Interview with London International Shipping Week’s founder, Sean Moloney

London International Shipping Week 2017, the third iteration of the biannual gathering of business leaders in the English capital, takes place during the week of September 11th to 15th. Insurance Marine News caught up with Sean Moloney, co-founder of the event, to talk about its history, current developments, and future plans.

IMN asked Moloney about his background and about how LISW came into being.

“I suppose you could describe me as a journalist, a publisher and a PR man, in that order. I worked on Lloyd’s List, on daily newspapers, on magazines, and then published various publications for Informa. I set up Elabor8 Communications – a PR, marketing and publishing company — in 2003. I know shipping very well; I’m not a ship-spotter but I understand the shipping industry, and I sit on a lot of boards and advisory groups.”

It was about 2011 that Moloney was asked to a lunch with City UK, which was formed following the crash in 2008 to promote London globally. The organization wanted him to chair a shipping-related conference.

“So I said, ‘why don’t we have a shipping week?’ ” However, City UK said that the money wasn’t available, but this set the seed in Moloney’s mind. Over the next year he talked to people, and the response was not encouraging.

“They said: ‘shipping’s gone east. The freight market has gone through the floor. We tried an exhibition here six years ago and it failed. Why would anybody come to London?'”, to which Moloney replied: “Well, it’s the number one maritime centre. You have Lloyd’s; you have brokers; you’ve got the insurance. So when are you all leaving for Shanghai?” Moloney’s contacts said that they weren’t, because London continued to be important. This said Moloney, showed why we needed a London Shipping Week.

Moloney began to look around, talking to some of the organizations which his company worked with, and got several on board. “It was slow to begin with, but the interest from the industry began to come in. About four to five months before the first event in 2013 we had about 30 events on the calendar and about 40 supporting organizations. The (UK) government then began to get involved and began to see it very much as an opportunity for growth. The maritime sector’s contribution and potential contribution to GDP was recognized as something that could be good for the UK. We ended up with 81 events during the week in 2013. We had to move the Gala Dinner from the Lloyd’s Building to Grosvenor House.”

Moloney said that when they launched LISW they felt that they would be competing with Nor Shipping, Posidonia, etc, but that LISW’s unique selling point was that it was a complete joint effort between the global industry and the UK government. He emphasized that it was all about collaboration. At the second LISW in 2015 there were 121 events during the week, and this year there are likely to be between 140 and 160.

“What it means is that law firms, brokers, insurance firms, the P&I Clubs, the insurance agents, shipowners, managers, all come in and hold events together. And they benefit from the fact that people are coming to other events. So, when they hold their reception or conference, they know that they are going to get good attendance, because everyone is in London. And everybody helps each other. It’s not about London or the UK talking to itself; it’s about promoting London and the UK internationally”, said Moloney.

He noted that shipping was all about maritime clusters, and LISW was about how London collaborated with those clusters around the world. “And that’s why we encourage the Chinese, the Singaporeans, all industries and trade associations to come in and hold their events, because it’s all about the role that London plays globally. And the participants, be they supporting organizations, such as IUMI, the International Tanker Owners’ Association, Lloyd’s, etc, or sponsors, they all benefit from this, and they see LISW as an opportunity to tackle serious issues with the right people in the room.”

“To answer your question, ‘what started it?’ It’s passion; I’ve been covering shipping for 35 years as a journalist, a publisher and a PR man, and what was missing was something that London and the UK could showcase their expertise and prowess globally.”

There are a range of participants and sponsors, large and small. The Lancaster House reception on the Tuesday night, which is run by the UK government – will attract at least “350 global shipping A-listers”.

Moloney said that the UK government was able to showcase what it was doing and how it was working with industry. The week is overseen by a steering group and a board of advisers, working together as a collective.

“We all got out our black books and made sure we had the top 1,000 shipping people coming into London that week. So there is a Stakeholders’ working group, and that group’s job is to make sure that the key people are in London. Jeremy Penn personally sends out 750 invitations.”

Moloney noted that there were about 160 people within government and industry working on LISW. In 2015 the conference had a Twitter reach of six million, and there were 10,000 articles written about LISW. There were 55,000 people visiting the web site. There were 10 government ministers clearing their diaries for the whole week, eight government departments and a Royal Patron in Princess Anne. We had in excess of 15,000 top maritime industry leaders coming.

IMN asked if Moloney could give a little more detail on the contribution made by the UK government. Moloney said that nine government departments were supporting LISW. The government saw collaboration with industry as important because shipping was important. In addition Brexit was about trade and trade issues. But Moloney emphasized that this was not the reason that government got involved. “It has been involved for the past six years because it sees shipping and maritime as an area of importance and growth potential, and we have been very impressed with their commitment.

IMN then asked: “Do you think there is a need, and a response to that need, to raise the profile of the significance of shipping to the UK economy within the wider media and the wider general population?”

Moloney said that the general population would benefit from knowing the role that shipping plays because 90% of everything the UK consumes came by ship. “We have this question raised every time; how can we use LISW to just raise awareness with the man in the street? They walk past Lloyd’s every day and past the banks and brokers but they don’t have a port in the middle in the city like you have in Gothenburg or Antwerp.”

One thing that LISW 2017 is doing is hosting the Sea Shanties at Bank Station on the Tuesday morning. They will be surrounded by factoids about shipping, reaching 74,500 people in the three-hour period that they are going to be singing.

Moloney said that it was an opportunity to raise awareness but that, in general election terms, there were not many votes in shipping.

“The reason that it is important is because it’s an industry that is growing and is important to the UK internationally. It was voted this year as the number one maritime financial services city globally. London is a financial powerhouse and its contribution to GDP is important, but its contribution to employment is important and its contribution to the economy is important.”

IMN noted that Moloney mentioned bringing in Singapore and China. England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are traditionally maritime nations. “When you talked about clusters, you could say that there are clusters in East Anglia, the east coast of Scotland, How do those clusters contribute?”

Moloney noted that this was one thing that had changed as LISW developed. “This year you will see greater emphasis on the Maritime UK involvement. We have events from Mersey Maritime, from Scotland, from Wales, from Humber, and this has been done on purpose, it’s all about showcasing these clusters. What LISW has done is galvanize these clusters within the UK to say ‘we have a story to tell as well’.”

“And that is something the government is keen to push. We have a working group within LISW that looks after the regions and the dependencies, so the push is, let’s really get the regions to make sure that their voice is heard throughout the week.”

IMN asked how the insurance industry in particular was co-operating and contributing.

Moloney said that LISW had seen a strong take-up from the P&I sector and the brokers – Willis, Swedish Club, UK P&I Club, Britannia. Lloyd’s were on board. Inga Beale sits on the Board of Advisers and is a very important contributor to that. Lloyd’s is holding an event during the week.

Moloney said that LISW was heartened by the involvement of the insurers, the brokers and the lawyers. “But there is always room for improvement. Banking, for instance, the London commodities side. They are all part of shipping and London plays a global role in all of that. But we have commodities elements involved. But there is nothing to stop some of the big grain houses coming in to hold an event. I feel that we are scratching the surface with LISW at the moment, even though it’s a big event, the potential for further growth is significant.”

IMN asked Moloney what he thought would be the hot topics this year.

Moloney said that the themes would be tomorrow’s maritime world, tomorrow’s professionals, tomorrow’s environment and tomorrow’s innovation. Shipping and maritime was becoming more innovative. People therefore needed to know what impact this would have on the insurance and legal sectors.

“Will the law be the same in five or 10 years’ time, so all of these issues are being debated. So that will be key.”

Moloney said that LISW was about looking for thought leadership. London would give thought leadership into the way that the industry was moving forward, because LISW had the best brains global shipping coming into London for the week and speaking at the conference.

So, IMN asked Moloney where he saw LISW in six years’ time. He laughed.

“I won’t have any hair then. We have all been surprised at the pace of growth in this event over the past four years. I think shipping is changing. It is looking for thought leadership and I think LISW will play an even more important role in providing that. So by 2023 I would expect to see greater involvement by the global shipping industry across all areas, even into the technological and engineering side. There is nothing to stop the engineering side, the manufacturers coming in and talking about how they are embracing innovation. But it will always be pro-active. It will never do something solely because someone else is doing it. It will always push boundaries. That is what its job is. It will have the right people and the right brains coming in.”

Moloney noted that at Posidonia or Nor Shipping there was a lot happening that people didn’t really know about because they aren’t invited. “Here, everything is there. So, bigger and better, always with the shipping industry at its heart. It’s London looking internationally.”