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Panama 2014 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Michel Mittelmeyer, CEO of Meyer's Group, on the company's contribution to the economy, the Canal, and the maritime sector.

Michel Mittelmeyer
BIOGRAPHY
Michel Mittelmeyer has studied mechanical engineering and nautical science, in addition to completing studies at PH International Marine Business Development and Lloyd’s Register. His work experience includes six years at the Bernard Shutter Group and as Manager of the Hanseatic Shipping Company. He has been with Meyer’s Group since 2005.

In which countries do you have a large presence?

We have operations in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, and we are going to start in Guatemala in 2014. The business is mainly focused on Central and South America and Venezuela. We also have a business partner in Colombia, and we are trying to develop our business in the Dominican Republic. We also manage one of the main marine lubricant and oil companies, Castrol, and are its representative for all of Central America.

How does Meyer's Group contribute to the development of the country?

Actually, we started with two tugs and now we have five or six. We did this because there is new technology coming in from Damen, a major shipbuilding company, which offers the ASD range of tug ships. In this way, a new tug can make money more easily than the previous tugs. Usually in the market you see some old tugs and old technology, but with this new technology you can make more money in a shorter period of time. It has many advantages, and is better than the older tugs being used in Panama. In terms of job creation, more than the 95% of our employees are Panamanian, and we have more than 300-400 employees in the country.

How will the completion of the Panama Canal expansion impact your operations?

Our experts are expecting about 7%-10% in growth in our operations and business. The only difference in the import and export sector in Panama will be the size of the vessels. That is the only difference; however, marine operations will increase. It is conservative to say 7% growth is expected, but on the whole, some are predicting about 10%. We are expecting about 7% growth in Meyer's Group. We are rolling out two new tugs in August, and they will arrive by the beginning of October 2014. For the beginning of 2015, we have three more coming for the business plan that we are developing in the new ports—one on the Pacific side and one on the Atlantic. They are making space on the dock, and we are also bringing in one more tug for this.

How would you describe Panama's port infrastructure?

I can say that the infrastructure is still developing. However, the development has been more important on the Colón side than on the Pacific side. On the Pacific side, we still have the same terminals, and there is another project similar to a service terminal. However, in Colón, the infrastructure is amazing. All the terminals are expanding right now. I think Colón is more developed because it is more developed in the Caribbean than it is in the Pacific. We started with the terminal of Patsa in January 2014, and now there is Hapag-Lloyd and Maersk coming to this terminal also. But there is only one terminal, though expansion plans exist for a second one. There is a great difference between the two ends of the Canal in terms of facilities.

How would you assess the competition in the maritime sector?

I think that our competition in Panama consists mostly of larger companies. We are a small company, a family company, but we compete with big companies, like Virtual Logistics. To be honest, the market in Panama is healthy enough for everybody. If you take all the concessions that Panama is giving, there are things that started 20 years ago that have still not finished yet. And Virtual Logistics has most of these concessions. If you remove those concessions from the equation, then Meyer's is the top company in Panama for concessions. However, we started from zero in Panama, and it is difficult to fight with big companies. Small fish don't try to eat big ones, but we are still trying to fight this massive competition.