It is a confession when your own child joins the company
The grandfather is a recognised shipping lawyer, the father a shipping merchant, who successfully led the only German liability insurance for seagoing vessels for 40 years and Mad Dabelstein, a shipping merchant and qualified shipping businessman and owner of the shipping company MarConsult (MC-Schiffahrt) – the Dabbelstein family has been active in shipping for many decades. Now in the fourth generation son Finn, also a shipping merchant follows this tradition and joins MC-Schiffahrt. What does that step mean for Mad Dabelstein, the company, the investors and the banker?
Question: Mister Dabbelstein, MC-Schiffahrt is a confessed family business. Your son Finn is joining the company now and may become your successor one day. What are the first experiences and what does that step mean?
Mad Dabelstein: We as a family had always the desire to go this step. Finn has to decide himself if he wants it and whenever the time has come to go this way. The first few weeks of working together show that Finn has a seriousness that I do not just want as a father but also as a supervisor. It is nice to see how established he is already with 24 years of age and how structured he is in his professional life, but I don’t want to put my father’s role in the foreground here. I have looked for a young qualified employer for the charter and my son came with the best requirements. He is a successful see merchant and has already experience in the chartering of container ships.
After his education at the established Hamburger company “Hanse Bereederung” under the management of Axel Schulz, Finn became an employee. He worked as a competitive broker. In this case the goal is to bring together foreign goods and foreign ships, thereby getting deals into the book. This is due to the tremendous competition a hard and educational job and I started back then just like that. In my opinion, the qualities learned here of willingness to compromise and negotiating skills are the best prerequisites for the prudent owner of a charter company who should not blindly pursue only his own interests.
Question: Does shipping have a long history in your family??
Mad Dabelstein: My grandfather was the founder of the established law firm Dabelstein & Passehl in Hamburg after the war, who specialise then and now in sea, transport and insurance law.
My father on the other hand was a shipping merchant and cofounded with his father a liability insurance company on mutuality in Hamburg, which followed the model of the mainly in England residing P&I Clubs.
It was hardly surprising that in the third generation I wanted to go into shipping with this kind of history, with the goal to become a ship owner. The result war the foundation of MC-Schiffahrt.
We are a family business, but not in a conventional way.
The brothers in law of my former partner were working as inspectors in our shipping company. The daughter of our fleet manager became a
marine clerk. My daughter Karlotta worked for nearly three year alongside her studies in the finance department, my stepdaughter Marie works part time as an assistant to the executive board und Björn Müller, the son of our authorised officer and chief of charter, Bernd Müller , is also a charterer and in the beginning of the year he got Finn as another colleague in the charter.
We understand ourselves as a family business in a positive sense and we want to stay like this and I can hardly imagine having a private equity investor join us. MC-Schiffahrt is my life achievement, unconditional commitment and reliability our philosophy.
With the entry of Finn I have in no way announced my resignation,
I am far too young for that and I still have far too many ideas and plans.
Question: What should be considered during the transition? Are there any rules how father and son deal with each other?
Mad Dabelstein: The first question my son asked me was: ”How do I address you”? That reminds me of a situation I experienced many years ago with a friendly shipowner. The son (middle 40) addresses his father (70 years old) with “Papi”. I was about 25 and I had to hold on to the chair in order not to fall over with inner laughter. I asked my son never to address me with “Papi” in our company, because that does not necessarily strengthen his position in the company and it diminishes our cooperation. We call each other by our first names.
We also decided not to talk about the business in our family.
We do this either in the office the next day or in my study at the weekend. These are the only 2 rules we have, besides being open and sincere with each other.
Question: How was the personnel decision taken in the company?
Mad Dabelstein: The long-time employees know Finn since he was a little boy. The feedback after nearly four weeks is exclusively positive. Finn does not act like a junior boss, he is an employed charterer.
Because of the future plans Finn will increasingly join all the important meetings, to be up to date and to build a trusting relationship with our investors and bankers.
Our philosophy is a personal trusting dealing with our business partners and to build and deepen these takes a lot of time. Our partners and investors are very pleased that the second generation is now entering MC-Schiffahrt. It shows, that despite a difficult situation in the shipping market, we still keep doing what we do.
When you employ your own child in your company, it is a confession to the future of MC-Schiffahrt.
Question: Are family entrepreneurs good entrepreneurs?
Mad Dabelstein: Either you are an entrepreneur or not. As an entrepreneur I have to be familiar with my business and its processes, developing new strategies and concepts all the time, it is hard to relax.
I don’t think that you can generalise if a family entrepreneur is in principle a good entrepreneur. There are plenty of family businesses where there is no unity and that are less successful.
For me factors like reliability, trustworthiness and sustainability are very important arguments for the success of a business. Possibly a family business is rather characterised by sustainability as the goal is to survive across generations.
With the entry of my son into our company the generation change in MC-Schiffahrt has started. I am not planning to withdraw from the company in the short term, but it is the objective to successfully realise further ideas and plans in a close and trusting liaison with my colleagues and employees.
My father said to me recently, when he visited Finn and me in the company: “Look my boy this is how fast you become a senior”.
He is right with what he says, but I am not afraid, to be succeeded at a given time by my junior, as I had this experience before in playing hockey. I looked after the children’s hockey team from Finn for 10 years. It got harder and harder to claim the ball against Finn, only to realise one day that I had no more chance at all. Nowadays Finn plays in the national league and he trains me sometimes in my men’s team.
The same process will happen in MC-Schiffahrt, but I will continue to be the coach of Finn to share my experience.
Interview by Andreas Nölting