Vivek Sood

Vivek Sood Flo

Exploring the world (in 80 months, or so)

One of the first incidents on joining sea, on the ship's maiden voyage from Japan
to Los Angeles, I nearly lost my left hand in a major accident in heavy rolling seas.
I was 18; the worry of losing the use of left hand started creeping in. Luckily, the
highly skilled surgeons in Los Angeles managed to bring back 95% functionality of
my hand within a few months. But then again, that didn't prevent me from
spending the next 11 years in the merchant navy. The opportunity to travel around
the world and learn was too good to miss.

What fueled me to study economics while at sea

My first assignment was to go to a shipyard in Japan to take delivery of a brand
new ship being built there. At this time, due to the severe depression in the global
shipping industry, I saw many super tankers, worth several millions of dollars,
sailing on their maiden voyage straight from the shipyard to the demolition yard. it was painful to watch, akin to being forced to see a baby being killed at its birth.
The eye-opening experience aroused in me an intense desire to study the causes
of recessions and economic cycles.

Experience is the best teacher

As I circumnavigated the globe multiple times on ships working 12 - 16 hours a
day, 6 - 7 days a week, I spent all my spare time reading voraciously about the
economics, finance and modern commerce. I tried relating what I read to what I
saw - e.g. once I saw the exchange rate in Argentina fall by more thant 300% in a
matter of weeks, leaving me with a stackful of useless currency notes.

I worked in hundreds of ports, harbours, shipyards, dry docks and with people all
around the world. After learning so many ways of doing the same things, I started
learning how to combine the best practices to make things even better where I
could. With progressively more responsibilities and perspectives, I learnt many
things at sea.

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I still use what I learned many decades ago

In a recent (August 2015) keynote speech at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, I said the following on the complexity of achieving end-to end optimization:

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"During my seafaring days, I remember being a second officer and put in charge of navigating the ship. My only job was to optimize the route from point A to point B. From time to time, there'd be some complexities, but optimizing the route was still a manageable task. Than I became a chief officer and had to optimize both route and cargo. Later on, when I was made a captain, I was responsible for optimizing the route, cargo and costs. Fuel is a huge expense, typically amounting to 33% of the total costs for any shipping company. As you can see, achieving end-to-end optimization in any sort of business is challenging, and involves a wide range of variables."
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Why I said goodbye to the life at sea?

Even though saying goodbye to the sea was difficult, the stagnation of being a
Captain for rest of my life was even more difficult to accept. I had arrived at a
dignified point, and the time had come to move on and learn new things. It was
not a final good bye though - I still do some consulting work on ocean freight
strategies; and I sail boats and dinghies on the harbour, when I can.

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