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.
Is Personal Journey Still Relevant?
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.
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:
Here's What No One Tells You About Personal Journey.
"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."
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.