Shipbrokers thrive on the pressure of racing to tie up deals on moving cargo around the world.
At the offices of an international shipbroking company, it's already all hands on deck. An Oil Major has just announced that it wants to move a vast cargo of crude oil from the Arabian Gulf. To get the oil to market, the company needs a ship. This is where the shipbroker's role comes in - hunting for a suitable ship that's available on the right date, haggling with ship owners to get the best price, and then going back to the company with an offer. Meanwhile, at several competing firms, other shipbrokers are racing to get the business themselves. "There's a lot of intrigue and mystery, and trying to find out what other people are up to," says Sean Miller, Senior Director of SSY’s Tanker desk. "Every day is different. Shipping is a market, so it tends to fluctuate and peak. You've got to be extremely driven and thrive on pressure. In fact, if you enjoy the adrenalin buzz - and it is an amazing adrenalin buzz -it feels more frustrating when the market fluctuates the other way and things go quiet."
Q.1. How many years have you worked in the industry and what is your current role?
Sean Miller is Senior Director of SSY’s Tanker desk. Simpson Spence and Young is one of the industry's major tanker broking companies. Sean’s team handles the chartering of all ocean-going tanker sizes up to and including VLCC on an international basis. Sean has worked in Shipbroking for over 10 years and is based in London.
Q. 2 What was your initial exposure to the industry?
The excitement is part of the draw for many shipbrokers. They act as intermediaries between ship owners and companies that want to buy and sell ships, or companies that want to move goods around the world. "It's something that you find people have a passion for. It's a very varied job with a close-knit community," according to the Baltic Exchange, the global shipbroking marketplace which started in the 18th century as a coffee house, where ships' captains and London merchants would talk shop. Working in the shipping industry has changed since the days of the Baltic Exchange trading floor. New careers are opening up in freight futures, where brokers hedge future levels of freight rates, such as "dry bulk" carrying rates and oil tanker rates. Increasingly, shipbrokers also advise clients of what's going on in the shipping markets and can offer finance service brokerage. According to an industry professional, one of the things shipbrokers love about their job "is the fact that it is tangible. It's real, not just a financial transaction. Ships are moving from one country to another, and you have made it happen. A lot of broking in money markets is screen trading, where you're putting numbers into a computer. That can't happen with us. There are too many external factors, like dates changing. It is a personal business. You provide the interface between companies and clients - you're dealing with people's emotions." according to Miller. Shipbrokers at the beginning of their career need to network to build up relationships with contacts, so it helps to be self-confident and intuitive. "
Q.3 Where did you study to start your career in Maritime?
Sean earned his degree in English and law from Queen's University, Belfast, but worked for shipbroking companies during his holidays to get experience. He says he always had a clear idea that shipbroking was what he wanted to do, and he hasn't been disappointed. "It's amazing. I love it. It's not a problem to get into work so early when there's such a good communal atmosphere here and everyone is so inspiring. I wouldn't be anywhere else."
Q.4 What do you think are the main characteristics or skills are needed for a person to succeed in the maritime industry?
"You need to have a feel for what someone wants to do. It's almost like delving into their psychology"according to Miller "It isn't a nine-to-five job, it's a global, international job." That means early mornings and late nights. Shipbrokers often need be in work for 7a.m. when they start calling clients, checking reports from Hong Kong, Korea and China, where the business day is already well under way.
*Adapted from www.independent.co.uk feature article, 2015