Dutch Courage

Hapag-Lloyd in Troubled Waters

Rolf Habben Jansen DPA
Hapag-Lloyd CEO Rolf Habben Jansen has his hands full.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Rolf Habben Jansen, the new chief executive of the German shipping firm, hopes to take the company public by 2016.

  • Facts


    • The Hamburg-based container line has debts of about €3 billion ($3.5 billion).
    • German travel company TUI is pushing for an IPO so it can offload its 13.9 percent stake in Hapag-Lloyd .
    • Rolf Habben Jansen was formerly in charge of shipping company Damco, part of the Maersk group.
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Rolf Habben Jansen, the new chief executive of maritime container shipping firm Hapag-Lloyd, faces a truly difficult job. He hopes to take the money-losing company public by 2016 at the latest.

“The probability that the initial public offering will slide to 2017 or 2018 is very slim,” he said in Hamburg, where the company is based.

The container line has debts of about €3 billion ($3.5 billion) and enormous interest costs that could be reduced by the capital increase of the IPO.

The German travel and tourism company TUI is pushing for an IPO so it can sell its 13.9 percent stake in Hapag-Lloyd as soon as possible.

The city of Hamburg, which holds 23.2 percent, aims to reduce its stake in Germany’s largest container shipping company, which recently rose to number four in global rankings.

The Dutchman is a newcomer to the maritime shipping sector. Mr. Habben Jansen, 48, spent most of his career in the logistics industry. He took over the job in July after being recruited by Jürgen Weber, Hapag-Lloyd’s supervisory board chairman.

In the summer, Mr. Weber said, “Mr. Habben Jansen has long term experience in logistics and boat shipping at his disposal.”

Former colleagues have described him as pragmatic and decisive. However, up to now, the new leader has never travelled on a large cargo ship, and has got to know the maritime shipping branch almost exclusively as a customer.

“Freight rates have sunk more with us than with some of our competitors.”

Rolf Habben Jansen, CEO Hapag-Lloyd

He would be wise to get up to speed. For four years, losses in the hundreds of millions have been piling upThe growing overcapacity in the container market and the constant demands for larger container ships is only partly to blame for the losses. 

“Freight rates have sunk more with us than with some of our competitors,” Mr. Habben Jansen said.

He wants to take countermeasures by implementing better operations, expanding transport to remote regions and integrating their newly acquired container company CSAV. That should bring in at least $300 million per year in savings, but it is not enough to bring Hapag-Lloyd/CSAV back into the black.

The development of new business could be a solution. Mr. Habben Jansen has shown he can do that. In 2009, the Danish shipping company Maersk hired him to build up its new shipping company Damco in the Hague. Under his leadership, Damco developed into one of the strongest pillars of growth in the Maersk group. Today it has 12,000 employees in 90 countries. 

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Christoph Schlautmann has been working in the Handelsblatt Düsseldorf office since 2000. To contact the author: schlautmann@handelsblatt.com.

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