The world will keep surprising us

Wallenius Wilhelmsen's CFO, Rebekka Herlofsen, shares her thoughts on the future of logistics.

Rebekka Herlofsen

When thinking about the future we tend to extrapolate current trends. Yet, for every 20 years we go back in time, we will find a world which was very different from today. Look at the onset of the Internet or the expansion of China.

In the 1980’s McKinsey were asked to estimate the market demand for mobile phones by the turn of the century. They saw lots of challenges with the new technology, and estimated a market of 900 000 units. Today, this is the number of new subscribers joining every three days…

The world will continue to surprise us in ways that we cannot understand today. We can point at trends that will affect us, but there is bound to be other events that will surprise us.

Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s new structure is designed for this new world – one management team instead of five, a flatter structure with fewer management layers and simplified processes. A new culture focused on speed and trust makes the company more agile and able to adapt to changes in our environment.

We know that technology has increased the speed of business and that the average life of large companies has fallen from 61 years in 1958 to just 18 years today, but we also know that our company has survived for more than 150 years. Looking back, we can clearly see a relentless will to drive change, and the audacity to disrupt one’s own business.

In the 19th century, Wilhelm Wilhelmsen changed the entire steam ship trade with “speed and service”. In the middle of the 20th century, Olof Wallenius revolutionised vehicle transportation with the first RoRo vessel. Wilhelmsen and Wallenius continued to develop their businesses beyond cars and trucks, and in 1999 the two companies joined forces to become a major player in global Deep Sea RoRo. 3 years later EUKOR was established, in an unprecedented partnership with Hyundai Motor Group. Since then, Wallenius Wilhelmsen has pioneered integrated logistics in the industry, and developed a successful Land-based business.

We are very conscious that our customers will see major changes and disruptions to their markets and industries, as will we in our industry. We don’t know today how this will play out, so our answer is to make sure that we have the flexibility, speed and strength to adapt to different outcomes, whatever they might be. Our purpose is to support our customers as a partner, defining the new role of logistics for a world in motion.

Our operations today have very little in common with the general cargo business we were a century ago. And since the pace of change is increasing, what we do in just a decade or two will probably be very different from our operations today.

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