For A.P. Moller–Maersk Group, the world has always been its market. Maersk, based in Copenhagen, has been carrying goods to the far reaches of the globe since 1904, so the shipping and oil giant is accustomed to dealing with all different kinds of customers and economies.
Nils S. Andersen, chief executive officer, says that Maersk’s global shipping heritage helps the company in today’s two-speed economy and across its varied commercial activities. While some Western companies struggle to adapt to fast-growing markets, Mærsk has never had a choice: Because its traditional ships cannot enter many ports in Africa, the company has had to change considerably to gain access to some emerging markets.
In promising markets, Maersk has cultivated people “on the ground” who know the scene, so that when the company is ready to expand in a new area, it already has a head start. In recent years, Maersk has been making moves in many such markets, building its asset-intensive ports and terminals as well as its oil-rig and oil-exploration businesses.
One of the keys to success in these markets, according to Andersen, is an intense focus on customers whose needs often differ greatly from those of customers in developed markets. Maersk generates this customer focus through a decentralized organization. Strong adherence to corporate values and culture bind the local businesses and markets together—and also give Maersk a built-in advantage as it expands. The company’s strong reputation, Andersen explains, serves as a powerful calling card when dealing with local officials in developing markets.
Andersen recently sat down for a discussion with Grant Freeland, a senior partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.