The 50 Inspiring Champions of the Blue MBA Class of 2023 – Meet Ioanna Prassou

Ioanna Prassou, network and market manager for Maersk Line, Copenhagen

Triple transformation – the opportunity for shipping as viewed by Maersk network and market manager and Blue MBA participant Ioanna Prassou

“The shipping industry has a profound transformation journey ahead,” says Ioanna Prassou, network and market manager for Maersk Line, Copenhagen. Her motto is ”think out of the box, ask why, and challenge the status quo.”

Ms Prassou is one of the 50 senior managers from a range of organisations who are taking part in the Class of 2023 of the Executive MBA in Shipping & Logistics (the Blue MBA) at Copenhagen Business School.

She has clear views on whether the shipping industry in general is being innovative enough to deal with its many challenges, such as the disruption to aspects of globalisation and the fuel and emissions conundrum.

She says that artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things are three key technology disruptions that the shipping industry has started to explore – not at the pace and rhythm that other industries have done – “but in my view it will be ‘forced’ to quickly adapt and develop.”

 Her reasoning on these questions is incisive.

AI and blockchain:

“Historically the shipping industry is considered quite conservative and not the harbinger of technology disruption and innovation as such. Contemporary supply chains, in which container shipping lines operate, are characterised by increased uncertainties driven by a range of variables, such as socioeconomic and geopolitical factors and shifting of strategies in response to market dynamics.

“Recently, the occurrences and effects of these factors on global economic activities have been intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has ushered in a new normal, which has yet to be fathomed out.  In addition to that, in today’s world globalisation and digitisation of processes have fundamentally altered the conventional relationship between businesses and customers and heralded an era in which offering ‘customer support’ is not enough and satisfaction is governed by customer perception at a time when the tolerance to wait is short.

“In this time of heightened expectations, delivering superior personalised customer experience is considered a critical capability or a superior competitive advantage in liner shipping, given its immature stage of development compared to other industries. The advent of forces like Amazon has shifted the customer experience to the next level and customers anticipate a tailor-made service to the greatest extent possible. Maersk has already made the first steps in blockchain technology with the TradeLens platform which it has jointly developed with IBM as an open and neutral industry platform underpinned by blockchain technology. At the same time, Maersk is working on AI solutions to improve customer experience to new standards.

The Internet of Things, autonomous vessels, and carbon-neutral initiatives:

“A significant example is being set by among others Oslo-headquartered Yara International, a global crop nutrition company, which has already launched a fully electric and autonomous containership named Yara Birkeland to support green shipping. That vessel is expected to reduce 1,000 tons of carbon emissions and to replace 40,000 trips taken by diesel-driven trucks.

“AP Moller-Maersk group meanwhile is accelerating fleet decarbonisation with the construction of twelve 15,000 TEU and one 2,000 TEU ocean-going vessels to operate on carbon-neutral methanol. Those are just some of the first steps towards a greener future and more carriers are already following a similar approach.”

Maersk has had a remarkably successful couple of years, but how have Ioanna and her colleagues been able to minimise the impact of global supply disruption and port congestion, which have called for exceptional trade capacity management, and ensuring maximum schedule reliability?

She recalls: “2021 proved to be one of the most dynamic and challenging years for global supply chains, with unprecedented bottlenecks around the world. 2022 hasn’t started off as we had hoped as the pandemic is still ongoing and we continue to see Covid-19 outbreaks causing a domino effect on terminal productivity and yard congestion. These result in severe waiting times, affecting our schedules and therefore our ability to move the cargo.

“Despite the challenging environment, in Maersk we remain focused on delivering our promise to our customers and restoring schedule reliability. Some of the actions taken to handle the exceptional operational environment were network restructuring and capacity optimisation in a way less susceptible to failures to the extent possible.

“As the situation evolves, we continue working closely with ports and terminals and coordinating with all stakeholders to assist in alleviating the situation and minimise the customer impact. That can include the transfer of cargo via alternative modes, structural or ad hoc schedule adjustments to isolate problematic ports, which could cause a domino effect on the rest of the schedule by slowing down the sea transit; seeking to achieve minimal queuing; opening of substitute container depots and many other solutions which could help our customers.”

‘’While the numbers are far from optimal, we are pleased to see that according to the SeaIntel schedule reliability report, Maersk remains the most reliable carrier by a large margin (more than 15%).’’

In just seven years of experience in shipping in various roles, Ioanna Prassou has made outstanding career progress. Through her experience in revenue management and as trade capacity manager, she encountered contingency scenarios that obliged her to take decisions based on risk management analysis to balance service quality, cost efficiency, and revenue optimisation.  Such episodes, she explains, called for a holistic approach.

“I was required to take multiple decisions where the risk was significantly high and there was no unequivocal solution to hand. At one of these moments, my manager told me: ”Ioanna, there is no black and white solution, you need to be able to operate in the grey area” and that was a moment of epiphany for me. I realised that there would be always trade-offs and that I won’t be able to satisfy every factor, or every stakeholder involved. I needed to learn to take risks, but also to be able to handle the consequences. It might sound simple, but for me, it was a game-changer, once I realised it.”

What attracted Ioanna to participate in the Blue MBA course, and how does she expect the experience to benefit her and her company?

“The main reason for choosing to pursue the Blue MBA course came from the realisation that I need to develop a toolkit of soft and leadership skills, which in combination with my previous educational background in finance and business analytics would set a solid foundation for my future career as a leader.

“What I like about the programme is that the variety of people’s backgrounds in culture, education, and industry has set an ideal foundation for a healthy and interactive environment to self-reflect and become the best version of myself. I am a strong believer that leaders who know themselves are motivating and inspiring to their teams.  Hence, this experience and acquired knowledge would contribute both to my personal and professional growth as well as to the company I am working for.

“Last but not least, I joined this programme to support women’s presence in the shipping industry – and why not be a role model for other women, who might have doubts or hesitation about being more visible and active. So, in a way, I wanted not only to acquire knowledge and network, but also to give back to the industry.”