Interview with Alex Chinchen, ABP Divisional Port Manager, Southwest Coast

March 8, 2018

Caption: Port Manager, Alex Chinchen, ABP Divisional Port Manager, Southwest Coast

Can you describe your career path so far?
It has been rather an unusual journey so far but I have loved every second! I came out of University in Cardiff with a degree in Biology and put my love of animals and conservation to good use, conducting research and post mortems on otters and mink in a collaborative project with the Environment Agency. I then reached further afield into the Canary Islands to study the behaviour and habitat of dolphins and pilot whales and spent some time in Crete helping with the conservation efforts of sea turtles.

I loved working in the world of conservation, and I think it is an angle I still bring to my current role, but I decided to take my career to the next step. I needed to go and understand the corporate sector and how businesses operate. So I came back to the UK and hung up my flip flops, (not forever I hope), and took a role as an operations manager in a commercial cleaning company.
I learned a huge amount in this role and managed a large team spread across a variety of locations. Every day was different and I got a great insight into all aspects of the business. I wanted to further expand my knowledge so embarked on a Masters Degree with Henley Business School while I was working which gave me great insight into the many aspects of leading and managing a business.

I then joined ABP in 2014 as a Business Process Manager, which was quite a different role to the ones I had done before but it gave me a really good opportunity to get around the business, seeing and mapping how different operations work, and to get a real understanding of the ports and maritime industry. I then took the leap out of London down to the South West to take on the role of Plymouth and Teignmouth Port Manager within SSP.

What does your typical day involve?
I am really lucky in my role because there is no such thing as a typical day! I am responsible for two vastly different ports in the South West which means I get to be involved in all sorts of different things.
Teignmouth is predominantly a bulk handling operation where we as a team do all the handling for a range of different commodities such as animal feed, clay and salt. Here I try and get out on the quay to work with the team on how we can refine our safe practices and drive process and productivity improvements throughout our tasks. I also support the team in making proactive, quick decisions that are vital to us being able to offer a flexible service to our customers within the limited space we have.

Plymouth on the other hand runs to a very tight schedule. The main customer of the terminal is Brittany Ferries with their service to Roscoff and Santander. Our focus in Plymouth is around executing excellent customer service and managing the smoothest flow of people and traffic through the terminal in a safe and secure way. We have many different stakeholders both on and off the port which we work closely with to make sure all operations run smoothly alongside our neighbours. We also work closely with the City to offer a great destination for cruise calls through our terminal which are a fantastic opportunity for our business and the city’s economy.

I am also responsible for lots of other processes behind the scenes. Being more remote here in the South West means we are a close knit team who need the flexibility and skills to deal with any issues in finance, HR, compliance and engineering. Finally, one of the most important parts of my job is working closely with the team to grow business in a way which is in line with the strategic pillars of our organisation.

What would you say is the most exciting project you are currently working on?
I think for me it would have to be Beyond Zero which involves setting up a behavioural improvement team to help look at safety in a new way. Rather than just looking at the physical things that we put in place to protect colleagues it is more about how we can change behaviour and that is something I genuinely find very interesting. As part of the pilot project in the South West we have created a team including colleagues from Teignmouth and Plymouth as they offer a different perspective on the challenges in each of the ports. I think this team has the potential to have a significant impact on the health and safety of everyone on the port. Understanding employee behaviour will help us improve processes to make sure that we are keeping people safe not just by putting up barriers but actually encouraging them to keep each other safe and behave in a safe way.

What advice would you give young people who are interested in pursuing a career in the maritime industry?

I would tell them to jump in with both feet – it is a great industry to be involved with, underpinned by fantastic people! In terms of advice I would say don’t worry if you don’t have much maritime experience, as long as you are willing to learn from the experience and knowledge of those around you, and bring your own different skills and enthusiasm then there is a great career out there for you. I think the only other piece of advice I would give is look out for the opportunities and keep an open mind about following the opportunities where they are – if you do this industry can take you not just all over the country, but all over the world.