How I Work: Paul Jennings

When Paul Jennings arrived in Newcastle from Suffolk as an eager law student 37 years ago, he didn’t realise the grip the city, and its maritime heritage, would have on him.

For while he decided not to embark on a career as a solicitor or barrister, he wanted to use law in some way and had the opportunity when he graduated to join a P&I Club – Newcastle P&I – which merged into North of England P&I back in 1998. He has been in the North East ever since.

“Over the course of that time I’ve pretty well done everything within P&I,” he told SMI.

Mr Jennings was joint Managing Director along with Alan Wilson until 1st May this year when Mr Wilson stepped down leaving Paul as sole CEO.

“It’s easy to say we always continue to learn and develop but funnily enough in the nearly six months doing this on my own, instead of in a joint role, I’ve probably learned as much as I have over the many years previous to that,” he said.

“I’ve changed the structure slightly since I took over. I’ve reduced the number of people that were previously reporting into us on a joint basis. I’ve reduced that down to a smaller executive team that I am working with and I’m actively empowering the executive team to perform their roles and their functions. I see my leadership style for them as one of guidance, supporting and helping them to execute strategy within the business.”

He said over the last year, North P&I – which employs 350 people worldwide including 250 at the HQ in Newcastle – had been engaged in a pretty extensive leadership and behavioural development programme within the company, seeing nearly 70 people through a very detailed programme.

“It’s about developing a behavioural framework for the whole organisation and ensuring that our leaders at all levels within the business are aware of the implications of their leadership style and how to lead in different levels. What is really important to me is making sure that we maintain the culture within North. What has been North’s unique position and the reason we have been able to grow so successfully over many years is the personal service and the nature of the service that we provide.”

Indeed, when the combined Newcastle/North of England P&I Club was formed, it had a tiny market share –  just 2-3%. The Club now has over 12% of the market share.

Recently, North opened new, larger premises in Piraeus, allowing room for expansion, and the Club also opened a small office in New York.

“We are continuing our diversification strategy,” explained Mr Jennings. “We are fully committed as a mutual P&I Club, but we have a diversification strategy to grow on non-mutual shipowning business.”

He says much of that is through the “reshaped Sunderland Marine”. North P&I merged with Sunderland Marine in February 2014 and he says over 35% of the income is now coming from fixed premium rather than mutual P&I, which is within the targets in the Club’s KPIs. The Club has a five-year plan, but what are Mr Jennings’ aspirations for the short-term, say the next 12 to 18 months?

“For North, and the mutual ownership side of North, it is continuing to deal with and support the environment that our ship owner members have been in, in tough trading conditions. We are seeing some signs of improvement,” he said.

Mr Jennings said premium levels within P&I Clubs will be a challenge for all clubs over the next couple of years, as though there had been a period of reducing premiums in the last two or three years for all clubs in the International Group, “we are now coming to the bottom of that cycle”.

He also stated that regulatory changes were also a challenge including the Global Sulphur Cap in 2020, and ballast water regulations, and the uncertainty of Brexit was also posing problems.

“It will be interesting to see how the sulphur cap shapes the market. There are suggestions that it may lead to some older ships disappearing from the market and that may, in the short-term, affect the supply and demand balance. If some ships come out of the market it might be good for the ships that are remaining.”

Certainly, a lot to juggle for the busy Chief Executive. So, if he does get some free time, what does he enjoy doing?

“Spare time does seem to be in short supply,” he conceded. “I do have a regular habit of gym going, even when I’m travelling, and I now book hotels on the basis of the quality of the gym rather than the quality of the restaurant!”