A Shipbroker’s Story
After three years in industrial sales, William Kuah decided to hang up his oily overalls and make a career pivot to shipbroking. That was in 1992. Since then, he has risen through the ranks to his position today as the Director and Head of Chemical Shipping at Eastport Maritime. What has the journey over the past 27 years been like? This is William’s story.
1) Why did you choose to be a Shipbroker?
There are times in life when things turn out the way they are by chance, and my shipbroking career is one of them. I was doing industrial sales before and that meant I was wearing an overall soaked in oil every other day. I reached a point when I felt it was time to move on.
Incidentally, I had just obtained an Advanced Diploma in Marketing, so I went around applying for sales and marketing positions to apply what I’ve learnt. Eastport‘s shipbroking position was one of them. I was shortlisted, interviewed and selected, and the rest, as they say, is history.
2) What was the first day of work like?
I remember I was so excited to finally say bye to my oily overalls! Shipbroking was a new area for me but I had prior experience with ships in industrial sales and I was confident I would do well given my marketing background.
At the end of the first day though, I felt like a lost sheep. There was so much to learn, even with the guidance of some seniors. There was no structured onboarding programme then unlike today when newbies at Eastport benefit from formalised mentor arrangements, training and sharing sessions.
3) What do you like about your career journey so far?
From the beginning and even to this very day, it is the adrenaline rush whenever I close a deal, especially when I face headwinds during the negotiations but still manage to fix the shipment eventually. These are the moments that keep me going!
Deals aside, being around people energises me. I am very happy to have built up a global network of friends of all nationalities over the years. Shipbroking provides me with the exposure and experiences which cannot be found in many industries. I get to travel all over the world to meet customers and attend meetings and conferences.
On the practical side though, being a shipbroker is financially rewarding when I check the right boxes and achieve my goals and targets. The reality is that the big rewards are for the ones who are willing to go all out for their customers and deliver that extra-mile of service.
4) Were there times when you wanted to give up?
Yes! Some days are very long and it makes me both physically and mentally exhausted. Every hour at work is another hour away from the family. It can be a challenge to juggle both commitments at times but I always try to find an equilibrium. I am also fortunate to have an understanding wife whenever duty, or in this case, work calls.
There are also times I feel that my hard work does not yield the expected results. As a shipbroker’s KPI largely depends on the closing of deals, all the effort and resources that go into preparing for the negotiation will seem wasted when the deal does not go through.
This can be disheartening, but at the end of the day, I remember that I’m in this for the long-haul and my passion for shipbroking is what makes me bounce back after every setback.
5) What changes do you see in the shipbroking role now compared to before?
The industry has grown a lot over the years. When I started as a shipbroker in 1992, we had to do a lot more as Asian shipbrokers to reach out to our clients since the Western shipbrokers had the benefit of proximity and existing relationships with decision makers that were mostly located in the US and Europe.
Today, with Asia becoming the global economic powerhouse, many offices have since relocated to the East so this challenge is not as acute as before since more chartering and operation functions are handled in our part of the world now.
6) Do you think that technology can replace the role of a shipbroker?
While technology has helped us to link up with anyone anywhere, the personal touch is still important and irreplaceable. As a shipbroker, I need to build strong relationships with my clients and understand their needs. Getting to know them professionally and even personally has also earned me lasting friendships.
7) Last question… what dreams do you have for the maritime industry?
My dream for the maritime industry is to see more people, especially the younger generation, getting into the industry to have the same enriching experience as I had, and for Singapore to grow as an international maritime centre.
On a lighter note, I hope digitisation can transform our industry into one where there could be more fun and flexibility in the overall working experience. For example, I can envision myself fixing ships and getting deals done on a beautiful beach in Hawaii, sipping my Pina Colada, while effortlessly pulling out the necessary information and communicating with my team and customers.
In fact, my wife drew this scene for me on a noodle cup when we visited a ramen museum in Japan earlier this year!
Find out more about the role of a shipbroker here.