Incoming BIMCO president champions benefits of diversity in maritime

Şadan Kaptanoğlu

Şadan Kaptanoğlu. Credit: Kaptanoğlu Group


While she readily admits she was born with a “golden spoon” in her mouth, BIMCO’s president designate and Kaptanoğlu Shipping chief executive officer (CEO) Şadan Kaptanoğlu is under no illusions about the demands that the maritime industry makes of its leaders.

When you go into shipping, there are huge expectations around performance and you simply have to meet these expectations, Kaptanoğlu tells Fairplay. “These have to be met on every level, from operations to decision making, as well as in your personal and business life. Shipping is a tough industry. You are expected to see the big picture and be in a position to act if you are a decision-maker,” she says.

According to Kaptanoğlu, one of the first challenges she faced from the industry concerned staying power and whether she was genuinely intent on building a career in shipping. There were also questions about whether she had the qualifications to be there.

“For my first 10 years, there were lots of little tests – and you can sense it is a test – to see whether I knew this gig and if I was on top of things,” she says. “And you still come across this now when people wonder why I, as a woman, would want to be in shipping or if I really know my stuff. But men don’t just do this to women, they do it to other men as well. It’s all about whether one can keep up with the work.”

The fourth generation at the helm of the Istanbul family-owned company founded more than a century ago, Kaptanoğlu has certainly earned her industry stripes. Growing up in an environment where shipping was talked about constantly and days out involved trips to shipyards and other maritime events, she was raised to believe she had to deserve the position into which she was born, requiring her to become a “full shipping person”.

For Kaptanoğlu, this meant education and it saw her go knocking on Professor Costas Grammenos’ door at London’s Cass Business School, where she undertook a widely respected MSc degree in shipping, trade, and finance. It also involved her being an active force in the industry on a national and international level.

Her efforts here have seen her assume several leadership positions. She is currently the chair of the Turkish Marine Environment Protection Association (TURMEPA) and vice-president of the International Marine Environment Protection Association (INTERMEPA), as well as serving on the board of directors of the Turkish Chamber of Shipping and Piri Reis Maritime University. There is also her ongoing involvement with BIMCO, which will see her become first female president of the 112-year-old organisation when she succeeds Common Progress CEO Anastasios Papagiannopoulos in June 2019.

Her mission at BIMCO, she tells Fairplay, will be one of continuity – advising the organisation’s 2,100-strong shipowner membership on economic and regulatory challenges – but Kaptanoğlu is also determined to bring younger people into the organisation.

“I believe in diversity in every aspect, not just along the lines of gender. We need every combination of ideas to address future challenges,” she says.

Like many other women in maritime leadership positions, she is determined to see more females work in shipping. The men who dominate the industry “need to understand the value of a different angle or viewpoint in some situations”, she says, adding that female intuition and insight are hugely beneficial, given the way the industry is evolving.

“Even for me, born with my golden spoon, it has been difficult as a woman in maritime. I will always support and continue to support the need for more women. If this problem had been solved, we would not still be discussing it now. The change has to start from the male leadership, but women need to support other women in the same way that men support men,” she says.

A drive for diversification has also dominated Kaptanoğlu Group’s business activities in the decade since the 2008 financial meltdown. With “markets, regardless of segment, having been too elastic before the crash” and “shipping cycles now being shorter than they were in the past”, the Turkish group has split its interests between tankers and shipyards.

“Our combination of interests has kept us balanced and has protected us. As a family-owned company, we need to keep what we have. We have been investing in our shipyards and we have continued to diversify in tankers, moving into chemical and products,” Kaptanoğlu tells Fairplay.

Although she says it is “too early to talk about 2019 tanker prospects”, she is bullish about what the year ahead holds for its shipyards, given the growing interest in scrubbers.

For the group’s owned ships, scrubbers remain an option, but she says it will be a “case of wait and see” when it comes to complying with the 2020 sulphur cap. “Even if everyone wants scrubbers, that is technically impossible,” Kaptanoğlu says, adding that she expects the new fuel blends will be carefully scrutinised.

An advocate for shipping playing its role in protecting the environment, Kaptanoğlu reiterates that the 2020 sulphur cap does not just concern shipowners, but involves a number of other parties – refineries, ports, and countries – which means that “everyone has to do their homework. If no homework is being done, then we need to step in to protect the innocent parties. I have every intention of sustaining this earth for future generations,” she says.

Given her lifelong exposure to the foibles of shipping and her experience in the business, there is no doubt that Kaptanoğlu is well-placed to assist the industry in improving its environmental credentials, as well as support those looking to break into its ranks.

Respect in the industry is hard won, she tells Fairplay, and you have to “learn from your mistakes, not your successes, and you also need to know which fights to pick. The sooner you learn this, the easier life gets”.  

Contact Nicola Good and follow her on Twitter: @NicGoodmaritime