Google “Gerry Dumancas” on the Internet, and you will find a bevy of hits pertaining to his 27-year experience in the shipping industry—particularly that of his role as the highest-ranking Filipino in the fourth largest shipping company worldwide, Evergreen Shipping.

Having worked for one of the world’s largest shipping companies for almost three decades, Dumancas’ name is already synonymous to Evergreen’s. “All the letters of requests, accommodations and business proposals sent to Evergreen are automatically addressed to me,” Dumancas shares.

Earlier this year, however, Dumancas surprised the entire shipping industry by jumping ship to a lesser-known competitor, Le Soleil Shipping Agencies, Inc. (Le Soleil), the company that services the Philippine operations of Zim Integrated Shipping Ltd. and Gold Star Line Ltd.

Le Soleil is a much smaller organization compared to the over 100 employees-strong operation Dumancas handled in Evergreen. But even with only 49 employees under his belt, Dumancas shares that the transition from managing a more streamlined operation to the two-year-old company owned by businessman Jun Ynion has been quite the challenge.

From mentor to employee

Ynion and Dumancas have been friends since 1993, when the former worked for the latter in Evergreen. “My style of leadership has always been very strict—work is work, and so on—but after office hours, we are really friends and people would approach me for their personal problems, including Jun,” shares Dumancas.

When Ynion left Evergreen after three and a half years to pursue his own business, the two have remained friends but had lost contact since 2003. “After eight years of no contact at all, Jun suddenly called asking if I was interested in jumping ship to join his company,” shares Dumancas. “I was at that point in my career wherein I was looking at what the next step was for me. It had reached the stage wherein I would go to the office and I would be doing the same things again. So I told the Taiwanese head of Evergreen’s Philippine operations that I was resigning,” he adds.

Despite the challenge of transitioning from a top carrier to a lower-ranking company, Dumancas suddenly finds himself reversing roles with his former “student.”

“When I transferred, Jun said, ‘don’t consult me; it’s all up to you.’ He told me that I did not work for him, rather that I work with him. I keep telling him to tone it down,” Dumancas modestly shares, “because even if he still regards me that way, this is his company and his dream to be recognized in the industry.”

Enforcing change

Ynion’s mandate was to professionalize the company, shares Dumancas, who now serves as Zim Lines’ Chief Operations Officer. “If you’re setting up a new company in this economy, you have to meet international standards and structures. You have to adapt and align yourself with that of your principal’s,” he says.

“My role is really to put everything in order,” informs Dumancas. In any agency, the ultimate goal is to provide services to the customers because that will really satisfy the principal—in this case, Zim Integrated Shipping Ltd. “But there are certain approaches that define that culture of the principal that needs to be translated here locally. Today,” he adds, “our principal is embarking upon a global customer enhancement program, and that’s something we have to imbibe in our people here.”

With the current global economy experiencing a downturn due to events in Europe and the U.S., one of Dumancas’ challenges is explaining to the employees the need to bring costs down. “It was a good year when Jun started,” he says, “trades were up and there were a lot of new vessels deployed in the market because all the carriers were preparing for the peak season, which was then predicted to start around June up to September. But that didn’t happen so now there is an excess of vessels for all carriers. Globally, they are expecting $300 million worth of losses for carriers this year.”

“So far,” Dumancas adds, “wala pa akong nakikitang,” (I have yet to see a) carrier for shipping that is not at a loss this year. We’re in really hard times, because even when all the vessels are parked in the port, gumagastos yan (they still spend) on fuel, etc., because it still has to run.”

At the end of the day, Dumancas shares that “shipping will always be there because it is still the means of bringing cargo to different places. It is really all about hanging on at this point. How do you do it? It remains to be seen.”

It all boils down to the basics. “I tell my people na sacrifice muna tayo because these are hard times. I make them understand that the easiest way to enter an industry is when it’s down because then you learn the basics and there is nowhere else to go but up. If you start out on top, you’re really in for trouble when the economy goes down,” says the shipping veteran. “So it’s really more of encouraging them at this point,” he adds, “making them see that this isn’t something negative and that it’s really all about self-motivation. And as a leader, it’s a challenge because now that they trust me, I have to walk the talk.”

This article was published in the November 28, 2011 issue of the Manila Bulletin