Charlie Du Cane, Global Online MBA 2015 – 2017, is the Director of the Clipper Group in Hong Kong, a specialist dry bulk shipping company. He moved companies and was promoted to a senior position while completing his Global Online MBA studies. We speak to Charlie about his career, Global Online MBA studies and get an insight into the shipping industry.
You have recently completed your Global Online MBA. Looking at the programme retrospectively, how have you grown from when you began your studies to now?
I did the MBA really for the numbers, I wanted to gain more quantitative skills. However, I ended up learning more than I thought I would from the branding and marketing courses and organisational behaviours and strategies. It gave me a language that I could then use in my daily work.
Towards the end of your studies, you moved from your position of General Manager at Gearbulk to the Director of Clipper Group. How did the MBA prepare you for this step-up in leadership?
We used a lot of the MBA techniques that we had learned to set-up the company in a distressed marketplace. A very good example of this is we thought about our organisation and how we could best structure it. We created an alliance with a company in Shanghai that has taken of a lot of costs off our books and made them variable costs.
This new position also saw you working for a new entity of the company. What skills did you learn on the programme that equipped you for this challenge?
We started Clipper in Hong Kong with just me hot desking in a friend’s office- and now we have 13 people managing the group’s presence in the entire Asia Pacific region. In going from start to where we are now, I have used leadership, accounting, strategy and organisational behaviour techniques, all learnt on the course.
The Clipper Group is in the dry bulk shipping sector. What are the three main challenges facing this industry and how are you working to combat them?
One of them is the commoditisation of the business due to too many players, too much money and too easy access. That’s three parts of one problem. The way we’re dealing, commoditisation leads to volatility and lesser returns. We have gone against one of the things we learnt in the MBA which taught that avoiding commoditisation through product is the key to success. Our approach has been giving in to it and taking advantage of what happens next.
The next big challenge is how do you run hundreds of ships that burn tens of hundreds tonnes of fuel oil every day and retain strong environmental standards. One of the ways we combat this is spending top dollars to keeping our ships maintained. We also pay a premium for Eastern European crew that cost a lot more than crew from other countries. They look after how the ships perform which means we are being responsible on the seas and it pays for us because they take initiative for problems when they arise.
The third challenge is the assault on free trade people like Donald Trump and Brexit pose. There is very little we can do beyond observing but the shipping industry should teach political leaders that if they don’t want to take part in the global shipping system other players will take part. Shipping is difficult to regulate because the vessels are offshore. Consistently where one market shuts down another market has taken its place. We will see some adjustment but it will hurt the economy more.
While studying your Global Online MBA, how did you find using the online learning platform, the Hub?
Generally it was very good. The strongest thing was each module had outside lecturers who gave us talks and that was a good part of the programme.
Were you able to use real work projects for any of your assessment pieces on the MBA?
My thesis was a recommendation paper to my former company which was entirely written as a strategic recommendation. Also in the first year my accounting group did our assessment on the shipping business.
What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about applying for the Global Online MBA?
The advice I would give them is to be disciplined about taking time away from the MBA. The mistake I made was I didn’t allow myself enough breaks and I got very tired at the end of the first year and was sick for a while. I would also say it’s very all-consuming but you should go with the process because you come out of the end learning at the other end.
Why did you choose Imperial and more importantly, did it live up to your expectations?
Imperial’s reputation as a very strong quantitative school was one of the reasons I chose it. I certainly wasn’t disappointed at all as we did a lot of quantities work on the Global Online MBA. I also knew I wanted to do distance learning and an online programme. The two choices if you were looking at the best ones were Imperial and Warwick. Imperial is more intense and shorter in terms of years and I liked that.