Heavylift / Breakbulk

  • Ilse Fliege, the founder and president of Bocs.

17.11.2015 By: Antje Veregge

Artikel Nummer: 12232

«One must be bold!»

When Ilse Fliege founded Bocs Bremen Overseas Chartering in 1990, its line of business was still a male preserve. In a conversation with Antje Hanna Veregge she explains how she was nevertheless able to establish a successful company that has specialised in conventional services between Europe and West Africa.

At the beginning of October, Bocs Bremen Overseas Chartering and Shipping celebrated its 25th anniversary. «Guests from all over the world were here with us in North Germany to celebrate our special day,» the company’s founder and president Ilse Fliege was happy to report. «It was important for us to organise a kind of family celebration. We were not interested in bestowing honours or awards, but above all we wanted to thank our customers and partners for a good and in some cases very long-standing business relationship.»


Fliege has been active in the shipping business for several decades. To her mind, one thing that has undergone a marked change over the years is the relationship between the shipping company and the shipper. «Today we have come a long way from the situation in which we had a principal and a customer,» the president said. Today, she explained, the parties work together as a team to develop and implement transport solutions. Apart from that, little has changed over the years. For instance, the political and economic situation in West Africa is still far from simple.


The direct link

Bocs is adapting to this situation: «Here the keyword is partnership,» says Fliege. In her view there is no place for hierarchies in business. The ability to adapt to different mentalities is a fundamental requirement. Fliege vehemently objects to the way in which the continent is viewed, from the Western perspective, as a pure problem case. «In Africa people laugh much more than they do here,» she stresses.


A further key factor for success is on-the-spot presence. For this reason, members of the Bochs team visit the region on almost a monthly basis and Fliege herself is still a frequent traveller. However, in her opinion it is important to make way for the younger generation. «I have already been in the business for several decades. But one must also be equipped to face the future. My generation is no longer in the driving seat.»


These are frank words for what is sometimes a difficult situation. However, unlike many others, Fliege has no worries when it comes to her succession planning. Both her daughter and her son-in-law are on board and will be at the helm of the family undertaking through the coming decades.


Dependable staff

It goes without saying that things have not always been plain sailing in the past. However, as Fliege stresses, even in difficult times she has always been able to place her confidence in the majority of her staff. To what, beyond this, does the company owe its success? «One must be bold» is her motto. Of course, particularly at the beginning of her independent career she often had doubts as to whether it would be possible to operate profitably in West Africa. And today the company is also faced with challenges as a result, for instance, of the collapse of the price of oil. In this situation, in line with a counter-cyclical strategy, Bocs is stepping up its service range.


In this connection, Fliege benefits from her many years of experience in this region. Before she branched out to set up her own business, she was employed by a shipping company that specialises in services to this part of the world. In her opinion, besides the hard factors such as knowledge of languages and shipping expertise, the soft factors also lead to success: she is convinced of the importance of paying attention to unaccustomed impressions and attitudes and adapting to different conditions - without criticising them blindly.


As a woman, things were not always easy for you at the beginning of your career in business. «At that time, our industry was still a male preserve. In addition to our professionalism, we women had to assert ourselves above all through continuity. But ultimately one must simply go one’s own way and not make mountains out of molehills,» she says looking back on her career.

Fleet renewal is key

In the years between 2006 and 2011, Bocs was faced with one of the biggest challenges in its history since being established. Until 2006, the company operated mainly Astrakhan-registered ships on long-term charter assignments. In times of very high bunker prices, however, these units could no longer be operated economically and the booming state of the shipping market, resulting in a global shipping capacity shortage, made it difficult to find suitable replacements.


These times are now a matter of the past and the Bremen-based company is comfortable with its current fleet. «At present, we have no plans to expand. For a conventional service we are well equipped with five ships,» its chief executive says. In her opinion one advantage of its size is the ability to respond quickly.


In this connection, one thing is clear: even in rapidly changing conditions, Bocs is quickly on the ball.         



The background to Bocs

Bocs Bremen Overseas Chartering has been trading since 1990. With a total fleet of five multiple-purpose vessels, the family firm is predominantly active on the trade routes between Europe and West Africa and also offers hinterland transport services locally.


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