Photo by Niek Koops
  • Drives

NOM Drives - MSN works energetically on sustainable shipping

Drives are the real engine behind growth and development. Therefore, in this column, North Dutch entrepreneurs tell about their businesses and motivations.

Motivated to make ships future-proof, Marine Service Noord developed into a forerunner in systems for alternative fuels such as LNG and hydrogen. At this company we share a love of sailing and technology," says director Niek Koops. That makes us close to our customers, speak their language and find smart, sustainable solutions.

After nautical college in Delfzijl, Niek began his career as a mate - for ten years - until family life as well as marine engineering drew him to the mainland. He went to work as a coordinator at a Groningen shipyard and was later asked for a similar position by Marine Service Noord (MSN). When the company went into bankruptcy just after the turn of the century and was able to restart thanks to a major client, Niek was asked to take the helm. He went full steam ahead. 'With the team that was there, I dared the entrepreneurship,' the foreman looks back. 'I saw opportunities, because I knew we had the necessary craftsmanship to serve the maritime sector.'

The opportunities Niek already saw at the time, MSN more than lived up to. As managing director, he successfully changed course, helping the company build a solid market position. 'Absolutely thanks to the efforts of the team,' the entrepreneur emphasizes. 'Even before that relaunch, I was aware that employees are the backbone of the company. Their involvement, commitment and trust are our right to exist. In the meantime, we have over a hundred permanent employees, although in practice some sixty to eighty additional professionals often work for MSN. Our base is located in Westerbroek, Groningen, and we have teams working at home and abroad, installing installations and piping on ships. All these people are our strength and together they also form the foundation for innovative development.'

Alternative fuels

As an expert in marine engineering, MSN has already completed many hundreds of installations, installing thousands of kilometers of piping. 'Think of ship engine rooms, but also cargo and fuel systems,' Niek explains. 'We do that for clients across the maritime spectrum: from short sea shipping - transporting goods or passengers - to offshore support. Superyacht construction is also an important segment for us. Across the full spectrum of shipping, we see an increasing focus on sustainability. We ourselves have been consciously working on alternative fuels for fifteen years: first mainly LNG, later hydrogen and now also ammonia and methanol. Only during the banking crisis did the investment power ebb completely; shipping had other priorities during those years.'

Since 2014, MSN has noticed that the focus on ship emissions is moving higher and higher on maritime agendas. 'The changing regulatory burden is clearly contributing to this,' Niek states. 'Especially the interest in hydrogen is striking: ten years ago we received about two inquiries per month, now we are approached daily with market questions about sailing on hydrogen. We have also been involved in all kinds of research around hydrogen technology for years, and we give guest lectures on alternative fuels at courses. In our usual marine engineering activities, we have always focused on sustainability from a long-term perspective. It is great to be able to move with the flow now, although it has required stamina.'

"Innovation suits the people who work here; they run on innovation. That's what all our strategic choices are based on."

Niek koops, director marine service north

Persistence and confidence

Endurance, according to Niek, is inextricably linked to innovation. Innovation and being at the forefront involves trial and error. You need both stamina and confidence. Whether you really have that, you only discover when the going gets tough', the entrepreneur has experienced. As far as that goes, I have my uncluttered nature. My nature is optimistic; when faced with adversity I see the challenge. Instead of getting stressed out, I take a step back to oversee things, create calm and thus also give the employees room to find creative solutions. In working with partners, we did have some bad luck here and there. However enthusiastic parties sometimes are to invest in innovative development, not everyone has the - financial - willingness to keep it up
when the going gets tough.

'No matter how much entrepreneurial experience I now have, when it comes to new innovative collaborations it remains a challenge to assess how someone is going to hold up in the face of setbacks,' Niek states. 'That is why I have invested in good legal support over time and have gathered valuable sparring partners around me. Also people who dare to be critical, because as an entrepreneur you have to organize your own supervision. Meanwhile, my role at MSN is gradually changing. I am sixty, have led this company for over twenty years and am aware of the differences between generations. The moment when a fresh wind is allowed to blow here is getting closer. That too will soon be possible in confidence. I have always invested in the people and the culture within our company. That is the basis and from there MSN can continue to develop.'

Choosing innovation

Development has always been the common thread for Niek. 'That's in our corporate culture. Innovation suits the people who work here; they run on innovation. That's what all our strategic choices are based on. Instead of opting for safety by always doing the same trick or being the cheapest, we have purposefully used our expertise and experience for improvement and sustainability. Because that is where our greatest motivation lies: from our love of sailing and technology to contribute to future-proof shipping. And we are able to do so because we take care of the complete processes surrounding marine engineering systems. From design to installation and commissioning of installations, we control the entire process. In this way we relieve our customers and create the opportunity for real innovation.