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Building the Future

Building the Future

Leo Ruijs (CEO ECT) on new employees, tailor-made solutions and reducing peaks

‘We are building our future’

ECT is currently in the process of recruiting one hundred new operational colleagues. CEO Leo Ruijs explains how this fits in with the company’s outlined strategy to continuously improve its performance. “We are building our future. This also includes increased cooperation in the logistics chain. Only then can the current peaks at our terminals truly be reduced.”

“An ideal world in which a terminal exactly meets the needs of the market does not exist,” opens Ruijs directly with a statement. “The capacity of a terminal will always be too large or too small. It is impossible to exactly cater our terminals to the changing supply of deepsea and feeder vessels on the waterside and of trucks, trains and inland barges on the landside.” Both too large and too small each hold their own challenges. “With the commissioning of Maasvlakte 2, ECT has had to adjust to lower volumes for a number of years. Supported by our shareholder in Hong Kong, the starting point was to retain as many ECT employees as possible. We have been very successful in this, partially also due to the agreements in a port-wide Social Agreement, which among other things allowed employees aged 60 and over to work fewer hours.”

Clear strategy

In that new reality, ECT formulated a clear strategy for a successful future in 2016. The customer, communication, cost efficiency and cooperation are key elements in this strategy. ‘Customer centricity’ has by now become firmly entrenched throughout large parts of ECT and performance improvement is a continuous ambition. 210 moves per hour at the ECT Euromax Terminal is the current record. Ruijs: “ECT always endeavours to offer the best possible service at the lowest possible cost. Much more than in the past, we now realise that besides the shipping lines, the hinterland transporters and the parties that commission them - such as freight forwarders and shippers - are directly or indirectly customers of ECT as well. We want to provide all these groups with tailor-made solutions and we are always looking for new opportunities to improve our service rendering.” Examples are the plans for a barge transferium in the Hartelhaven port area, the realisation of an empty transferium at the ECT Euromax Terminal and a pilot with fixed windows for the handling of inland barges.

Positive prognoses

In terms of handling figures, the situation has also improved. Volumes have been increasing again since 2017 and the prognoses are positive. Ruijs does however have a critical note to add. “The shipping sector is continuing to change. New acquisitions or changes in partnerships cannot be ruled out.” Whether this is favourable or not for ECT depends on the shipping lines involved. Furthermore, political developments on the global stage are difficult to predict anyway. Also, the relationship between economic growth and increasing container volumes is by no means as direct as it was in the past. “Making predictions is more difficult than ever. So many factors are uncertain. This makes it almost inevitable that our prognoses for ECT are somewhat conservative. As a result, the available capacity in terms of labour and terminals may not always directly correspond with the actual requirements of the market if the market suddenly shows growth again. This leads to outside pressure as well as internal tension. After all, at such times there is less capacity than we would all like.”

New jobs

“For the first time in ten years, we are therefore now creating a hundred new jobs,” continues Ruijs. “We have confidence in our customers and in the continued development of the market. We can once again build our future.” All the new operational employees have the prospect of a permanent contract. “We do this in our capacity as a good employer, but we also want our company to benefit from the investments related to the training of new employees. Both ECT and the employee stand to benefit.”

Finding a solution for peak loads

No matter how ambitious: 100 new employees and hundreds of millions of euros of current terminal improvements will not solve the enormous peak loads that ECT is regularly faced with. In the future, the ECT terminals will at times also be too large or too small. Sometimes, it seems as if ‘everyone’ shows up at the gate at the same time. “It is impossible to gear our work organisation towards those peak loads. That is simply unrealistic in terms of costs. At the same time, our success to a large extent does depend on the quality of the landside handling. We also always want to serve those parties as optimally as possible.”

In their own right, the peaks can be explained, says Ruijs. “The port may have a 24-hour economy, but this is far from always the case in the hinterland. Often, containers can only be delivered or collected during a limited part of the day. The terminal call in Rotterdam is planned around this. On top of that, the deepsea ships are continuously unloading and loading larger and larger volumes of containers. In addition, bad weather can completely disrupt the planning of deepsea vessels. That makes the peaks even greater.”

More collaboration in the chain

Levelling off the peaks is only possible through more cooperation, is Leo’s conviction. “All the parties in container logistics have their own responsibility in this respect and have a common interest in ensuring that the available capacity within the chain is optimally utilised. Solely holding the terminals accountable for this is simply unrealistic.” In today’s logistics sector, in many cases still highly traditional, each party however is mainly focused on itself, tightly retaining control over their own containers. “At any given time, our terminal stack may for example hold 500 containers bound for Basel. Different parties don’t know this of each other so they all do their own thing. There is a lack of chain management.”

Sharing data

Changing this situation starts with parties sharing more data with one another. This constitutes the foundation for improved planning, greater efficiency and, consequently, improved service levels for everyone. Ruijs: “Nowhere do more containers come together as at the Maasvlakte. The digital exchange of information allows for the creation of combinations. Through European Gateway Services, we can next for example make sure that those 500 containers efficiently arrive in Basel. Provided that we are given the opportunity to take the initiative. The transport can also be carried out by other parties. But the larger the volumes created through chain management in Rotterdam, the more all the individual players – including ECT – stand to benefit!”