Evergreen Shipping Agency: ‘Nothing beats an honest relationship with people’

Jun 20, 2017

After 40 years in the dynamic, occasionally stormy shipping sector, Mr Patrick Phoon reckons he has seen it all, although surprises can sometimes still crop up.

One came in April when Mr Phoon was honoured at a major award ceremony that singles out the industry’s major achievers.

The deputy manager of Evergreen Shipping Agency clinched top honours in the individual category at the Singapore International Maritime Awards, including for his work over the past four years as president of the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA).

Mr Phoon, 65, tells The Straits Times: “I don’t like it to be termed as my contributions. For one very simple reason – I don’t think there is any man so great in this world he can achieve (success) all by himself.”

He credits the contributions of his council members, along with government agencies like the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. “It was a collective collaboration that led to the success, and I was merely a facilitator. How could I have gotten anything done if the council didn’t believe or support me? Or worked hard at it?”

Under Mr Phoon’s leadership, the SSA identified and helped build up the insurance and finance sectors, which it saw as key to Singapore’s development as a leading international maritime centre.

WORKING TOGETHER

It was a collective collaboration that led to the success, and I was merely a facilitator. How could I have gotten anything done if the council didn’t believe or support me? Or worked hard at it?

MR PATRICK PHOON, on the award for his work over the past four years as president of the Singapore Shipping Association.

He was also involved in the implementation of the current form of bunkering procedures, which use the mass flow meter, as well as the production of the ISO standards broadly aimed at preventing shipwrecks and making maritime pollution clean-ups more effective.

Mr Phoon is most proud of the establishment of the Singapore War Risks Mutual (SWRM), a class of insurance that helps safeguard shipowners and Singapore’s strategic maritime interests.

The SWRM, launched in February 2015, has placed the Republic on the global map, along with the few jurisdictions that have their own war risk pools.

Mr Phoon, the SSA’s longest-serving council member with 24 years on board, notes that the Singapore shipping industry has changed immensely since the start of his career to become one of the world’s leading maritime centres.

He entered the industry in 1970 at the age of 17 and went to sea as a cadet officer before being called up for national service a year later.

“It was a very simple process back in my time. You leave school, you go find a job, you help support the family,” says Mr Phoon.

ACROSS THE HORIZON

A lot of people in any industry across the board, they get bored with their work because it’s just a job. If you take your work as your job, you’ll be painfully bored within three years. But if you look at your job as a career, where you get to ask questions, learn new things and do better, you’ll find that it opens a whole new world.

MR PHOON, on the insatiable thirst for knowledge that allowed him to get to where he is today.

“What young people call ‘career guidance’ today, I didn’t have. So whatever came to mind, you think you like it, you give it a shot. I have been lucky in the sense that I’ve always loved ships. ”

Ignorance was bliss back in those seafaring days, he recalls, noting that Wi-Fi was far into the future.

He and his shipmates would watch the same movie over and over again – “but what made it more enjoyable was how after a while, we turned off the sound and did the dialogue ourselves”.

“We also had those eight-track tapes (a precursor to cassette tapes) and we listened to bands like Steppenwolf and Deep Purple. Can you imagine, the ship is pounding away on the waters because of the gale and we’re rocking away to this music? At 17, we were young and indestructible,” he says with a laugh.

In 1972, Mr Phoon joined Leo Shipping in an executive role, moved to Anglo French Trading in the operations area after three years, and then went to Singapore Shipping as a general manager.

He became junior partner at Green Asia Shipping in 1980, a company that looked after the maritime agencies here for Taiwan’s Evergreen Line – still one of the top container lines in the world.

Eight years later, he set up RTW Shipping – Round The World Shipping – before entering a joint venture with Evergreen Line in 2001 to form Evergreen Shipping Agency. The firm, which is 51 per cent held by Evergreen Line, is the exclusive agent here handling the carrier’s operations such as the planning and coordinating of port calls.

“What I find so interesting about shipping is that it is a very global business, and there are just so many things to learn. You never stop learning,” says Mr Phoon.

“I remember when I first started work with Leo Shipping, I was only doing documentation for inbound deliveries. Then I thought, ‘Okay, I got that figured out, what about other things? How do you calculate freight?’ So I requested to move into the freight department.

“And the next moment, I found myself asking, ‘Why does this Shipper A buy from this Consignee B? How are goods being moved?’ This opens up a whole new world of trade, and it just goes on from there.”

Mr Phoon believes it was this insatiable thirst for knowledge that allowed him to get to where he is today. “A lot of people in any industry across the board, they get bored with their work because it’s just a job. If you take your work as your job, you’ll be painfully bored within three years,” he says.

“But if you look at your job as a career, where you get to ask questions, learn new things and do better, you’ll find that it opens a whole new world.”

For example, between Evergreen Shipping Agency and other operators, the biggest difference probably lies in the container colour, Mr Phoon notes. “But if you walk up to a client and say, ‘Hey, I noticed that you’re supplying to this person here, and I see that your material is pretty good for dresses and shirts.’ The guy will be impressed. ‘Oh by the way, we’re also moving your raw materials from South America or Africa. Can I offer you this service?’ Here you’re projecting yourself as interested in his business, and that’s the thing, that’s the difference,” he explains.

“Nothing beats an honest relationship with anyone you encounter, and this has to come from having a genuine interest in what the other person does.

“And then you accomplish three things in your life: You gain a friend, you know about his industry, and you also earn his loyalty. At the end of the day, it is the loyalty that brings you the business. And forming these relationships, that’s what makes life so interesting.

“Can you imagine if I didn’t do this? It would have been a very long 40 years, and I would probably have been a very unhappy person.”

Mr Phoon’s advice for the younger generation to succeed? Have passion and integrity.

“Because when you have the integrity, you don’t cheat, you don’t slack, you don’t play your colleagues out, you don’t do anything that is detrimental to yourself. And having the passion means you learn new things. If you don’t learn, you will never grow.”

More can still be done to continue growing the Singapore shipping industry, such as further developing the maritime ecosystem, but Mr Phoon is leaving all that to the younger ones.

For now, he is looking forward to retiring next month – “with gusto and anticipation” – a move that has been in the works for three years.

“I’ve always told my friends that for 40 years of my life, I’ve had to do something that I needed to do, because it was about making money, carving out a career and supporting the family. So for the next 20 years of my life, I want to do things that I want to do, not what I need to do.

“I missed the growing-up years of my children because I was too busy doing the things I needed to do. But I’m not going to miss the growing-up years of my grandchildren.

“Now I want to spend time with my grandchildren, let them drive me crazy, exhaust me.”

On top of that, Mr Phoon plans to embark on a number of projects to give back to society, in particular those related to children and single mothers. He also intends to go on holidays with his wife, including a two-week fishing trip to the Maldives in December.

“I intend to bring back at least 60kg of fish. But the most important thing we’ve got to figure out – is anybody bringing the sushi chef? So we can have fresh sashimi. That’s the most important thing,” he quips.

Correction note: In an earlier version of the story, Mr Patrick Phoon was incorrectly identified as the deputy manager instead of the deputy managing director. We are sorry for the error.

Source: Straits Times

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