Dr Lars Gruenitz joined Norstar Ship Management as their Managing Director in March 2020. That was the time when WHO announced the COVID-19 outbreak, a global pandemic.
Heading up a company is not an easy job, even at the best of times. This role becomes a whole lot more difficult during the pandemic, especially with the unprecedented changes in government regulations, numerous lockdowns and closing of borders.
When Lars first joined Norstar in March 2020, they had 21 vessels. Within 3 years, Norstar increased the number of vessels by 76%, an impressive achievement.
Fast forward 3 years, Catherine Tay, the SVP of NBO interviewed Dr Gruetintz – on how he led Norstar to achieve significant growth during the pandemic, and how NBO helped in this journey.
Catherine: What made you join Norstar Ship Management at the start of the pandemic?
Lars: As I feel connected to what Norstar stands for – an owner’s approach to ship management with an innovative culture, I was excited to join them when the opportunity arose. Together with Tom and Chris Bonehilll (Tom’s brother who’s based in the U.S.), and our teams in Singapore, United States, Myanmar, Japan and Middle East, the past 3 years has been great, as we expand our global footprint.
Catherine: What is your leadership philosophy?
Lars: I am a big believer in ‘PPS’. It’s an acronym for ‘People’, ‘Process’ and ‘System’. All 3 elements are crucial for Norstar’s success.
The ‘People’ in PPS, is where NBO comes into our picture.
We have one of the highest staff retention rate in the maritime industry. When we say our people are our greatest assets, we really mean it.
We invest substantially in leadership development, communication skills training, physical and mental resilience training for seafarers, use of new technology and cleaner fuel to reduce emissions at sea.
To me, empowerment is important. People are only truly empowered, if they are given the right training and are equipped to do their job well.
Catherine: Why did you contact NBO two months after you joined Norstar?
Lars: In my previous company, Berge Bulk, we had engaged NBO extensively. NBO had helped us address numerous challenges we were facing as a team. Thanks to NBO’s targeted solutions, the confidence of my vessel management team built up, and our team was seen as the role model team for our company.
So when I joined Norstar, I knew instantly, which training and consulting firm would be in the best position to help us in our expansion plan.
You listened to to my challenges, and you were able to quickly understand and tailor programs to meet our needs and priorities.
Catherine: How was the training by NBO conducted for Norstar?
Lars: When the borders were closed in 2020 due to COVID, and we could not travel out of Singapore, we made full use of the lockdown period to upskill our team.
The moment the government announced that face-to-face training was allowed in August 2020, we took actions immediately. We activated our training plans, starting with our senior management team. It was great that Tom joined us throughout our training with NBO.
We were actually the first company that Hilton Hotel welcomed back for training.
Catherine: How has your team benefitted from NBO’s training?
Lars: I found the structured and integrated program by NBO to be world-class, well designed and practical.
After attending NBO’s training, I’ve noticed huge improvements in my team. We are aligned and we have a good, collaborative work culture. 80% of my team write much better; they are more clear and concise in their writing. I’ve also seen more than 50% improvements in my team’s presentation skills. We have great relationships with our stakeholders and our business has grown substantially.
Our leadership team completed all 4 phases of training, a total of 7 days within 4 months – the pace was just right. The speed at which we trained up our leadership team enabled us to execute our business plans and grow quickly.
None of us caught Covid during training, and we had 100% attendance throughout the program. We bonded as a team and had fun as well!
Catherine: After your leadership team was trained, what happened next?
Lars: Many people in the maritime industry move from ship to shore. When they work in the ship as Captains or Chief Engineers, they lead by rank.
However, after they move to the office environment – they discover that they can no longer be authoritative, and have to shift from vertical to horizontal leadership style. As a result, stakeholder management, communication and exemplary leadership skills become essential in order for them to thrive in the office.
Following the training of our senior leadership team, I sent many of my team members to NBO’s open and dedicated programs. We have invested in training our staff here, as well as those who are based in Myanmar to attend NBO’s Open courses in Singapore.
I can see that our leaders from Myanmar are very appreciative because we had to fly them to Singapore every few weeks to attend 5 of NBO’s open courses. The courses are Executive Presentation (EP), Stakeholder Management, Influence & Engagement (SMIE), Write With Impact (WWI), Maximum Impact Facilitation Skills (MIFS) and Leadership Excellence in Changing Times (LECT).
Catherine: How do you find NBO’s training compared to other training companies?
Lars: I find all NBO programs to be well crafted and executed. You have a strong team that is focused on helping us achieve results, and you all have a good understanding of our challenges in the maritime industry.
Your trainers are passionate about ‘stretching’ each participant and making a real difference – to me that’s a big plus. The skills taught are not just useful for us at work; they are practical life skills which we can also apply at home.
I am a big believer in sharing great experiences. So, that’s why I’m sharing how NBO’s leadership and communications suite of programs has helped me and my team, since 2020.