youngsters, the prestige of the job title comes first, and the bottom line, which is renumeration, comes second.
I will fully sympathize with young Greeks, who complain that they do not get opportunities to work in operations for example, because operations in Greek companies is mostly for seafarers, and anyone who hasn't been at sea is unfortunately deemed "unfit" to manage a vessel's daily tasks. This is the very reason I chose to pursue a career abroad and not in Greece, because I knew in Greece I would not be given such opportunities. And mind you that was 2004, still good days for Shipping. Retrospectively, hand in my heart, if I could go back in time, I would have studied Shipping Engineering, or go to sea before anything else.
Shipping is very old fashioned in many ways, but it too, is changing. The digitization era, the entry of alternative finance, Cybersecurity, Green Energy are all areas where the old skill-set cannot meet all the requirements of the new era. I would tend to consider these areas as windows to enter the industry in areas where academic qualifications and different skill-sets are required. Shipping and its working force is ultimately also governed by supply and demand, so prestige aside, it is good to be guided by what is needed first and then by what sounds better as a job title. If you really want to be a shipbroker, by all means, go for it! If you want to be an owner or principal, learn about ships and learn how to sail before you learn how to sell. If you want a rewarding career and stability, opt for a start at Sea, and you will not regret it in the later years. After that, all areas of shipping will be within reach.
Regarding Academic Qualifications, I can fully understand why a lot of people with no other guide of how to approach shipping, would invest time and money in pursuing a shipping related qualification, in hope it will give them a chance to enter the industry. While one can argue about the Syllabus the different Universities offer, especially on commercial degrees, the bottom line is, it is not really that important. The topics covered are pretty similar, and while certain Universities will focus more on the shipping side, whereas others on the legal or finance side of things, there will be little to differentiate one Degree from another. Except for one thing. The Network. The higher the tuition Fees, the better the network you will end up having on completion. Just like with Private Schools. It comes down to the fact that the Universities that attract the right candidates (people who already come from a maritime background, either through family ties, or through established careers) will eventually give you the single most important asset in Shipping. The right contacts to start your quest.
If you have the choice to pursue a Shipping Degree, focus more on the calibre of the University/ College you chose, and less on the actual Syllabus of the degree. You may need to pay a premium, albeit a hefty one, but as you find your way into the industry and you move up the career ladder, you will find many of your peers, in high positions, having something in common. It is not the rule, and there is always exceptions, but in principle, the majority will be sharing something in common. And that will not be a coincidence.
As a closing sentence, I will use the old saying the old London shipbrokers would tell me, when I was trying to get into shipping almost 20 years ago. "You need to get your foot in the door". The only difference is, now, in the era of transformation, there is more than one door to get your foot into, and the shiniest door, doesn't necessarily mean it will lead you to the clearest path. Embrace change, accept reality, learn about the needs of the industry, then make your call and give it your everything.
Mr. Panos Patsadas holds a BSc Hons in Applied Mathematics from the University of St Andrews and an MSc in International Trade and Transport from LMU in London. He has over 15 years experience in both chartering and operations, serving in senior managerial roles for German and Danish MPP / Heavy lift Shipowners. His expertise lies in Dry Cargo and Heavy Lift / Out of Gauge shipments, where he has often been consulted by the international maritime press on reviews, market outlook, opinions. As of June 2019 Mr. Patsadas joined Sibur International in Vienna, the export division of Sibur Holdings, the largest Petrochemicals Producer of Russia, where he will be serving as Chartering Manager for the Group's fleet of 8 vessels and LPG exports by Sea. In addition, Mr. Patsadas has been actively contributing to the Shipping Sector of Nea Dimokratia Party, in the areas of Flag Competitiveness & International market trends, and he has been a member of the Party since 2016.