Norwegians are, as the saying goes, ‘born with skis on their feet’. Not so for Inchcape Shipping Services’ sales manager for Scandinavia, Vilde Skogstad, who would rather be relaxing indoors in front of a log fire or trawling for properties online than trekking on snow trails.
Vilde was raised in the Norwegian capital Oslo but never took to skiing, despite cajoling from her family, though she does share in her native country’s strong nautical traditions and found her sea legs at an early age.
“Growing up, I was always fascinated by big ships and the sea, and especially the impact these vessels have on the global economy and how we live our lives,” she explains.
She decided to pursue an adventurous life on the ocean wave that has taken her full circle to her present role at Inchcape’s EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) regional office in Oslo after sailing around the world on commercial vessels.
“I saw shipping as an opportunity to learn more about how the world is connected, the logistics around it and, at the same time, learn about different cultures, local regulations and the need for global cooperation, which I believe is quite unique with this industry,” Vilde says.
To Hong Kong and back
After serving in a coffee shop for some years, she took pre-university education in Bali and a one-year shipping course in Oslo before landing her first job in shipping with Maersk Line working in customer service. She then left to take a bachelor degree in Hong Kong, but the pull of the sea proved too strong and within four days she had packed her bags to return to her old job after a despairing call to the Danish line.
“I guess you could call it an intensive degree course!” she laughs. “Fortunately, Maersk were willing to have me back – and I even managed to keep my farewell gifts.”
Vilde has assimilated valuable practical experience from working with shipping companies, including Maersk Line and UECC, which she believes has given her a “real-life education” to tackle the daily challenges of the dynamic and ever-changing business.
She previously worked for 10 years at UECC on the operations side, arranging logistics for the European shortsea Ro-Ro carrier, and this has equipped her with the understanding and expertise to handle the diverse requirements of Inchcape clients when now sitting on the other side of the table.
But it has also given her life-enriching experiences in humanitarian relief work through helping refugees who made perilous sea crossings to escape civil war in Syria, as well as conflict in other countries including Iraq and Afghanistan, during the migration crisis around 2016. While hundreds of thousands finally made it to Europe, many others perished in the attempt.
“At the time, I was enjoying life in the sunshine on deck while sailing on a UECC ship from Piraeus to Derince in Turkey when I realised how close I was to the crisis. I simply could not sit back and do nothing,” Vilde recalls.
Lending a hand in crisis
After gaining permission from her manager, she worked with the Norwegian aid organisation Drop in the Ocean as a volunteer in Greece where she helped desperate migrants arriving in overcrowded craft at the beach on the island of Lesvos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey.
Together with Greek lifeguards, Skogstad and fellow volunteers received the craft when they landed at the shore and helped to provide bedraggled refugees with clothes, food and shelter.
“People were so happy and thankful to see us. One of my most enduring images is seeing the look of hope and relief on the faces of the adults, and it was also great to be able to comfort small children after such a harrowing experience,” Vilde says.
“No day was the same, from working on the beach, to sorting clothes from donations, trying to make fun activities for the kids and talking to the refugees, some of whom I am lucky to still call my friends.”
She also assisted at refugee camps at the Piraeus cruise terminal, at the border in northern Greece and other more established camps with container-like homes during several trips between 2015 and 2017. She also did some voluntary administrative work for the organisation back home in Norway.
“Looking back, those days have given me so much as a person and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to contribute. I could talk about those experiences forever, even though of course it should not be necessary to have to deal with such a sad situation.”
And she adds: “It has certainly given me insight into another side of human experience that you do not see so often, for which I am deeply grateful. It just shows that a simple initiative can really make a difference to other people’s lives.”
Building experience and customer network
Since joining Inchcape only last year, Vilde has been busy interacting with existing and potential clients across Scandinavia, pursuing new connections and opportunities to promote the company’s services in one of its most important markets, given Norway’s status as a leading shipping nation.
She also joined at an exciting time given the changes in ownership and leadership, as well as transformation in other areas such as digitalisation at the company.
She admits “it has been a steep learning curve” during the past eight months or so in the position but is “thoroughly enjoying” the opportunity to further expand her maritime competence as she gets to grips with new challenges.
“The attraction for me in working for Inchcape was the ability to learn about all ship segments – from tanker, LNG, cargo and dry bulk to cruise and naval vessels – from an agency standpoint, rather than just focusing on one segment at a shipping company,” Vilde explains.
“This is really an education in the shipping industry and I am constantly broadening my knowledge of different segments, assimilating a lot of new information every day. It is also a unique opportunity to learn about the diverse shipping companies located in one of the maritime capitals of the world, as well as further develop my experience and network in shipping. I am learning a lot simply by talking to customers. Every company does things differently.
“Coming from a relatively small part of the industry, Inchcape has opened my eyes to the big shipping world out there, giving me the opportunity to learn, connect and meet the industry from a different perspective.”
Her typical working day entails meetings with customers, which can involve sensitive discussions over contracts and inflation-linked rates, as well as responding to whatever requirements they may have, following up on customer feedback or approaches, reaching out to new clients and researching market intelligence.
Vilde says she is impressed that such a large global organisation, with a network of 245 offices and 3000 employees spread across 60 countries, can still remain flexible and solution-oriented to meet the local needs of clients on the ground in a rapid and responsive manner. This is part of Inchcape’s strategy of ‘thinking globally and acting locally’ by leveraging its global resources.
“It is really important to respond to customer feedback. We are always keen to listen to customers’ individual requirements and recommendations, and are ready and able to find alternative solutions that will work best for them. This demands adaptability, agility and the ability to think outside of the box,” she says.
The main enjoyment factors of the job are its unpredictability as “every day is different”, which usually means daily plans go out of the window, along with meeting new people, according to Vilde. “There are just so many nice and knowledgeable people around, both customers and within Inchcape,” she says.
Outside of working hours, she confesses to the “almost guilty pleasure” of scanning the internet for properties to buy or rent as she indulges her interest in the local housing market, tracking price trends, gaining market knowledge or, to be honest, “spying on how people live”.
Vilde’s latest online find is a houseboat that she is looking to buy together with her sister as she seeks to spend more of her life at sea. “So hopefully my port agency contacts will come in useful,” she quips.