Outgoing APM Terminals (APMT) CEO Kim Fejfer has told CM that with hindsight the operator would not have bought a container terminal in Quetzal, formerly operated by Grup TCB.
The company recently agreed to pay the Guatemalan government US$43m in compensation after obtaining a concession to operate Terminal de Contenedores Quetzal (TCQ) through its acquisition of Grup TCB, which the latter allegedly won through bribery.
Fejfer told CM: “Based on the information that we had at the time and from due diligence, this was absolutely the right decision, but had we known what we now know, then we would have definitely not bought the activity [TCQ].”
Grup TCB won the concession for TCQ in 2013 but in April 2016, the terminal’s director Juan Jose Suarez Meseguer, and Grup TCB’s former majority shareholder, Angel Perez Maura Garcia-Botin, were both accused by an alleged former accomplice of engaging in bribery to obtain the concession.
While APMT acquired all of Grup TCB’s shares in March 2016, it had no involvement in the terminal at the time the wrongdoing is alleged to have taken place.
Maersk revealed that Fejfer will be leaving the group following its announcement that the company will be split into a transport and logistics division and an energy segment.
Fejfer, who has held the role of CEO at APMT since 2004, told CM that he “will take up a role related to A. P Møller Holding A/S”, which has a majority stake in the Maersk group, but declined to give more details on his new position.
Morten Engelstoft, current CEO of APM Shipping Services and Maersk Tankers, will succeed him as APMT’s CEO starting from November 1.
A statement from Maersk group said that while Maersk Line will be focusing on growth by acquisitions, APMT will be concentrating on cost-saving measures.
When asked whether the group’s decision was due to the operator having potentially spent too much in the past few years, Fejfer denied the claim and attributed the strategy change to the challenges facing the global container industry as a whole.
“We have many levers to create value and since there is no need to grow as fast in the industry and in the companies as we did before, you get time and energy to focus on the commercial and the cost productivity levers,” he said.
He added: “The fact is that global trade and container trade is not growing at the moment. In the last couple of years, we have been seeing zero growth, then at the same time you have shipping lines teaming up in big alliances, bigger vessels and a tough supply and demand situation.
“All of this spills over to the port industry, so we have to accept that the industry is growing slower and to respond to that you need to find better value propositions and new revenue streams, and you need to work on your operations, to become more efficient, to save costs, to find new technology, to simply work smarter.”
Commenting on his time at APMT, Fejfer said that as the CEO of the company he had the privilege of learning something new every day.
“When you have been in business for many years as I have at this point, then you feel that you have something to bring and you can give to others and that is really leadership at the end of the day,” he added.
Speaking about his greatest achievement during his time as CEO of APMT, Fejfer pointed out that he is proud of the company’s current position as a “well-diversified, sustainable company with a strong growth potential”. That is something we together have built up over the last 12 years,” he added.
However, he admitted that having regrets is an inevitable consequence of having a job of such responsibility. “When you are leading a business, then it is all about making the right decisions at the right time, and you just can’t get it all right,” he said.
“You learn from your mistakes and when you are making investment decisions, you do not always make the right decision at the right time. We [APMT)] have done most of it right, but it is from the mistiming and the misdecision that you learn.”
According to Fejfer, to tackle the tough times the whole industry is facing, what is needed is to “get the capital connected with those that are willing to develop new projects and new activity”.
He added. “For trade to really grow again then you need to have the physical part of the economy to grow, you really need to have production, manufacturing, construction of new infrastructure and emerging markets to demand. So the question is when that starts to happen, there is plenty of capital available in the world […] but there is just still a lot of uncertainty and not so much willingness to invest.”
Fejfer told CM that one of the things the company’s employees were told by the late Arnold Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller, son of the founder of the A.P. Moller – Maersk Group, was that “the pendulum swings from side to side and the trick for a good business or a good business leader is to figure out when the pendulum starts to swing the other way again”.
He added: “The pendulum is heavily in one direction right now and we all hope and expect to see that the pendulum starts to swing the other way again. I do think it will.”