In Depth: The Vision of Jan Kees Pilaar

The yard Damen Shiprepair Rotterdam is located next to the river the Nieuwe Maas. The area, part of the Port of Rotterdam, can be seen as the holy ground for shiprepair in the Netherlands. Since 1929, when the shipyard named Wilton-Fijenoord opened its doors, countless vessels have found their way to the docks.

This place is also the home for Damen Shiprepair and Conversion (DSC), the division within Damen Shipyards Group that manages all Damen shiprepair yards, currently 16 in total.

Outside of the office, ships, steel and heavy machinery are dominant features. Inside, the interior is stylish, the offices have an almost futuristic look if you compare it with others in the maritime industry where decoration and nostalgia go hand in hand.

According to Jan Kees Pilaar, Commercial Director of DSC, you have to think ahead in this business, especially at this moment when the market is difficult: ‘‘Damen knows how to do that.”

All projects, shiprepairs or conversions, with a budget of over EUR two million pass his desk: “We look at the needs of the client and translate that to our organisation. Which of our yards is the best option for the job?”

There are 16 repair yards worldwide that work under the Damen Shiprepair & Conversion flag. Nine of them are located in the Netherlands, the rest of them can be found in France, Sweden, Dubai, South Africa, Singapore and Curacao (Netherlands Antilles).

Because of this wide range of shipyards, repair and conversion projects can be adjusted to schedules of the ships: “We find the closest yard for the ship when a project is planned”, Pilaar says.

However, when a client has a specific request, the ability and experience of a shipyard is leading: “All of our shipyards have developed certain specialisations over the years. This is an advantage for our clients, because with our expertise, yard flexibility and reach we can find a solution for any problem.”

Managing this process and other commercial activities that lead to orders is a daily job for Jan Kees Pilaar. Part of this process is to make a budget that is competitive and that also takes the risks into account: “The analysis of risks is very important in our business. We use a lot of data to make the best analysis as possible.”

To make the most of all the shipyards, Pilaar is dependent on information: “I have three words for my staff. Communication, communication, communication. We have to know what is going on if we want to be competitive.”

To do this, Pilaar has to create synergy within the group of shipyards of which all in the past were used to be independent: “We respect their traditions, but on the other hand we want to work with a format that is the same for every yard. If we offer a client a price for a repair project at Damen Shiprepair Amsterdam, we will offer the same price at Damen Shiprepair Vlissingen when the client decides to change yards because of the location of the vessel.”

Creating one organisation is a challenge, Pilaar admits: “We need to standardise operating procedures and think like a group.”

Having a defined set of common standards will also increase collaboration between yards, whether one is working on joint projects, the project based temporary reassignments of team members to other yards or just problem solving.

Pilaar has a lot of meetings with sales, commercial and project managers: “I talk about our strategy and motivate people on the goals we like to accomplish. But we also share knowledge and help each other when necessary. When a shipyard is really busy and another one has a slow period, they can share some of the work load. In this process communication very important.”

Another aspect is that DSC is committed that the yards are safe places to work. There are a lot of activities going on a normal work day, like welding, lifting and painting.

The combination of this work demands implementations of policies that focus on health, safety, environment and quality (HSEQ). A special committee within DSC oversees all HSEQ policy: “This is important for us, because our employees need a safe work environment. But also clients are aware that they can expect the same quality as well as safety at each of our yards.”

The current market of shiprepair is difficult: “More than half of all ship owners try not to spend money. When a bank pushes the buttons when it comes to shiprepair, other choices are made. They operate differently than maritime companies who own vessels. Everything is looked at from a financial point of view. The return on investment is the most important thing.”

Next to shiprepair, the modification and conversion market is important for DSC. Because of overcapacity, a lot of vessels are lying idle, but even in a difficult market, there are still modification and conversion projects.

“The market is leading, not the number of vessels that are available to be converted.”

During the interview, Pilaar speaks about a big project the shipyard is working on. Damen Shiprepair Rotterdam is going to work on the modification of the offshore installation vessel Aeolus: “Big projects like the conversion of Aeolus are, of course, very welcome.”

Before his current position at Damen, Pilaar worked as managing director of Blohm & Voss Repair in Germany.

“Damen is a powerhouse. A lot is happening in the company and I am glad to be part of this process. Damen is very entrepreneurial. I like that. The company always looks to find commercial opportunities. This keeps us a step ahead.”

An example of this mentality is the Offshore and Conversion Group. This department is a link between Damen Shiprepair and Conversion (DSC) and the Damen Shipyards Group that concentrates on newbuilds.

The aim is to bring in big projects. This can be complicated conversions, but also one-off newbuilds: “There is a lot of knowledge and expertise within this group.”

The combined knowledge creates commercial possibilities. As the sales and commercial managers from both divisions have a different network they see other market trends and this also works the other way around.

“With our technical experts and project managers, it allows Damen to do front-end engineering and be as competitive as possible, using group strengths.”

Jaap Proost

This article was previously published in Maritime Holland edition #2 – 2017.

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