Reflections on first international tip (Benjamin Maclean)

Last year I visited the Maersk workshop on talent management during the YPP Change Management Conference at Shell. I was inspired by the approach of the Danish. And now a study trip to Maersk Group Procurement in Copenhagen is being arranged. What a great idea! I signed up and booked my flight to Copenhagen. My expectations were to take home ideas and innovations I can use at work, to meet the Danish corporate culture and become inspired by peers. In this article you can read about my personal reflections on this trip.

On Monday evening I arrived in a youth hostel and the next day I explored the city of Copenhagen. The weather was great and the city treated us with hospitality. We checked into our hotel early in the morning and this was a fantastic luxury, what a contrast with my hostel the night before. In the evening there was a welcome dinner in the Maersk Group Procurement office. The group of participants seemed like an interesting mixture. After dinner we all headed back to the hotel bar for a local drink.

Wednesday was fully planned with interactive presentations. Henrik Larsen, the VP of Sourcing and Indirect Procurement, kicked it off with an overview of Maersk Group Procurement and how they use the synergy between the different business lines. It was inspiring to hear how Maersk sees procurement not only as procurement, but as (continuous) project change agents. “It needs to be sourced and sourced, and sourced, and sourced again… so you know you are beating your competition in the market”. And the Danes remain realistic, their philosophy is to be better than the competition, not better than the best. When a bear is chasing you and someone else, you just need to outrun the other person. You do not need to run quicker than the bear. We were also given an insight on talent management for procurement within Maersk. A competency I take home as to what identifies talent is Learning Agile; knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. This is of importance to Maersk. Both Maersk and the participants agree that communication to employees, regarding identifying talent or future career options, needs to become more transparent.

The Maersk e-Sourcing strategy and how it is executed by the 550 procurement employees is very mature in my perception. They have an e-Sourcing support team in Mumbai, creating and executing the approximately 1.000 e-tenders, if I remember correctly, on a yearly basis. The future step for Maersk in Sourcing is to tackle and control the tale spend, an ambitious exercise. When discussing Sourcing within Maersk, it was a wake-up call to hear how personal competencies are used within the sourcing process. It is beneficial to realize and know what you are good at, so you can improve focus on the non-comfort zones during the different sourcing phases. Supplier workshops, internally and externally, are coordinated by procurement together with internal stakeholders, as part of the sourcing process. It was inspiring to hear about the way this is organised.

Many other presenters followed, and continuous questions were fired at all presenters as to why and how details and experiences were organised. When you place 16 motivated Dutch procurement professionals in one room you are ensured of positive group dynamics. I feel all of the participants have generated many personal ideas from these sessions to take home and to explore these thoughts within their own organisation or personal development. For myself, I found it to be interesting to hear from some of Maersk’s lessons learned when doing mega Capex projects. First get the basics right, gain the trust of the stakeholders and know what we are talking about. It seems simple, but when actual transformations within your organisation occur with such a speed, it is mature to acknowledge this afterwards, with the goal to get better in future.


The entire programme was professionally organised. We had quick breaks in between and well organised lunches. At the end of the day we were presented a case and we split up into smaller groups. Friday morning we had to present the result of our strategic sourcing project to a fictitious board. In the in-between-hours we worked on this case, and it was actually quite fun to do the analyses, put our thoughts into practice, divide tasks within the teams and to prepare for the presentation. During our dinner we could let all new information sink in, discuss everything and get to know each other better. After enjoying the exquisite Danish cuisine we did a self-organised sightseeing and drinking tour throughout Copenhagen.

Thursday morning, we started job shadowing. After the first day we had a very positive impression on Maersk Group Procurement and how they have chewed its way through the internal Maersk organisation. During the job shadowing programme we were given the possibility to verify this first impression and I was curious to see how all these strategies and tools are put into practice, how the true working culture is and to experience this diverse character on a peer to peer basis. We all signed an NDA, which gave the impression there was confidential information to disclose. But as we were having enthusiastic engaged discussions, these were very much open. You can discuss many things without disclosing confidential information by sharing experiences and for example talk about how you performed stakeholder management and many other things. It felt reassuring that I was doing the right thing in my own daily job and that in similar branches we have identical internal challenges. Of course there are differences too. I feel Maersk is well focused on their internal customers and is supported top down in its procurement philosophy. As an example, in some business units Procurement has adjusted their 6-step strategic sourcing process to fit the internal stakeholder process better and re-engineered it to a 4-step process to get quicker and easier acceptance from the business. It is this embeddedness and synergetic approach where Maersk distinguishes from other organisations. When being empowered in such a way as a professional you can drive change continuously and “every dollar will be spent more professionally”.

Finally there was a negotiation workshop and role play. The role play was fun and we all learned to not restrict a negotiation by limitations of our own view. Noticing changes in body language is a skill where I see room for improvement for myself. When asked about cultural differences, the Danes did not see themselves as more fact based than other cultures. I was reminded that making assumptions will not benefit a negotiation. I agree that determining national characteristics is treading a minefield of inaccurate assessment and surprising exception. However, i feel there is such a thing as a national norm too. A working knowledge of the basic traits of other cultures will minimize unpleasant surprises, give us insights in advance, and enable us to interact more successfully. In the evening we deepened our field research with respect to these cultural differences, and many of us also became more aware of our own cultural blind spots.

Friday morning, the last day, all groups presented their cases and we exchanged feedback from our new experiences. We concluded with a tour through the Maersk museum, which was a pleasant activity as some of us had turned into no-brainers from our nightly cultural field research. All involved were positive about the past days. I have definitely gained new inspiration I will use on a daily basis, and I better understand the Danish working ethos. In addition, and unexpectedly, I gained some self-confidence, met many like-minded peers and thoroughly enjoyed myself. As winning is perception, to me this trip has definitely been a win-win journey. It was hygge and I want to thank all participants and the Maersk Group Procurement organisation: “Tusind tak til deling!”

Aldrig op med at spørge! Benjamin Maclean