We sit down with Chief Executive Officer Jan Meyer at the deck of Meyer Werft’s latest masterpiece: Mein Schiff 4. The cruise ship has just been handed over to the customer at the Meyer Turku shipyard. We can see from Mr Meyer’s expression that he is truly proud of the accomplishment.
Mr Meyer is calm and chooses his words carefully. However, when we start asking him about the art of shipbuilding, family values and the future of Meyer Werft, his eyes light up and our conversation bursts wide open.
The Fine Art of Shipbuilding
We begin our interview by asking Mr Meyer his personal opinion: What is the best thing about shipbuilding?
“One thing that is great about creating a ship is that you begin with nothing but a few thoughts,” he begins. “Then you start to develop the drawings, trying to picture the general arrangement of the ship and what the ship will look like.”
Mr Meyer continues to point out that when designing a ship, myriads of things need to be understood and taken into account. The big challenge is figuring out how to make it all work as a whole ship.
“Consumption and production of energy, water generation, air-conditioning, fire safety,” he lists. “All that needs to tie together in one light-weight structure so that the ship can have the maximum amount of payload and as many cabins as possible. And it has to look beautiful, just like the room we are sitting in right now. There’s a lot of things going on beyond that ceiling that you cannot see.”
“In short: to start from scratch and then see the plan develop into an enormous product, a travelling city so to speak. To see all that come alive. To me, that is the very essence of this line of business.”
Meyer Werft has a long tradition in shipbuilding, and the Meyer family is proud of that tradition.
“Over the course of time, the industry has taken giant leaps forward,” Mr Meyer says. “This development serves as a reminder for us: we as well need to reinvent ourselves constantly in order to remain at the top of our game. To achieve long-term success, our products must be state-of-the-art.”
A Brand New Ship Built by Highly Motivated People
Meyer Werft has just delivered its latest triumph at its shipyard located in Turku, Finland.
Mein Schiff 4 (mein Schiff being German for ‘my ship’) is the fourth in a series of environmentally friendly, state-of-the-art luxury cruise ships delivered for Germany-based TUI Cruises. 295 meters long, the ship offers space for up to 2,506 passengers.
The main dining hall of Mein Schiff 4.
Turku shipyard has become an integral part of Meyer Werft’s shipbuilding since the company acquired it from STX Europe in September 2014 together with the State of Finland. Why did Meyer Werft choose to get involved with Turku?
“On the technology level, we always regarded Turku as our best competitor,” Mr Meyer points out. “Their history goes back even further than Meyer Werft’s, and their achievements are undisputed. Just look at Oasis of the Seas and its sister ship Allure of the Seas! They are two of the largest cruise ships in the world.”
“That said, we knew Turku very well,” Mr Meyer continues. “We also knew that they had been having a hard time in recent years. We wanted to find out what was wrong, so we went over last summer. What we found was a number of talented people who hadn’t left the scene in spite of all the difficulties. Instead, they seemed very motivated. They simply wanted to build more ships.”
Now, the exchange of know-how between Meyer Werft’s three shipyards is helping each of them develop. In addition to Meyer Turku, Meyer Werft has two shipyards in Germany: a major one in Papenburg and a smaller one in Rostock, where river-cruise ships are built. Papenburg, incidentally, is the very same shipyard that Jan Meyer’s ancestors established in the 18th century.
Family Company with Long-Term Goals
In April this year, Meyer Werft announced that it had decided to further invest in Turku shipyard. The company had used the call option to buy the remaining thirty percent of the share capital from the State of Finland.
The transaction was completed two days before the delivery of Mein Schiff 4, meaning that the new ship became the first delivered by Meyer Turku as a 100 percent family-owned company.
Industrial PRIME has noticed that the concept of family company seems to mean a lot to Mr Meyer and his company.
“That is certainly true,” he says. “The nature of shipbuilding is such that we need to maintain a long-term view. The projects in our order book take a very long time to complete: it takes about three years to design, build and deliver a completely new ship. Meticulous planning as well as long-term investment are required.”
The same, according to Mr Meyer, applies to employees. He believes that when you hire new engineers, for instance, you are going to have to give them time: it will take one or two years before an engineer will really get to know the ropes.
“This kind of long-term engagement has no immediate benefit for us,” says Mr Meyer. “But in the long run the benefits will become more obvious. As a family company, we have the luxury of being able to afford to look further ahead. We are under no obligation to report quarterly results, which in my opinion makes no sense whatsoever. Instead of quarterly results, we look at how our ship projects are proceeding.”
The Future of European Shipbuilding
When it comes to all industries, it is always interesting to speculate on the possible future developments. Are Asian shipyards, for instance, going to take over? Are we still building ships in Europe in twenty years’ time?
Mr Meyer agrees that the rise of Asia has brought with it a lot of changes and challenges. However, he remains positive about the future of his company.
“If we look at Germany, for instance, as little as ten years ago around fifty percent of the ships built were some kinds of cargo ships,” he illustrates. “Today, this percentage is zero. Nearly all of the shipyards that used to build those ships have since gone bankrupt.”
Meyer Turku handed over Mein Schiff 4 to TUI Cruises on 8 May 2015.
“We, on the other hand, are in a different kind of product field. What we are building is a very complex product. Take our newest ship, for instance. It is a sister ship of Mein Schiff 3 and in fact very similar to it, yet quite a number of improvements have been made.”
“For the most part, Mein Schiff 3 works beautifully. But when a ship is in use, ideas for improvements inevitably emerge. What we are doing with our ships is that we continuously develop the product. We optimize the ship for its purpose.”
This, according to Mr Meyer, is something that is not offered in Asia. In order to understand the needs of the customer and then execute that plan, a close cooperation between the ship manufacturer and the customer is required.
“I have worked at shipyards in South Korea,” Mr Meyer reveals. “They build quality ships there, for sure, and they definitely need to be taken seriously. But the difference lies in the way they do it. It resembles the Japanese model: they build series types of ships and they do it in a very, very efficient way.”
“If you think about a container, it has very low expectations for its journey from Asia to other parts of the world! That said, they are not so much focusing on product development in Asia, let alone this kind of customization that we lay strong emphasis on.”
And therein lie the ingredients for the bright future of Meyer Werft. Beautiful, state-of-the-art cruise ships tailor-made to meet the exact requirements of the customer. Throw into the bargain environmental friendliness and the ship manufacturer’s reliability to deliver on time, and you have yourself a European winner.
Text and image by Industrial PRIME
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