Sven von Appen

  • Interviewed 29 May 2008 in Santiago, Chile, by Andrea Lluch, Research Fellow, HBS
  • Clip Duraction – 3:10

Mr. von Appen comments on Ultramar’s origins, his father’s business endeavors, and his own professional experience, starting with his early jobs and his initiation into the family business in 1958. He revisits Latin America’s economic ups and downs, explaining his company’s strategic response to diversify operations, further investments, and secure funding. After describing the company’s family structure and its succession plans, he shares his views on long-term success factors and characterizes his own business management style.

Interview Excerpt

R: En el caso mío, yo era el mayor; tenía claro que iba a trabajar en otras cosas cuando saliera del colegio y que no iba a trabajar con él. Me dijo que, si le iba bien al negocio de él y si me gustaba la parte marítima, debería ir a Europa. Trabajé año y medio en la compañía naviera Haverbeck & Skalweit en Valdivia, donde tuve una jefa muy buena en la parte naviera, en la administración. Todo eso significaba conocer los gastos de puerto de los barcos, los gastos de las naves, de operación de las naves, los gastos de viaje de cada barco, los resultados… Significaba conocer quiénes eran los agentes marítimos, las comisiones que ganaban, y el tráfico de las líneas que tenía esta compañía en la costa chilena, los viajes de Chile a Argentina y Brasil. Un muy buen aprendizaje en el negocio naviero; lo conocí desde su parte contable.

Al comienzo, Ultramar entregaba el agenciamiento de las naves alemanas a sub-agentes en distintos puertos, y quebró la agencia que había nominado en Arica. No había puerto en Arica; había una bahía, donde se requerían lanchas. Y mi padre me pidió que me fuera inmediatamente a Arica, en el momento en el que abrió la primera agencia portuaria propia de Ultramar.

P: Su padre lo llama y lo convoca a trabajar en la empresa ¿en qué año?

R: En el mes de julio del año 1955, porque no tenía suficiente gente.

P: ¿Usted cómo tomó la idea?

R: Me encantó. Además, me gustó mucho el puerto de Arica; tenía una gran actividad, por ser puerto libre, tenía muchas importaciones. Bolivia estaba muy activo, muchas exportaciones e importaciones. Arica era la “capital del nylon”.

Después de haber estado medio año en Arica, mi padre me consiguió un trabajo en Londres, en una agencia marítima. Viajamos en barco con mi madre y mi hermano, en enero de 1956.

A: I was the eldest; it was clear that I would go to work somewhere else upon graduating from high school, and that I would not be working with my father. He told me that if his business did well and if I liked the shipping thing, I should go to Europe. I spent a year and a half with a shipping company, Haverbeck & Skalweit, in Valdivia, where I worked under a very efficient boss in the administrative side of the business. This involved a deep understanding of port expenses, vessel expenses, vessel operating expenses, trip expenses, results, etc. In addition, it implied knowledge of shipping agencies, shipping agency fees, of the company’s operating lines in the Chilean coast, and the trips from Chile to Argentina and Brazil. It was a huge learning experience for me, and it allowed me to delve into the accounting side of the shipping business.

In the early days, Ultramar contracted sub-agencies in different ports to manage its German ships. One day, the shipping agency working in Arica went broke. There was no port in Arica; there was a bay that only allowed boats. My father asked me to go there immediately, at the same time he opened Ultramar’s first shipping agency.

Q: What year was it, when your father asked you to join the company?

A: It was July, 1955. He did not have enough people.

Q: How did you feel about the idea?

A: I loved it. Besides, I loved the port of Arica. It boasted a lot of activity for a free port, receiving numerous imports. Bolivia was very active, in terms of both exports and imports. Arica was “the capital city of nylon”.

After six months in Arica, my father got me a job in a shipping agency in London. In 1956, my mother, my brother and I boarded a ship.

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