An interview with IBIA’s new Chairman, Robin Meech
On 1 April 2016, IBIA’s new Chairman Robin Meech takes up the helm. His career has focused on the shipping industry, ports and terminals, the marine fuels business and the environmental issues associated with these sectors. As a result, he has extensive experience in the downstream and service sectors of the marine and oil industry.
Tell us a bit about your background and your career so far?
My degree was a BA Hons in Engineering and Mathematics from Bristol University, and I began my career in research and development with a UK engineering company. I moved to Australia to work in operations research, and then joined Arthur D Little, the US based technical and management consultancy where I worked for more than 25 years focusing on downstream oil.
In 1990 I was appointed as a director of the Osco Group, a Norwegian privately owned tanker and marine service company. I led a restructure of the entire group and headed up the development of new business ventures, including establishing the Group’s broking house in London and the Group’s service company, located in Singapore. I was heavily involved in the development of the company’s world-wide spares and chandlery company and the ships’ agency also based in Singapore. My responsibilities included the day-to-day management of the Osco Carriers tanker pool, managing the purchasing of bunkers for the owned vessels and marine insurance negotiations.
In 2001, I founded my own company, Marine and Energy Consulting (MECL), a UK based independent consultancy. The company’s main focus is oil logistics and all aspects of the bunker industry. Much of the work has required an intimate knowledge and understanding of the commercial, technical and environmental issues facing the bunker industry as well as the escalating risks from price volatility, credit exposure and operating under increasingly stringent regulations.
As one of the founding members, how has IBIA changed and grown?
I was involved in the initial ‘setting up’ of IBIA, and have actually been a member for over 20 years now. For the last four years, as a Board Member and from 2007 to 2008 as a Council Member.
In recent years I am pleased to see that IBIA’s membership has grown steadily, and I think there is considerable scope for this to continue, particularly in some of the parts of the world where the bunker industry is growing, for example China.
This can only be good news for IBIA as the association’s scope becomes more comprehensive, more all-encompassing of all the different sectors of the industry, supported by a broader membership. Moving forward, this also means that the association will be able to draw on the perspectives of its membership even more, offering a solid balanced view and increasing its wider influence.
What will your top three priorities be as Chairman, for the year ahead?
My top priorities will be firstly, environmental – environmental considerations are a particular interest of mine, I have advised the IMO on past and future Green House Gas emissions as part of its on-going regulation process and am a member of the IMO steering group which is assessing the timing of the introduction of the 0.50% sulphur global cap.
I will continue to work with IBIA’s secretariat and membership to secure agreement for a workable global cap for fuel emissions, and by that I mean a global cap that can actually be enforced. Also, the months ahead will be both interesting and challenging as we work to convey IBIA’s perspectives and concerns on the debate around carbon emissions keeping our members informed and helping to formulate practical, enforceable regulations that have a meaningful impact on the environment.
As 94 per cent of our members noted in the IBIA member survey, promoting ethical behaviour and standards in our industry has become a top priority. To be blunt, the bunker industry is not held in high regard and it is time to address this. We cannot ignore the bad reputation of our industry any longer. As a first step we have created a new working group to look at ‘ethics’ and I would encourage any member who feels strongly about this subject, to join this group now.
Together, we must look at how we can increase and promote professionalism, how we can agree and establish best practice guidelines and industry standards, and how we can support the communities that our business operations impact, in a more constructive manner. IBIA’s support and training in the use of mass flow meters is just one step in the right direction.
Leading on from this, my third priority is to look at the subject of education, it’s time to promote excellence across our industry at all levels. Not just new recruits coming into the industry, but ‘mature students’ too, and by that I mean managers at all levels across the bunker industry, who need professional guidance and development. We must help our industry to develop the skills it needs to progress, so that the bunker industry is fully equipped for the future.
What are the challenges for IBIA in the future?
I see ‘maintaining a balanced view’ as a challenge, but it is vitally important to our status and survival. IBIA is developing a reputation for providing an unbiased view that is often more practical and more likely to be accepted in national and international forum.
However, for IBIA to effectively represent the concerns and the interests of all of its members across all sectors of the bunker industry, we – as members – absolutely have to share our professional knowledge and be willing to give advice based on our expertise and experience through the working groups, IBIA’s forums and other events and of course our Annual Convention. From this input, IBIA’s working groups can then formulate an equitable, independent view that can be presented as the IBIA industry perspective on key issues.
As members, we all have the opportunity to use our experience and knowledge to influence the development of our industry as it moves into the future. I sincerely urge you to get involved and to do just this.
Where would you like IBIA to be in five years’ time?
Five years down the line, I would like to see IBIA commanding a much greater and more significant, respected presence in the international marine arena, whether that’s through interaction with international regulators, Government bodies or influence across the industry spectrum. This will of course, require a larger membership.
I would like the association to be known for its balanced, considered views, taking a position that is neither supplier or buyer, but taking into account both perspectives, but most of all recommending a course of action that is in the interests of wider society.
I would like IBIA to have been instrumental in securing consensus on reducing the carbon footprint of the maritime sector and last but not least I would like IBIA to have played a key role in the development of LNG bunkers and to be supporting and to be providing industry leadership on alternative sustainable fuels.
How has being a member of IBIA benefited your career and your company?
Over the last 20 years IBIA has benefited me and my business in many ways, it has taught me a number of management and technical skills, widened my knowledgeable contacts significantly, and increased my networking opportunities through the associations’ many different industry and social events.
Through my work on the Board and the Council, I have gained better access to the IMO and the EU and have been able to influence some of the discussions, one hopes, for the better. Personally, I am proud to be a member of the IBIA Board and value the opportunity to give something back to an industry that I find both fascinating and challenging.
Do you have any message for any members considering getting involved with working groups, regional executive committees or considering standing for the Board?
We have just completed a reviewing and have restructured the working groups, expanding them to match the increasing complexity of the issues being faced by the industry (click here to find out more). I would like to urge all of our members to get involved in some way. We need your input to improve our industry, and it need not involve a lot of time. Please email your ideas and views to email@example.com, our secretariat team will keep you in the loop – and when the core working group meets to discuss and formulate the way forward, they will share their conclusions with you for your comments and feedback… then it’s up to you!
Any tips for someone considering a career in the bunker industry today? anything you wish you had known/someone had told you when you started out?
The industry has changed so much, it used to be that if you were approached by someone considering a career in the bunker industry, the best advice to give them was – don’t!
Now I would advise anyone to find a good employer and then ensure that you have a good mentor. It’s a role few managers today want to do, but it is exceptionally rewarding for both parties and I have greatly valued the different mentors I have had throughout my career.
Next, I would advise a new starter, to get as much training as possible. Training is like publicity, any is good but some is better than others, so be selective, ask around to establish what would be the best use of your time and yours and your employer’s finances. I would highly recommend anything that increases your financial knowledge, and your negotiation and networking skills.
Last but not least, I would say take the time to know what’s going on in the industry both on a day to day basis as well as longer term issues. Make sure that you visit an oil trading floor, an engine room and a test laboratory, whatever your role is now or in the future, and plan your career, don’t just wait for the next move to be dictated by somebody else.