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uni'alumni 2016

Agroup of more than 100 companies, a fleet of 125 ships, more than 3200 employees around the globe – the Ham- burg shipping line owner Bertram Rick- mers has built up a corporate group that offers a broad spectrum of services related to the shipping industry. Nicolas Scherger spoke with him. uni’alumni: Mr. Rickmers, you studied economics at the Univer- sity of Freiburg from 1974 to 1979. What experience from that time was especially important to you? Bertram Rickmers: The intellectual engagement: learning how to reason, to discuss, to write. Back then everything was politically charged, and we had big debates in the Audimax. I benefited a lot from that. It’s good for a student’s charisma to learn how to assert oneself verbally in a large group. Before beginning your course of study you traveled through China. What was that like? My family’s shipping line established regular service to China in 1860. This gave me the possibility to travel through the country at the time of the Cultural Revolution. That was of course a forma- tive experience, especially for someone who had originally had left-wing ideals and was then confronted with the reality. What role does the tradition of your family’s company play for you? I started from scratch. I did have a name that is familiar in the shipping industry, and I played that card, but I never inherited a share in the company. After finishing my degree, I went back to Rickmers Shipyard in Bremerhaven. There I used my ideas, my ideals, and my way of managing a company to take on the old guard in my family. I left the company in 1982, began by founding a shipbroking firm, and then founded my own shipping company two years later. You have succeeded in consider- ably expanding the company since. Rickmers Shipyard went bankrupt in the mid 1980s, and the Rickmers Line had already been sold to Hapag Lloyd. So there wasn’t anything left of the old company. I bought back the Rickmers Line in 2000. Today our business rests on three pillars: Maritime Assets manages our own ships and shares we have in other ships and provides services. For instance, we charter ships and coordi- nate ship projects for third parties. Ship Management takes care of everything we and our partners need for the ship – management, crewing via our own agency in Asia, insurance, and so on. Finally, the Rickmers Line transports everything that is heavy and does not fit into containers. What route does the line run on? We ship all over the world: Hamburg, Rotterdam, Dammam in Saudi Arabia, Surabaya in Indonesia, Singapore, Laem Chabang in Thailand, Hong Kong, the Chinese coast up to Dalian, Masan in Korea, Yokohama in Japan, over the Pacific to Mexico, Baltimore in the USA, and back to Hamburg. We call that the pearl necklace, because we always call at fixed ports. The sector is in crisis. Why? One of the reasons is certainly greed for easy, fast money. The shipping lines, banks, charterers, and everyone else in the industry have to take the responsi- bility for this. They built too many ships, and when there was a downturn in inter- national trade due to the financial crisis after 2008, the drama took its course. How did you manage to get your company back on course? I restructured it and replaced the management at all levels. There used to be limited partnerships that attracted money and invested it in ships. They lost a lot of money in the crisis, and that Setting sail for new horizons: Bertram Rickmers transformed his corporate group into a joint-stock company. Photo: Jan Windzus / © Rickmers Group Shipping line owner Bertram Rickmers has prepared his company for the capital market “We Want to Fly with the Eagles” INTERVIEW 16