To Kaity Arsoniadis-Stein, being named one of B.C.’s 2019 Influential Women in Business came as a complete surprise – mostly because of the industry in which she works.
“I thought someone made an error there somewhere,” said Arsoniadis-Stein with a laugh. “I knew I was being nominated, but I had no idea that I would be selected. Shipping is a very niche industry that isn’t very well understood in our province, so I thought there’s no way I would make any sort of list.”
But it is also for that reason – the lack of local understanding of the shipping industry and its untapped potential in Vancouver – that Arsoniadis-Stein, executive director of the Vancouver International Maritime Centre (VIMC), is so passionate about her sector. Since she was assigned to her current post in 2015, her organization has attracted 15 new shipping companies to set up shop in Vancouver. The effort is crucial, she said, in creating a shipping industry hub that’s sorely missing in B.C. despite the Port of Vancouver’s status as the country’s busiest port.
“We are a resource-rich trading nation, but what we are dealing with here is the throughput,” Arsoniadis-Stein said. “So we put billions into infrastructure development – rail, port, traffic, growth – to facilitate the throughput of our resources. But we are not playing in the top part of the pyramid. Cargos are booked by brokers out of Japan. Legal services are out of London. Insurance are from Norway. High-value, high-knowledge jobs in our industry are limited here in Vancouver.”
Arsoniadis-Stein cites the example of Oslo, Norway, a port with nowhere near the throughput business that Vancouver has, as something that Vancouver should aspire to. Oslo is among the worlds’ best-equipped shipping hubs, with services like finance, research, insurance and maritime legal expertise readily available to shipping companies around the world.
“What we are missing is business beyond our borders,” Arsoniadis-Stein said. “Even if a ship isn’t checking in here, why shouldn’t we be booking cargo for ships trading elsewhere? Why shouldn’t we be placing insurance for ships that are going elsewhere? Shouldn’t we be doing finance?
Global trade is shifting from the Atlantic basin to the Pacific basin, so Vancouver is ideally situated – being close to customers is another advantage for us.”
That’s why Arsoniadis-Stein and her team have been tirelessly meeting with top ship owners and company executives around the globe in the last few years. VIMC originally planned meetings with 300 companies in three years but ended up with more than 1,000. Arsoniadis-Stein’s 18-year experience as a maritime lawyer (with a career that has encompassed roles with companies from Bull, Housser & Tupper – now Norton Rose Fulbright – to Gard (UK) Ltd., Teekay Shipping (NYSE:TK) and Seaspan Ship Management) has taught her how to engage ship owners, which she believes is the key to creating the shipping industry hub she envisions for Vancouver.
“You have to target the executive team of a company, from the CEO and CFO to the head of legal departments,” she said. “You have to talk to the decision-makers. You have to have boots on the ground, do the one-on-one meetings.… Credibility is crucial, because you have to network – and the opportunity to market yourself is short.”
Her efforts have not gone without recognition. In 2017, Monitor Deloitte ranked Vancouver among the world’s five top maritime hubs.
That same year, Vancouver made the Menon Economics Leading Maritime Capitals of the World list for the first time – a crucial milestone in a sector in which success depends heavily on reputation.
The rankings and VIMC’s outreach efforts also helped Vancouver attract one of its biggest wins – Singapore-based China Navigation Co., the merchant shipping company owned by London-based John Swire and Sons Ltd., which also has among its holdings Cathay Pacific Airways. China
Navigation officially opened its North American headquarters in Vancouver last August.
VIMC has helped accomplish this while boasting an executive team that is almost evenly divided in gender – unusual in the male-dominated shipping industry. Arsoniadis-Stein said that parity is simply a reflection of hiring by merit – that when skill and competency are the only considerations, gender ratios tend to even themselves out.
For instance, Arsoniadis-Stein hired VIMC international business development director Yvonne Rankin Constantine because “she is unbelievable.”
“She has been CFO for many shell companies globally, she has a huge network and her character allows her to connect with others within a few minutes,” she said. “I didn’t hire people on the basis of their gender; I hire people on the basis of their skill…. Things in shipping move too quickly for you to not have the right person in place.”
As for the future, Arsoniadis-Stein hopes Ottawa and B.C. continue to build on the momentum that Vancouver has gained in creating a maritime hub. Competition is on the rise, with Seattle making strong pushes globally in recent years, but Arsoniadis-Stein is hopeful.
“We’re with the giants. We’ve never had this type of recognition; globally, we’re now on the maritime map. Everybody knows us. Everybody knows us at the high-end level. But locally, nobody knows it. There’s so much more here…. People need to understand the ways shipping
businesses generate revenue without a ship hitting the water.”
Join us to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Influential Women in Business Awards March 8 at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For ticketing and full event information, visit https://biv.com/iwib.