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ICTSI South Pacific - Interview with CEO

After being awarded two 25-years concessions by PNG Ports Corporation, ICTSI South Pacific has been successfully managing and operating the ports of Motukea, near Port Moresby, and Lae as early as February 2018.

ICTSI South Pacific, part of ICTSI Group, brings the highest global standards for terminal operations to Papua New Guinea. In terms of safety, operational efficiencies and overall performance, the company is now a benchmark in PNG for corporate excellence.

At the helm of ICTSI South Pacific since March 2020 is Mr. Robert Maxwell, previously CFO of ICTSI South Pacific. Mr. Maxwell has worked in the container shipping and terminal industries since 1985 and has served in 9 countries around the world, Liberia and Angola among others.

“It is an honor and privilege to be working in PNG,” says Mr. Maxwell, “and being ICTSI South Pacific CEO.”

Since start of operations in 2018, ICTSI South Pacific has achieved significant results in terms of overall operational efficiency.

“Major investments in equipment, computer systems and safe operating procedures have been made by ICTSI South Pacific,” says the CEO. “We are elevating performance standards at both Motukea and Lae terminals to international levels. Productivity has improved from 4 container moves per hour, pre-ICTSI, to 15 container moves per hour. The average vessel stay has been reduced from 72 to 18 hours on average, with great benefits and savings for the shipowners. Savings will benefit the whole supply chain and ultimately the citizens of PNG who should take advantage from lower prices of goods at retail stores,” he adds.

The journey has not been easy and smooth, and the company had to learn about doing business in PNG. “The most important thing here is to understand PNG and its people. They are great people, but you have to understand their way of doing business and how it is merged into international best practices,” Mr. Maxwell observes.

It definitely is a challenge but ICTSI has managed to successfully overcome it.

“There was no automation, no computer system in place. It was all clipboards, paper and pencil, and tally clerks. We brought in new systems and digitized a lot of the work,” Mr. Maxwell says. “Previously, the exporter or importer didn’t know where their container was. Now, each customer can visit our website, enter the container number and find its location.”

Mr. Maxwell explains information provision is now much more transparent. Alongside ICTSI’s own digital project, there have been moves to improve transparency in customs processing at PNG’s major ports with the implementation and integration of ASYCUDA, a computerized customs management system: “My vision is one day for customers to enjoy E-commerce, whereby they can run and pay their own invoices and obtain their Gate Pass remotely. This will improve efficiency and save time along the supply chain, with direct financial benefits.”

When asked about the single greatest achievement of ICTSI since its establishment in Papua New Guinea, Mr. Maxwell has no hesitation in stating that it is the agreements signed with local communities: “I am proud to say that during the last year, we have concluded agreements in both Motukea and Lae with the local communities to transfer 30% of ICTSI South Pacific shares to them. Share ownership provides long-term sustainable benefits to the local communities. We believe in delivering growth and economic support to the communities wherein we operate. Furthermore, the majority of our workforce comes from the local communities and I am pleased to say that we are fully committed to support our host communities through employment, training, skills development, gender equality, aid to schools and law enforcement support, amongst others. We live and operate by the ICTSI values of respect for all, trust, collaboration, tenacity and passion.”

‘We are very much committed to making the ports of Motukea and Lae drivers of positive and sustainable growth. At ICTSI, we work tirelessly to develop and operate efficient and sustainable port facilities and deliver the highest possible benefits to our customers, partners, people, shareholders and to the countries we serve,” explains the ICTSI South Pacific CEO.

When asked about the main focus of ICTSI South Pacific, the CEO has no hesitation in answering that the safety of staff and all users of facilities is the number one priority: “The safety and security of our workers and of all people accessing our facilities remains our top priority together with ensuring the safety of cargo, equipment and vessels. We will never compromise on safety. This has to be clear to all: safety cannot and will not be compromised. We have adopted the highest safety, security and environmental standards and we will make sure to maintain them.”

In its 2 years in PNG, ICTSI South Pacific has been donating time, passion and tangible items to the communities where it operates. In Lae and nearby villages, more than PGK 2 million have been invested to encourage education and law and order. Two police stations have been constructed, one in Malahang and one in Omili, together with police vehicles -- evidence of the company’s belief that a safer PNG will create a better environment wherein businesses can flourish and society as a whole can benefit.

Another area in which ICTSI has been vastly supporting local communities is education. The company firmly believes that children are the future, and is strongly committed in supporting local schools to shape educated and skilled citizens who will lead the country in the future. School desks, bags and stationeries have been donated to Tatana, Baruni and Hagara Primary Schools. In Lae, primary schools in three Labu villages and Milfordhaven have received supplies of school material and bags for students.

ICTSI South Pacific also believes that through sport, and the discipline it brings, it will be possible to create a better, more cohesive society and the company is a proud sponsor of the women’s national rugby 7s PNG Palais team, a sport which is very much loved by the CEO: “I love rugby and I am proud that ICTSI South Pacific is sponsoring this incredible team of girls. A team that every time it goes on the pitch, gives its all. They play with their hearts and this is what we at ICTSI are, a team, a family that every day gives everything for the job we love and do.”

When asked about the future for ICTSI South Pacific, the CEO mentions 2 major points:

  1. Development;

  2. Delivery of a high service level to our customers.

ICTSI South Pacific is planning to increase its footprint in PNG with additional investments aimed at introducing new state of the art equipment, improving operational performance, systems and procedures, driving the digital transformation in the supply chain in PNG and empowering PNG nationals, especially women.

‘In Lae, we have just completed the set-up of a simulator facility where all our equipment operators are trained in the safe, secure and efficient handling of different types of equipment, ranging from gantry cranes, to container stackers to tractor trailers to forklifts.

Through training, we want to elevate the capabilities of our workforce to those of other high-standard terminals around the world. I want the training facility to be a Center of Excellence for the whole South Pacific, not only for PNG. We will welcome trainees and visitors from all over the islands, and I believe it will create a positive exchange of knowledge and experience amongst the South Pacific countries and Lae can be the hub for it”’

When asked what else we can expect in the next couple years, the CEO announces that, “ICTSI already has plans to upgrade current equipment and bring ship to shore cranes in Papua New Guinea. It will be the very first time for this country. We are always in pursuit of operational excellence. It is in our DNA. With the new cranes, we will improve our operational performance even more, and provide better customer service, hence improving the supply chain timeline so that all our customers and the great people of PNG will enjoy the benefits we are continuously delivering to the country.”

Mr. Maxwell continues: “ICTSI South Pacific wants to be a driver for positive change, not only in the economy of PNG but also in the social context. I truly believe that women are the cornerstone of a family. We at ICTSI are a family and would like to see more women operating equipment. It is a fact that a machine managed by a woman lasts longer and performs better.”

“Last but not least,” concludes the CEO, “is the ongoing investment in the IT sector, and I hope all stakeholders will do their part to reach global standards. There is still a lot of work to do in this area, but it’s an area in which every step taken in the right direction brings immediate savings of time and money to all the stakeholders involved in the process. This is a key focus for ICTSI South Pacific as I believe this represents a step-change for the overall receiving and delivery of containers and cargo where today’s paper-based procedures being upgraded by computerization and automation.”

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