Ship engines are robust machines, but they are far from being immune to wear and tear, which means their problems often need quick solutions. Nippon Diesel Service GmbH (NDS), a highly-specialized, medium-sized company based out of the Port of Hamburg, has been successfully delivering Japanese marine diesel engines around the globe for nearly four decades. Yet their success has not prevented the company from recently bringing in KLU to have a closer a look the company’s current business model. Stefan Gall joins us for the following interview to explain his company’s motive behind this decision.
As managing director of NDS based in the Port of Hamburg you are surrounded by maritime environment at work. Regarding you as a businessman, would you consider yourself more of a ship owner or a captain?
Stefan Gall: That’s a great question. I’m probably more of a captain as someone who has to take responsibility for his ship, crew, and cargo, but also as someone who sometimes has to show resolve when it comes to making decisions.
Your company occupies a highly-specialized corner of the market. How did your business concept come about and what services do you provide?
Stefan Gall: In the mid-1970s Japan’s shipbuilding industry experienced a sudden boom. This prompted my partner’s shipping company Fisser & van Doornum along with some other German companies from the industry to commission Japanese ships to be used in Europe. We obliged the Japanese by agreeing to their request for setting up a European warehouse in order to offer replacement parts and repair services here. Having started off with just a wooden file box, we now spend what used to be our annual turnover on software updates.
What sparked the boom in the shipbuilding industry in Japan in 1976?
Stefan Gall: Japan wanted to expand its shipyards from beyond something that solely benefited their own national interests and had therefore begun acquiring European shipping companies. This marked the beginning of business for us, and that’s when we started supplying the growing international demand for repair services and replacement parts for Japanese ship engines. Today Nippon Diesel plays a crucial role for both the Japanese and the shipping companies. Our development serving a niche market has led us into opening three locations across Asia that focus on laser regeneration of engine components.
It is difficult to put into words how immensely important the friendships my partners and I have been able to maintain with the Japanese over the past decades have been. No other Asian country and perhaps nowhere else in the world places as much value on personal relationships. Our feelings are mutual, and, on a personal level, I have learned a great deal from our Japanese friends.
How is your business organized?
Stefan Gall: The motivation and satisfaction of our employees and maintaining a harmonious work environment are our top priorities. We don’t need stuffy hierarchies. We’re much more interested in hearing our employee’s opinions as we are well aware of the fact that, in many areas, they possess a much deeper level of knowledge than we do, and we consider this a major asset for us.
You tasked KLU with analyzing NDS’s business environment and the current trends in trade logistics. What was the reason behind deciding to do this now, and what were the outcomes of the study?
Stefan Gall: Artificial Intelligence has infiltrated practically every corner of business. The possibilities it presents for changing processes mean that one’s own concept, let’s say, for example, in warehouse management, can quickly fall short when compared to more contemporary models. Working with KLU helped shed light from all corners on the risk at hand and ultimately turn a potentially dangerous situation into an opportunity for our company. For this reason, we have decided to continue moving forward in dialogue with KLU. This collaboration has proved to be extremely productive, and we came out with results from the analysis that have been both tangible and applicable. It was marvelous to see how quickly Dr. Petersen from the University and his team were able to learn the ropes of our business.
KLU is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2020. As a gift, we are asking for people to give us a motto we can use. Do you have one on hand for us?
Stefan Gall: For your students: “Came as a sailor, left as a captain.”
Thanks for your time!