How I Work: Irene Rosberg

Scores of the shipping industry’s top decision makers have gone through the doors of Copenhagen Business School over the last 20 years, to acquire the necessary skill sets to transform them into the business leaders of today and tomorrow.

Its Executive MBA in Shipping & Logistics programme, also known as the Blue MBA, is said to be one of the top MBAs in the industry and though it started back in 2001, its Director and well-known maritime figure, Irene Rosberg, still feels the same bursting pride at every graduation ceremony.

“For me, this has never been a job – it has been a passion,” said Ms Rosberg, who was head-hunted to take up the Director’s role just six weeks before the programme was first launched.

Coming from a maritime education, she says her research background coupled with her international network across the industry, provided all the necessary attributes to take up the post and since doing so, the programme has gone from strength to strength.

Designed for very busy individuals within shipping and shipping related industries, the student body comprises people in management from all walks of the industry, who can apply the learning through hands-on situations at work.

Normally delivered face to face at the CBS, the pandemic has seen a partial shift in the course to distance learning, which Ms Rosberg says is not ideal given the nature of the industry.

“Networking is the backbone of this industry, and of course you have to provide for that, so we are not so much for education online,” explained Ms Rosberg. “However, we have managed quite well, and we have carefully curated distance learning and introduced different flexible measures so our participants do not miss the advantage of networking with each other, even for the small part of our activities that we have moved temporarily on line.” 

Fortunately, the programme is run every second year and so there was not an intake for 2020, as the next intake is due this September. “We are hoping that the situation with the pandemic will have calmed down by then.”

Mr Rosberg said the COVID-19 crisis had taught us all a few lessons and will shape the content of the Blue MBA for years to come. The main lessons needed to be learned, she said, relate to what measures are needed to ensure sustainability in times of crisis.

“One of the major early impacts was the stranding of hundreds of seafarers at sea.  Let’s also not forget the port operations. They had to make reforms to keep trade flowing while also keeping people safe,” she said. “Of course, when you look at all these things, you have to really consider the best practices that emerge from these situations and how do we strengthen trade facilitation in the years to come so that we will not be in the same situation again.”

She added: “I believe one of the major lessons to be learned is the need to lean much more on modern technology and develop ways of harnessing it to the achievement of our goals. Modern technology and digitalisation are moving at great speed to take over almost everything we do in this industry and it will certainly require skill sets beyond the traditional seafaring abilities on which everyone had relied, to help break the conservative working and leadership practices that risk cutting the industry adrift from playing its full part in modern times.”

However, Ms Rosberg said despite the huge focus on digitalisation, it was important not to forget the key to the success of any organisation is its people. “People are the key, no matter how much you have to be digitalised. It’s important to invest in the people who are going to be running this industry – the industry is not going to be run by itself – and it is important that we see people get the right skill sets to do this work and stay ahead of the game.”

Ms Rosberg said one of the main contributing factors to the programme’s success was its relevance to the industry, and this has never been greater since the pandemic.  “We learn from what is happening in the industry and we see what the challenges are. We shall continue to work with the stakeholders and players in the industry to ensure we are keeping abreast of developments in maritime and translate those into our academic programme.

“Digitalisation is obviously one key area the programme is focusing on, but risk assessment is another area we are going to be looking at in a different way,” she said. “We are also looking at how we can be more sustainable by changing our procedures and our operations. We will also emphasise supply chain management, which is a very crucial part of this industry. If this pandemic showed us something, it is that this is the area we have to pay attention to.”

The diversity of students is also important for the programme, not only in terms of nationality and gender but also in terms of the segments of the industry represented in the student body.  We have fortunately covered all these three elements of diversity in our current class of 43 from 20+ countries, with nine female participants and representation of all the different segments of the shipping and shipping related industries.

Just as important, she says, is the composition of each intake, making sure that every segment of the industry is represented in the classroom from ship owners and operators through to lawyers and financiers. 

“This diversity brings a different dynamic in the classroom which is second to none,” she explained. “People not only learn from their professors and lecturers but also from each other. This is an industry which has grown from what it was 20 years ago. It is an industry where it is not enough if you are an expert in one niche area. It is very important that you have a holistic view of what is happening in the industry.”

Hearing about what drives the success of the Blue MBA, what drives Irene Rosberg herself?

“I love what I do,” she said. “I take it personally when there is a failure and I’m really proud of it when it’s doing well. It has been hard work, but it has also been very rewarding.”

When she isn’t working hard to maintain the top position of the MBA, Ms Rosberg can be found painting, playing piano or taking a hike or a run. “I love to get out in the fresh air and clear my mind,” she said.

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