By Shivmala Dey
In 1991 with a graduate degree in Philosophy, I joined as an Office Assistant in Apeejay Shipping and today I am in a technical managerial role! A woman in this role is non existent in the shipping industry. My growth from an office assistant to technical manager and the journey that has brought me here both are completely unique.
Apeejay Shipping was my second job and till then I had worked elsewhere as a stenographer and my primary work was taking calls. I responded to a newspaper advertisement of Apeejay Shipping for the post of an Office Assistant and got selected out of around 60-65 people applicants. That was 25 years ago. My initial responsibilities were in the communications department and to work under the Company Secretary where I looked after the Purchase and Technical documentation & mails. I did not have any prior experience of working in a shipping company and neither any of my family members had worked in that sector. Shipping experience was not required for an Office Assistant.
In four years however I was promoted to the post of Technical Assistant to the then Director –Technical, late Mr Samarendra Dutta. My job entailed floating enquiries for spares, repairs, making quotations as per his advice for our fleet then which included APJ Karan, APJ Angad, APJ Shalin and APJ Sushma.
I learnt how to identify a vendor, which vendor provides what, what does a statutory survey mean, what are the statutory regulations on the job with the support of my seniors. During 1999-2000, I was offered to do further studies in a fully company funded Material Management course. I used to give the exams from office as in those days, I did not have a computer or internet connection at home. I used to stay back after office hours and give the tests connected to the advanced studies the company had enrolled me in.
In 2004, Apeejay Shipping separated the Technical & Purchase departments I became wholly a part of Technical department headed by Mr. B.S. Nagi, General Manager – Technical, my boss at that time. I have since then been leading this work that entails ensuring that all the statutory regulations are followed, all ships are maintained as per regulations and various repairs – periodic maintenance being carried out such as dry docking, navigational maintenance etc.
I have visited almost all our ships! From overseeing dry docking of APJ Sushma in 1995-96 when it had docked at Colombo, Sri Lanka, for 15 days to dry docking of APJ Akhil & Kais at Guangzhou port in China in 2014, I have visited APJ Akhil, Sushma, Angad, Karan, Mahalaxmi, Sridevi, Jai and Kais. Visiting these ships during dry docking will always remain a memorable experience as it gave me an exposure to the practical side of working in a ship. However, I did not have time to go around these cities as there used to be a lot of work. In 2011, I visited APJ Jai at Vishakhapatnam port when it came to India for the first time after it was taken over by the Panama subsidiary of ASL.
The biggest challenge in the last 25 years which I will always remember was the accident of APJ Suryavir which happened due to bad weather conditions in 2008. The vessel diverted course due to bad weather and could not be traced! All of us were very tensed and everyone stayed back in office for the whole night till the vessel was traced and subsequently sent to Honolulu for emergency repairs.
I have worked with and reported to several HODs at ASL and they have all been instrumental in teaching me everything about shipping. The fact that I came from a non-technical background became irrelevant and the fact that I learnt quickly became my strength . I would especially like to mention late Mr Samarendra Dutta who had brought me to the Technical department. I was mentored by Mr Nagi, Mr Basak, Sr Manager – Technical, and then Mr B K Ray. I would especially like to mention Mr Bhaskarjyoti Dutta, Company Secretary, and Mr Ajay Pandey, DGM – Finance, who help me a lot in my work.
I have never let my non-shipping background become a hindrance and nobody has allowed me to take it as a short coming and this is how I have built my career from an office assistant to Manager – Technical. I learnt how to deal with all entities – from national and international vendors of varying types to government officials – as my task involves interacting with statutory bodies like Directorate General of Shipping, MMD and various Classification Societies.
It sounds fascinating but just four years into my job in 1995, Mr B K Ray was the Chief Engineer and Mr Dutta was the Technical Superintendent and I was asked to visit APJ Sushma..
I learnt how to do maneuvering
Learnt how to operate a crane – close & open hatch cover.
Saw underwater hull area of vessel when the vessel entered into dock for the first time!
Wore a boiler suit and a helmet from 8 am in the morning to 8 pm in the night.
Went into a cargo hole through a man hole.
Everyone said that I was the first woman on the ship to do that as it is a very straight and narrow ladder and generally, everyone used the engine room to reach the cargo hold. Here’s a picture of the majestic APJ Sushma from our archives ….
One experience that I fondly look back to is taking part in the Group’s Employee Volunteering Programme – Individual Social Responsibility (ISR®)– in 2015 when, I along with my former colleague June Felix, had volunteered to help patients suffering from cleft lips and palate during the post-operative stage. I witnessed first-hand how a cleft surgery is performed and then helped the patient’s family in relocating to the post-operative ward. The family was very anxious after the surgery. It was then we stepped in our role and spoke to the doctors and pacified the family members about the after effects of the operation and also helped to dispel myths associated with the surgery.
In 2017, one of my proudest moment came when I received the Long Service Award for 25 years of service from our Chairman Mr Karan Paul, Director Ms Priti Paul and Chairperson Emeritus Mrs Shirin Paul at the Group’s Annual Picnic. I had received the Long Service Award earlier for 10 years of service. It was a very gratifying moment on both the occasions as my family proudly looked on while I received the award.
My advice to anyone wanting to join the shipping industry would be – to be diligent, improve skills, be ready to adapt to any changing scenario and work hard! Another advice would be learn to treat your company like your family. Only then you will be able to enjoy your work.
Twenty five years is a long time in a person’s life and being in an organization for that amount of time makes your workplace become a second home for you. When I look back now, I feel blessed to be part of such an esteemed organization which has touched the lives of so many people and given me so many wonderful colleagues and seniors who have become like a family to me.
Shivmala Dey is Manager – Technical, Apeejay Shipping Limited