Passing the baton at the Hapag-Lloyd Center for Shipping and Global Logistics (CSGL)

CSGL title photo

They have known each other for 15 years, they share a scientific passion for maritime logistics, and now they’re meeting at a crossroads in their careers in Hamburg. As Michele Acciaro leaves Kühne Logistics University (KLU) after almost 10 years at the end of 2021 to join Copenhagen Business School, Gordon Wilmsmeier will succeed him as Director of the Hapag-Lloyd Center for Shipping and Global Logistics (CSGL) at KLU starting in January 2022. We met the two scholars for a conversation about shipping and global logistics and the academic world.

Interview by Susanne Löw

To start with, I would like to have a look at the maritime sector’s challenges in our decade. How does this sentence end? Shipping and global logistics need…

Michele Acciaro: Shipping and global logistics need collaboration and better communication among the various logistics actors, society, and all stakeholders involved in finding better ways to deal with the complexity that characterizes the world of today. This complexity is the result of some macro trends, such as the changing role of China and global political instability as well as climate change and the uncertainty associated with it.

And you, Gordon, what is needed in shipping and global logistics these days?

Gordon Wilmsmeier: I agree with Michele. We need leaders and decision makers who can implement the necessary transitions, including digital and sustainable transformation. We need fresh ideas, the eagerness and willingness to implement them in a still very traditional industry. Our mission is to train people for this transition.

Michele Acciaro: You’re right. We need visionaries for change. And academia can contribute to shaping that vision, to opening people’s minds beyond the operational day-to-day, and to challenging the status quo.

What can the Hapag-Lloyd CSGL contribute to handling these challenges?

Michele Acciaro: As a research center we have the possibility and resources to reflect on things more in depth and in a way that is not conditioned by the urgency of day-to-day business. Our advantage is our independence and our attention to methods which allow us to look at things from a broader perspective.

Gordon Wilmsmeier: We are in a facilitator role and should provide students with relevant discussions on topics such as digitalization, sustainability, and governance in the shipping and port industry to show them the attractiveness of the shipping and logistics sectors, so that they’ll decide to work in this field, either as researchers or in industry.

Michele, you’re passing the baton to Gordon and will leave the KLU after almost 10 years. Which moments of your time in Hamburg will you remember with pride?

Michele Acciaro: The creation of the Hapag-Lloyd Center has been very satisfying in my career. The last two and a half years have been really rewarding in terms of new contacts, research, and personal learning. One specific highlight from my time at KLU was the Annual Conference of the International Association of Maritime Economists (IAME) in 2016, when I could bring my whole “academic family” to Hamburg – an event which made KLU well known in the maritime research community. Other highlights were the interaction I had with European institutions and the direct impact our research can have on policy. I’m happy that I will stay connected with KLU as Associate Member of the CSGL in the future.

You are going to Copenhagen Business School. Will there be a cooperation between your new colleagues in Denmark and KLU?

Michele Acciaro: There is always cooperation in academia. In that sense, I was already engaging with Copenhagen Business School before. We had a joint project. I did my sabbatical there. Their students come to us every year. One of my Ph.D. students graduated from there. So I’ll just have a different affiliation and Gordon and I have a close friendship. This will help build and maintain that link between the two institutions. We work in the international arena of research. It’s a big international family.

A big international family – well said. Gordon, you will continue working at Universidad de los Andes in Colombia parallel to your new job at the CSGL starting in January. What is your focus there?

Gordon Wilmsmeier: I’ve been in Colombia since 2017 and in Latin America for 15 years in total. At Universidad de los Andes I hold a Kühne Professorship. It was a central idea of Klaus-Michael Kühne to have somebody that works on maritime and port logistics at a university in Latin America driving both the ideas and training of future industry leaders. The same is the case with the CSGL at KLU. Klaus-Michael Kühne wanted this university to have strong expertise in maritime logistics. It’s a very interesting experience to work at the business school of one of the best universities in Latin America. My contribution there is maritime ports lecturing and research. Over the past years we developed several projects on sustainability and energy consumption in ports and institutional restructuring in port governance – always focusing on the emerging market in Latin America. Now I will be able to connect these approaches between Europe and Latin America.

Beyond the differences in research topics, can you see any differences between KLU in Hamburg and Universidad de los Andes in Colombia?

Gordon Wilmsmeier: Definitely. Los Andes is a university with 700 professors and 12 faculties, so first of all there’s a little size difference. The business school there has 74 professors while we have about 27 at KLU. The other issue is the role of the university in society. In Latin America now, in some families the first generation is going to university. So there’s a different dynamic because of different expectations and a changing society. Here in Hamburg, we’re in a more mature university context. And the most interesting part: There are different cultures in management, in the collaboration with colleagues, in digital maturity. And there is also a good learning effect on both sides.

The Hapag-Lloyd CSGL is still young. Do you have anything to report about the industry’s feedback on your work?

Michele Acciaro: The industry has recognized that working together with academia can offer new insights in solving the problems they’re tackling. Our business doesn’t do research directly for private companies, as consultancies for example would do. But since we do research in an applied field, it is clearly our task to discuss with the industry, to receive input on interesting areas of research, and to offer help by applying some of the methodological tools we are familiar with.

So let’s look into the future. Where do you see the CSGL in three years?

Gordon Wilmsmeier: One idea is to expand – both the team and the topics. Furthermore, there is a good connection between Michele’s topics and mine, such as energy and efficiency in ports and alternative fuels. My aim is that the center will become a reference point in some of these areas in Hamburg and Europe. We hope that the presence of the center will attract more students to maritime and port economics. And we are looking for a new colleague, so there will be two professors in maritime logistics and ports.

A lot of work ahead. Finally, I would like to ask you to complete another sentence: KLU means to me…

Michele Acciaro: Well, I’m moving, so KLU will be my past soon. But to me KLU has meant a great working environment with a culture of excellence in research. It’s been my Hamburg family, a place where I could grow and learn, a place to engage with other researchers and students.

And “KLU means to you…,” Gordon?

Gordon Wilmsmeier: To me KLU means freedom, resources, and an environment for the development of new ideas and structures. There’s a saying: How do you best protect that which is dear to you? You give it freedom. You let it go. And then you’ll see new ideas developing. This is the spirit of KLU.

Thank you for the conversation and all the best!

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