”It couldn't have gone much better”
Ole Ingrisch is stepping down as CEO of the Port of Esbjerg after 16 years. Revenue has more than tripled, almost DKK 2 billion has been invested, and most important of all, the port has gained a global image, explains Ole Ingrisch here looking back.
28 February 2019 will be a special day for the Port of Esbjerg. It will be Ole Ingrisch's last day working at the port where he has been at the helm for 16 years.
He is leaving the port in good shape and with progress on almost all parameters.
When Ole Ingrisch was appointed in 2003, revenue was DKK 94 million, whereas the figure for 2017 was DKK 236 million. During the same period, profit multiplied to DKK 80 million. And meanwhile, the Port of Esbjerg Harbour also grew by more than a million square metres following the establishment of the East Port.
Today, the Port of Esbjerg is recognised as one of the leading wind ports in the world, and the port is also an innovative hub for the Danish oil and gas industry and number one in Denmark for RoRo.
However, it could have been a very different story.
When Ole Ingrisch was appointed in 2003, revenue was DKK 94 million, whereas the figure for 2017 was DKK 236 million.
From authority to service
Back in 2000, the Port of Esbjerg was a State port i.e. it was not run commercially and figured in the Finance Act. But then Esbjerg Municipality was given the right of disposal over the port. That meant money had to be earned. The Minister of Transport no longer protected the port.
In 2003, the port employed Ole Ingrisch as its new CEO. When he accepted the position, a quiet revolution was already under way. It no longer had an image as an authority.
”From being State-employed public servants and caretakers, we had to adjust and act commercially. We no longer said: Berth that ship here. And put the litterbin there. We made a fundamental change and sought out customers to understand what we needed to do to increase business and attract new customers. We went from being passive administrators to being business partners,” explains Ole Ingrisch.
Other government companies have had trouble adapting to commercial conditions, and Ole Ingrisch also admits it was not all plain sailing.
”But when I arrived, I quickly realised there was a leadership vacuum. The employees were saying: ”Tell us what to do,” says Ole Ingrisch.
The employees at the Port of Esbjerg wanted a direction and strategy. And Ole Ingrisch was happy to give them both.
”Those kinds of things take years, and layoffs were necessary. But it was still a good beginning. I felt the Port of Esbjerg was a bit too quiet with untapped potential that wasn't being addressed. People said: That's how it is.”
But Ole Ingrisch had another vision, and with the port's new masterplan in 2004, the course was set in earnest.
”I saw some opportunities with offshore wind and RoRo, for example. On that background, we devised a masterplan and defined a strategy.”
The strategy was implemented, and when the financial crisis hit the whole world in 2007, it hit the transport industry particularly hard. Yet at the port, the new strategy was bearing fruit. Offshore wind was growing. While other ports and transport in general were in serious decline, the Port of Esbjerg was forging ahead. Revenue and profits were rising while the world was struggling in the red.
”Blow it, let's spend a billion”
Soon afterwards, the management at the port decided to invest more. With its freedom as a port under autonomous municipal control came the willingness to take risks. The port's Board Chairman Flemming Enevoldsen and Ole Ingrisch decided to spend money. Lots of money.
”We said: Blow it, let's spend a billion. Let's press the button,” explains Ole Ingrisch. This willingness to take risks was unheard of. The money was earmarked for investments in quay facilities, terminals for a range of goods, hinterland areas, cranes and other infrastructure.
”We could never have done that as a State port,” says Ole Ingrisch.
Were you particularly farsighted, and did you appreciate the potential of offshore wind from the start?
”We all tell our own stories and I'd like to take the credit for it, but Horns Rev 1 was before my time,” says Ole Ingrisch.
One moment he recalls as a special turning point happened after Siemens bought Bonus Energy in 2004. Ole Ingrisch attended a meeting at the wind turbine producer's headquarters in Brande and sat in the car afterwards slightly confused. At the meeting, the people from Siemens had announced that they needed 300,000-400,000 square metres at the port.
”I sat there thinking: They must mean 400,000 square feet. Or there must be a zero too many. It can't be right.”
But it was.
Energy ministers came running
Before long, the port had large contracts with Siemens, had adjusted its masterplan and had begun extending the port. Meanwhile, the collaboration with Vestas and MHI Vestas, Vattenfall and Ørsted began.
While other ports struggled with transport volumes, Esbjerg was moving full steam ahead.
At the same time, the Port of Esbjerg presented a political agenda featuring a green transition and CO2 challenges. That attracted politicians' attention.
”Energy ministers and transport ministers came running. That was something new,” says Ole Ingrisch.
He remembers a meeting with the Minister of Climate, Energy, and Buildings at the time, Martin Lidegaard, who said he had never seen or heard of such a public player that was so dynamic and willing to take risks. Not least concerning the green transition.
”That was well said. It made me happy,” says Ole Ingrisch.
Personally, he does not think he took major risks on behalf of the port.
”It wasn't like walking the plank. On the contrary, I thought: What an opportunity. We had great support from the industry so it was a natural step to take,” he says.
He was very clear and collected about the investment.
”I was not as cold as ice because if it backfired, what then? But I thought the chance wouldn't crop up again so there was no alternative. The ball was right at my feet and it was a matter of booting it into the back of the net.”
When the port presented its plans, Siemens, Vestas and Vattenfall gave very positive feedback.
”It prompted a chain of fantastic reactions,” says Ole Ingrisch.
And that helped attract the new companies.
”We have gathered an enormous collection of global players. That also explains our extremely strong position. Vestas, MHI Vestas, Siemens-Gamesa and Vattenfall have chosen Esbjerg. It's really amazing and any CEO would give his right arm to have them as customers,” says Ole Ingrisch.
Back in 2000, the Port of Esbjerg was a State port i.e. it was not run commercially and figured in the Finance Act. But then Esbjerg Municipality was given the right of disposal over the port. That meant money had to be earned.
Easy and fun
So the port has transformed from a small, quiet regional and local port into aglobal world-leading installation hub”.
Has it been as easy and as much fun as it sounds?
”It HAS been easy and fun all the way through. But of course, there were days when I drove home thinking it could have been more fun. My role at the port has taken its toll, and when you make many decisions of course you also make some mistakes. I've done that too. Changing the port from being regional to global has triggered a number of conflicts,” says Ole Ingrisch.
But when summing up, he is in no doubt.
”It couldn't have gone much better. I think very few business leaders experience such a journey, so I'm grateful for that,” he says.
Ole Ingrisch has valued the wide-ranging leeway the owners have given him over the many years. He has always received support for plans and investments from politicians.
But now he will have even more freedom when he retires.
Ole Ingrisch will keep his five seats on boards of directors and will continue as chairman of Danske Havne. And apart from that, his family is due some attention.
”I'll stay active but I'm looking forward to deciding over my own calendar,” he says.
In his own words, he is handing over a very, very healthy port, and he believes the Port of Esbjerg has a very positive outlook for many years ahead.
”We'll see more of the same. Intense activity within offshore wind, oil/gas and RoRo. I have a good gut feeling. It's a fantastic business, a fantastic organisation and a financial powerhouse. The port will manage without me."
Until 2000, the Port of Esbjerg was a so-called State port. After that, Esbjerg Municipality took over and the port continued under so-called autonomous municipal control.
Revenue 2003: DKK 94 million, revenue 2017: DKK 236 million
Profit 2003: DKK 45 million, profit 2017: DKK 80 million
Revenue per employee 2003: DKK 1.4 million, revenue per employee 2017: DKK 4.4 million