PANAMA - Transport
VP Marketing, Manzanillo International Terminal (MIT) Panama
Juan Carlos Croston is Vice President Marketing & Corporate Affairs at MIT-Panama. He is a member of the Maritime Chamber of Panama, the Caribbean Shipping Association, and other local and international organizations. On July 2014, he was granted the Distinguished Alumni Award by the International Maritime University of Panama and, on May 2015, was named by Lloyd’s List in their “Next Generation 2015“ list of worldwide maritime leaders. He has a degree in nautical engineering from the former Nautical School of Panama and an MSc degree in maritime affairs from the World Maritime University in Malmö, Sweden.
What has been the evolution of MIT over the past two years?
Juan Carlos Croston: There was a major adjustment at the start of the pandemic to first ensure that our company provided, and all the employees felt it was, a safe environment for them to come in and do their jobs. We had to work with the health authorities and other authorities in Panama to make sure we were complying with the ongoing and ever-changing regulations. The challenge provided us with tremendous resilience in our mindset and how we operate. We also had to contend with the supply chain issues brought on by the pandemic, the restart of economies, and the artificial capacity constraint. We are now contending with higher-than-average utilization because cargo stays longer than usual. Historically, 75% of ships that came to port arrived under a range window; however, we have seen a deterioration, and now the on- time arrival is below 50%. This translates into challenges to make sure we have the appropriate resources to serve them. We are also contending with higher volumes in 2020 and 2021. We have seen a fall in volumes this year, although it is starting to pick up now. The election years in Latin America coincide with an economic slowdown. The inflation in private sector investment because of higher interest rates also hampers economic growth. There hasn’t been growth this year. We are down 1% in container volumes this August compared to August 2021. We believe we can finish this year in line with what we did in 2021. We are contending with a new mindset and investing USD21 million in new cranes. The cranes should be operational by 4Q2022 and will allow us to better serve neoPanamax vessels.
How do MIT’s competitive advantages converge with Panama’s great features within the maritime sector?
Juan Carlos Croston: We are currently market leaders in overall local cargo. We are definitely the market leader in import cargo and are close to first in export cargo. We started that about six or seven years ago to understand the needs of beneficial cargo owners, where they are heading, and what we could do to expedite their operations. We believe we have a solid relationship and open communication channels with them. There is major competition in terms of the regional market. Leading up to the pandemic, shipping lines were going through difficult financial situations, and it wasn’t optimal at the time for service providers to invest in new capacity. However, the upgrade of the Panama Canal pushed a great deal of investment in the existing infrastructure because we all needed to cater to bigger vessels. The Caribbean and eastern part of Latin America is more dynamic, so it makes sense to have larger port operations on the Atlantic part of the continent. We have been able to invest in technology and our people to be able to improve services. All vessels want to leave by their allotted time, and if we can fulfill that consistently, they will feel satisfied and want to do more business with us.
How is ABB’s Crane OCR solution helping Manzanillo to reshape its services toward digitalization?
Juan Carlos Croston: The push for technology has three drivers: keeping people safer, operating more efficiently, and providing better customer service. We currently have people checking the numbers of the containers coming off the vessel, and checking if they have a container seal. OCR technology has cameras that can read the container number and detect seal presence without human intervention. We will be able to provide information more efficiently to customers and improve the quality of our service. At the same time, technology is only as good as the people behind it. For example, we have automatic stacking cranes that require many high-skilled technicians to take care of the equipment. It is important to make sure the technology goes hand-in-hand with the training of our people to make sure they can handle that.
What social impact does Manzanillo have with its corporate volunteering program?
Juan Carlos Croston: MIT strives to be a good corporate citizen. It participates in many trade organizations here because we want to provide input and donate our time to organizations to benefit the country. We participate in events to highlight what we do here and showcase Panama. We also invest a great deal in the community because we have a social contract with our people here. The volunteer program started because we saw a gap between our efforts in the community and what our people understood these efforts to be. We took them with us to go out into the community and see the benefits and impact of the work we are doing there. We painted schools, repaired community centers, and even installed solar panels in communities that do not have electricity. In addition, we have 270 employees that have been with the company 15 years or more. We have long tenure and low attrition. We discovered a program for adults who have not finished high school and started a program for our own employees. We are giving them an opportunity to improve their careers. We plan to have the first graduation from 12th grade for these employees next year.
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