Steering his ship from dock to C-suite

PHOTO: Steering his ship from dock to C-suite

The adventurous life out on the wide blue ocean, backing up tugs and vessels against mesmerising sunsets and sunrises can make the stuffy corporate world look dull.

But it is not the cut and thrust of a seafaring life that captain Garrick Stanley, 40, Otto Marine's group chief executive of four months, misses most.

"I miss the solitude of being out at sea," says Mr Stanley, who left the dock for the C-suite about seven years ago.

Still, Mr Stanley, who holds the title of "master mariner" after spending 15 years on stretches of water such as Australia's Bass Strait, the Timor Sea and the North West Shelf, finds attractions in the corporate world too.

"It would be very hard to go back. Business is so exciting and dynamic," says the Australian national.

After a gruelling few years marked by a sector plagued by dwindling new orders, slipping rates and rising borrowing costs, the tide appears to be turning for Otto Marine.

"We've put to bed the problems of our past and are ready to move ahead. The next five years are going to be very good," he adds.

The offshore marine firm which operates one of the largest shipyards in Batam, Indonesia, is beginning to see new orders come in for the shipbuilding segment.

That is hardly coincidental.

"We specifically didn't take any new orders to finish up our cancelled orders in the yard, which we've done," he remarks.

Throw in the fact that the shipping sector is now showing signs of slowly stirring back to life - rig-building activity is picking up and the offshore support vessel space appears to be on a recovery path - and the picture looks promising.

The fact that the waters are looking calmer was also reflected in a move in August by controlling shareholder and executive chairman Yaw Chee Siew to step down as group chief executive.

Mr Stanley succeeds Mr Yaw, a tycoon who also owns substantial property assets in Malaysia and plays a key role in charting the direction of the company.

His voyage to the perch of Otto Marine, carried out as part of the firm's succession planning, could have been an obvious one.

Mr Stanley was managing director of Perth-based Go Marine Group, an Australian offshore oil and gas firm, between 2007 and this year.

What had started out as a strategic tie-up between Go Marine and Otto Marine back in 1999 led to a 55 per cent acquisition by Otto in 2011 which was raised to 90 per cent a year later.

Mr Stanley played a key role in the founding of Go Offshore, now a subsidiary of Go Marine.

His career ascent to Otto Marine comes at a time when there has been some good news out of the firm after a dearth of that for a very long time.

Jobs for Otto's shipyard in Batam are expected to click higher, thanks to a change to rules, which could mean more demand for Indonesian-flagged vessels.

Analysts are beginning to take note as well, but there are not many of them yet. Most are probably waiting for more positive news flow.

Based on Bloomberg data, there are only three analysts covering the stock with only one issuing the prized "buy" call on the stock.

"We've been quiet over the last few years and have been under the radar. Now, we're starting to come out," says Mr Stanley.

"The biggest thing about this company which most people do not know is that we have over 60 offshore vessels operating around the world.

"We are a strong play in Australia, have specific entities in Malaysia and Indonesia and have a presence in West Africa, Middle East, the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico."

The firm's latest quarterly results have turned Voyage Research's deputy research head Ng Kian Teck more optimistic about its prospects.

Revenue rose nearly 6 per cent to US$83 million (S$104 million) while it chalked up a net profit of US$4.12 million in the third quarter ended September.

Another factor that has captured Mr Ng's attention is the progress Otto Marine has been making to alleviate its debt burden, which, as at Sept 30, stood at US$533 million.

Early this month, the company sold two vessels - one for US$95 million sold to a 49 per cent owned unit in Indonesia and the other for US$25 million - to further cut its debt.

It has also disposed of its non-core holdings and made a cash call to lighten the debt load.

"The year 2013 was all about strengthening our balance sheet, which we've done," says Mr Stanley.

The firm's strategy going forward is to build ships for its own needs - as part of its fleet renewal plan - and to a smaller extent, for third parties.

"The market needs to understand that we are essentially now a shipping company with a shipyard," he adds.

More than anything else, the appointment of Mr Stanley, a master mariner technically sound on offshore operations matters, well reflects that shift.

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