Morten Haderup, of PIER Marine Interiors, which creates customized ship interiors for cruise ships, yachts, and more, has done business from China to Norway and seemingly everywhere in between.
Now, he sees opportunity in the U.S. and is starting a whole new company in the country, in a sector where he says there is a distinct lack of competition yet a strong need for the product.
With this new venture, he’s following the same approach that he always has. We talk about his simple yet effective client-centered attitude, as well as…
- Why closing the deal is not a matter of price
- How current U.S. trade policies could backfire in the next few years (and how he’s preparing now)
- A must-have for any company doing business in China
- How to create value where others can’t even recognize opportunity
- And more
Mentioned in This Episode: Pier-Interiors.com
Jay Sparks: Hello, this is Jay Sparks, your host of Finding Unique Value, where I interview business leaders that have found unique value in their business or industry that others have not yet seen or explored. I’m excited today to be joined by Morten Haderup, the managing partner of PIER Marine Interiors. And I’m not exactly sure I can do justice to what he does, other than to say he has had a hand in 10 companies. They’re in 10 different countries, and he’s just starting to build a presence in the United States.
So I’m very interested to see how he sees the business environment in the United States compared to Europe and Asia, and why he sees an opportunity and some value here in the United States at this time. Now English is his, I don’t know, his third or fourth language, so I’m very impressed with that also, so keep that in mind. But Morten, welcome to the podcast. It’s great to be speaking with you today.
Morten Haderup: Thank you Jay, thank you. Thank you for being here.
Jay Sparks: Great, great. Well you know, could you take a minute and you have such a fascinating background, I know I wouldn’t do it justice but I’d just love to hear from you, just you know, what you want us to know about where you’ve come from and how you’ve ended up in your current role.
Morten Haderup: Yeah, it’s a little bit difficult to say how I came into that role I’m in now. Actually I started from the age of 16, I was brought from the school and I started as a construction worker. Later I tried some training as a firefighter but I found out I had to go into business administration studies, business administration and join a big German company at the age of 25. And actually I’m Danish and the company was located, or the headquarters was located in Germany. And I looked on the map and I only saw a great gray country and I asked, “What happened to Denmark?” And they explained, they tried for 10 years to develop the country.
And I saw it a little bit as my chance, so … I said at the age of 25, “Hey guys, listen, give me a year, if I develop the company, you have to make me your Managing Director over there.” And yeah, after eight months we were around 250 employees, we made a lot of money. And everyone was looking at me. Now we had some promises they had to fulfill because we make that deal at this time and I became at a really early age a Managing Director of a multi-million company.
And, yeah. Developed the market a little bit. They sent me around the world where I started to find out that I’m really into, to see some changes. So I went to South Africa, I went to China, Indonesia, Australia for this company, and what’s involved in different things. India.
Jay Sparks: Yeah. No, go ahead. I’ll let you continue, I already have a bunch of questions on what you accomplished by the time you were 25, so I will let you continue.
Morten Haderup: Yeah, let’s go ahead, let’s go ahead.
Yeah, after seven years actually, I don’t know how many countries I worked in for this company, they sent me a little bit around like a kind of task-force or something. I developed some calculation tools for a subsidiary in South Africa. I was involved in a huge, huge oil and gas order or sales task in Norway. Actually, it was the biggest order at the time for the company as a value of more than 800 million Euros.
At this time I still had not turned 30. So maybe it was almost a little bit early but things went good and I was happy. And after seven years, I decided maybe it’s now time maybe looking into family, and so on. So maybe I should take a job where I’m not traveling that much.
At this time I had around 250-300 travel days a year and joined some local companies in Denmark where I had to work from 8-4 or 7-3 or something but after a couple of years I found out it’s not me. I will turn totally crazy if I not can do my hours, if I not can see results.
So, yeah. From the industry department, or from the industry, I came over in the ship building. Ship building was always, or ships are always something which fascinating myself really much. I’m a sailor so I was spending a lot of time on the water, so I went into from, yeah. From the technical side of the industry I went into interior and outfitting for cruise ships and explorers, yeah, without any knowledge. And things went good. I was employed in a company in Germany and came into a new market. Actually it took me two months and I generated the first $40 million US dollars for this company. Unfortunately they were not prepared and they didn’t believe in me so we resigned the contract because they couldn’t fulfill all the promises with the bonuses and so on. And I was standing there and thinking what to do now. So, I found a partner, a technical partner he is a naval architect, and yeah, we set up the business. And that’s three years ago.
I’m into a bit of business development so we started in Germany and Denmark, we developed into Spain, now US, we have a company in China. Just last week opened another company in the United States. I have some joint ventures in Indonesia. I’m buying a workshop in Malaysia.
So there are a lot of opportunities we see around the world or I see around the world where we are going in. And we are trying our best. Actually, right now we have employed around 150 people so I don’t think we are doing bad in this short time. I’m pretty satisfied right now.
Jay Sparks: What you just described is the life’s achievement for probably several people wrapped into one. So it’s amazing that you’re still probably in the middle of your career. But what happened in Denmark that has set you off on this unbelievable worldwide path? Because I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone that’s started where you started, and ended up where you are now. Is that common? Do you know, are a lot of other Danish people that take this type of path or are you as unique as you seem in terms of how you’ve taken these opportunities in many different countries and actually different industries, at this point.
Morten Haderup: Actually I don’t think if it’s the normal way of working. And I think also it was really special for the company. When I joined the company, there was 8,000-10,000 employees at the time, it was already a huge, huge company. And for them, it was totally, it was totally unusual to appoint a young guy, becoming a Managing Director role from outside their country. Without doing a degree from anywhere but only based on some, how to say, handshake deals where I said, “I will make this for you and you have to do this for me.”
Jay Sparks: Yeah.
Morten Haderup: So it was really untypical for them, and I think they saw some opportunity and that was also the reason why they sent me abroad. I mean, they was trying to adopt the success we had in Denmark into other countries.
Jay Sparks: Uh-huh (affirmative). So how were you able to convince these much more senior experienced people that you, as you described yourself, the young guy, were put in a leadership position at a very early age, when most people your age are considered junior and certainly not put in a leadership position? What was different about how you approached your job than your peers?
Morten Haderup: I think the biggest thing in this deal, or handshake deal or however I should call it was people didn’t believe it was possible. They formatted the company in 1996, I think, 1996. Yeah. Nine years before I joined the company. And they never, they never got into any kind of money in this country. So they closed the company two or three years later they closed down all activity. The company was still there, but nobody was able to generate this.
But now, there is coming a young guy, he is promising you something, you have nothing to lose. He is speaking your language, he is coming from this country, so you have nothing to lose. They said, “Go ahead.” There was a lot of focus in the beginning because I was also not sure how I do all these, how should I do all this business administration stuff. It’s not like I had worked for many years, as I said, before I was working on the construction side, I was working as a firefighter. So actually I was new into the business but what I found out was as long as you are honest, as long as you are fulfilling what your promises are, you will never have any issues.
So I went into a big, big refinery in Denmark, or it was a small refinery compared with all over the world. But I went in there and they found out it was a little bit different what I told them. I was honest, I said, ‘On every time I can open the books I can tell you what I’m earning. I will show you if I have a problem, I need your help, if you have a problem, you need my help.” And people, they trusted me. So as I said, eight months later they gave us a huge, huge order. I can’t remember the details, but I think it was around 27 million euros. And it was so unbelievable what I did for them because they couldn’t believe that this really happened.
And I can still think of these things. I called my boss at this time and said “Hey, I’m getting this contract,” and he said “Yes, yes. Go ahead and sign that.” He was like, “Oh, you will not get this.” So I went into the client, signed these contracts of several million euros and went back to the office in Hamburg and everyone was looking at me. How could that happen? So, yeah. And then we were standing there.
So, I like to work in this environment, but, yeah. Sorry.
Jay Sparks: Yeah, no. Well, it’s really interesting because I think you’re being incredibly humble. Because it’s not … The way you’re describing it, it almost sounds like you were lucky. And knowing how those types of deals work, and the details involved, and the amount of trust, the amount of technical knowledge, and all the other things that need to go right, and that you need to guide in the right way as long as it’s the right thing for the customer and I’m sure it was. How were you able to learn that? Because you didn’t have experience in that, you weren’t … the company didn’t have experience in that, or they would have showed you. That’s why they were shocked that you were able to get it done when they hadn’t been. So what were you telling yourself when you were doing something that you had never done before, the company had never done before?
But obviously you had to have confidence in yourself in those situations or the other side won’t necessarily listen to you. Was there anything in particular that gave you the confidence that you needed to get your idea bought, I guess, for lack of a better word?
Morten Haderup: Actually the company did it because the company was working in the industrial sector. So they knew how it was, but they didn’t do it in Denmark. So there was some knowledge around, but we didn’t use it at all, because the market in Denmark is really different to the rest of Europe. So Denmark, Norway, they are driven by the trade unions and the education is a little bit different. The tax system is totally different. So we decided to build up our organization and we decided to build up our own pool of manpower instead of taking sub-contractors.
So what … to come back to your question, actually I started to make research. When I was looking back I gained the most value for the company and found out there was only more or less two big players. It was the energy company Dong Energy was sold I think in 2010, 50% to the United States. Oil and gas company a refinery, StatOil, it’s a Norwegian company. So I had these two targets, and then I tried to understand what was going wrong for them. Where can I help? Where can I give them some benefit? And I think it’s not the question of prices, because I don’t guess we were cheaper. I think what I did, where the difference was, was I listened to the customer, I listened to their needs. And yeah.
On the refinery, later I was responsible, or our company was responsible for gardening work and so on, because I hear “There is an issue there, you need to help.” So I said “Oh, it’s not really an issue for us to take two people to cut your grass.” So I take care of that, and they feel good. They feel that we were taking care. So tender loving care program for customers, I would say, was the reason for our success.
Jay Sparks: Sure, no. That’s a great point. Right? You need to take care of your customers, but many companies are arrogant and they think they know what the customer wants. So they tell them what they want and try to push them into it. And it sounds like you’re taking the reverse approach, figure out what they want and make sure it’s what you can provide, and then make sure they understand it. That certainly works much better.
Now, how does that change? You mentioned you have Denmark, Germany, South Africa, China, Norway I think? So how does that process, or does it change between countries? Or is it more just the local customs and language potentially could be a challenge for you?
Morten Haderup: I would say, I would say the needs of humans are all over, the same. Doesn’t matter if I’m doing business in the United States, doesn’t matter if I’m doing business in Qatar or China. All over, people have a need and they want you to take care of this need. Either you can make great business, you can be that arrogant, as you were saying. You will make the business pretty cold and straightforward, and there will not be any relationship between you and the customer.
But you will also not get more than you are giving him. So you will not get any payback from him. So if you have an issue, and I know everyone will come up to this day where you are getting some business issues because you make a mistake or something, where you need the help of the customer. So totally the other way. And if you are not treating him that good, you will never get these paybacks.
And as you said, there was a lot of other countries, but I never had these issues. If I have some issues doing business in China, or need some help over in China, I was able to get that. If I needed some help in France or somewhere, I was able to get that. And I think it’s a kind of payback.
If you are good to Europe clients, they will be good to you. So the question is, I would say, the United States are a little bit different. I have to be careful what I’m saying because right now, you know, I’m in the United States. Maybe we should give that another day when I’m flying out?
Jay Sparks: Well, you know what? We can handle it, trust me. If you follow the media in this country you’ll see, we’re not in agreement on basically anything right now. But it really is refreshing because I know we spoke about this earlier. It’s great to see, because you have so much experience outside the United States, it’s great to see with beginners eyes what you see as some of the strengths in the United States market and some of the weaknesses. Because those of us that are born and live here, and only travel sporadically outside of the US, we don’t see these things that you see.
So I’d be interested to see over the last couple of weeks, I know you’ve been spending some time here trying to start some new businesses. But just from the business environment I think you’ve been introduced to a lot of lawyers recently, so is that a change or is that the same everywhere?
Morten Haderup: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. Lawyers in the United States, I have a lot of experience with them, and I have to say I have some punch points around the world with a lot kind of lawyers. So if we are opening a business in China or wherever, we have some points with lawyers. But, the lawyers in the United States, I know the United States are so different to all other countries in the world. But the lawyers in the United States is the most arrogant, and a kind of people, I mean, they are ripping you, actually. It’s really, it’s unbelievable. And it’s not like we are talking about Lawyer A you are paying $1,000, Lawyer B you are paying $1,200. No, we are talking about at Lawyer A, you are paying $50,000 and Lawyer B, $2,000 because he’s honest.
Jay Sparks: Wow.
Morten Haderup: And that’s such a big gap it’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable. I mean, as I said in the beginning, as I said in the beginning, we made it now the second company last week, and it’s actually the same setup. We started afresh, no bylaws, no shareholder agreement was prepared, so the lawyer had to do everything by himself. Two times, same task. The difference was seven times the price.
Jay Sparks: Wow.
Morten Haderup: Seven times the price. They are really trying, ripping you only because you’re a foreigner, you don’t know how the market is in the United States, and that’s what I’m saying. I will never come back to these people. These people are not able to build up a relationship, these people are not able to get my trust as a customer. So if they have an issue, I would say, “Sorry guys, thank you for now, I will not help you.”
But coming back to the American way of life, how I would call it, I think at the moment the whole country is on the way up, the unemployment rate has never been as low as it is right now.
Jay Sparks: Sure.
Morten Haderup: The issue is, I would see the market as a bubble, and I think what they are doing, for example the tariffs with China, the whole thing what the United States right now are doing, they are pressing other countries into developing their own business, their own ideas, their own products, to be independent from the United States, instead of trying to work together.
Before the United States reached that point, they need some help from outside. Now they are saying “Oh, we are that strong. America first so we will behave America first. We will do our business as we think. We will, we will … All others have to go out, we don’t accept any foreigners here. We don’t accept any other companies on the market, we only see us, and we only behave like that.”
And I get these will be really dangerous in the next couple of years.
Jay Sparks: So you’re saying by taking this stand this allows other countries to develop their resources and their products better, quicker. Is that what you’re saying because-
Morten Haderup: Yes. If we are taking an example, right now the example with the telephones from China Huawei, Huawei, I don’t know how to pronounce.
Jay Sparks: Yep.
Morten Haderup: Trump put the company on the risky list for companies, and they were not allowed to deal with Google. So I mean, it’s the biggest company for telecommunications, mobile phones over in China. What do you think they will do? They will put so many resources into this issue that they will be independent, don’t have any need for Google, Android or whatever you have, to run their phone.
So maybe it will give a little down in the next three, four, five, six months, but after that they are totally independent, so these earnings Google had or Android had or whoever, they will never have it again. And maybe because they are that pressed, other companies other brands will not go to Google any longer, but take the Chinese way. So I’m really afraid that the strategy they are doing over here will be dangerous for the United States.
Jay Sparks: So it’s interesting you bring that up, because you’re starting to build a presence in the United States where based on what you just said, it might be smarter for you to continue to build your presence in China, since they seem to be at the point where they’re kind of on the upswing. Right? So now would be a good time to start there because in a couple of years they’ll be much stronger.
Is there a different reason that you’re in the United States now, is there a timing aspect to that?
Morten Haderup: There’s no timing aspect. I think it’s a good time in general to build some business at the moment because the world economy is not that bad. There’s a lot of money on the market, people want to spend money. But the business we just formatted in the United States, it has nothing to do, actually, with cruise ships, what we are doing in China or in Europe. The business over here, we build because I saw some opportunities for some sunscreens for windows and some other things, and I was thinking, “Hey, I make a research and found out we can do that better, we can build it cheaper and the quality will be higher. So why not going into the business?” But yeah, in China we are doing our regular business, cruise ships, that’s also totally different to the rest of the world.
So if you’re looking into that industry there were several countries that tried to build cruise ships, America tried once in 2003, I think. It didn’t went well so they went out of business. Japan tried now they make a loss of $1.5 billion.
Jay Sparks: Yeah.
Morten Haderup: So they said, “We are closing down.” China is doing different. The shipyards more or less, are all owned by the government in China, and they got an order now for I think, Carnival, Europe company based in Miami, and the government said, “We are putting one billion US dollars into these, but we want to be independent after that. After these two vessels we are building, we want to be able to build our own vessels with our own products, with our own engineering, totally independent of the rest of the world. So they know they are facing some issues. But they are prepared. They are prepared.
Jay Sparks: Sure.
Morten Haderup: So I am pretty sure they will be able, and if you see they have some ambitious targets. They are saying until 2030 they want to have built 100 cruise ships and at least 10 million passenger capacity only in China.
Yeah. What will they say? At the moment there are 314 cruise ships worldwide, and the annual passenger volume of 26 million. So if they want to build 10 million, yeah, it’s a lot of passengers who will start in the industry and sailing on the Chinese market. So it’s a huge, huge impact I guess, of the gross cruise ship industry.
Jay Sparks: Interesting. So you’re helping with those first couple of cruise ships, right? And then they’ve been very open, that you know, “That we expect, we being the Chinese government, we expect to take that knowledge and start doing it ourselves. We’re making an investment now, we’re learning from people like your firm, and then we’re going to use this.” So do you expect to continue to be able to work in some capacity? Or are you going to have to move to a different country at that point, are they going to stop working with you? Like how does that work?
Morten Haderup: It’s a really difficult question to answer. I expect because our set up in China is with local companies, with local companies who started this journey, and then we set up some companies. So we are, I guess we are considered more as a Chinese company who is getting some support from a European company. We are prepared for the future where they are saying, “Okay, we don’t want to have these foreigners here building in this business, we only want to have Chinese companies,” and that’s something, we have to be prepared. As I said, when I was starting, always doing the research. If you know the weaknesses, if you know the branches, then you also can do some business.
Jay Sparks: Yeah, interesting. So, because you have this setup there, your entity there is set up as a Chinese company essentially, with some European influence, then you most likely will have a better opportunity to stay there and continue to help in some capacity, is that the thought process?
Morten Haderup: Yes. That’s true. Yes, that’s true. We have some agreements, we have some agreements. It’s not a foreign-owned company in China. But it’s a Chinese company in China, who has some contracts with a European company. So this is really important because they are looking into how many shares are owned from a foreign company. They want to hold the turnover, the revenue on their market, and it’s a kind of feeling from upside, so … they are selecting or they are saying who will be awarded these contracts or not, because of the amount of foreign shares.
Jay Sparks: Excellent. Wow, okay. So it sounds also like your background, having to build strong relationships in different countries, in different cultures really helped you in China, because you had to do the same thing there. Because they really don’t want, necessarily, a lot of foreign leadership but they need some foreign knowledge. So you’ve found a way to build the right relationships at the right time.
Is that accurate? is that what needs to be done if someone wants to do business in China?
Morten Haderup: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s the right time and we already are a little bit late. But we made it on a different kind of way, I know our partners over in China, they told me … actually there was around 50 companies who talked to them but they decided to go with us because the way of thinking was a little bit different.
We are not seeing the fast money in China, and then going out after two years. We are interested in a long-term relationship and that is also how we are treating our partners. Yeah, so I mean, the first time I was in China, for business, it’s 10 years ago now, so I know a little bit about the culture. I was prepared about the culture, and again, I was taking care of their needs. I was listening to them. And I didn’t come with the thinking China is not able to deliver any quality, China is only doing some fresh, China cannot do anything, China is only a third country. I saw what these companies are able to do. If you’re not looking for the cheapest price, you will find high quality in China.
You can see how many products are coming from China, who are sold by European or American companies so if you are looking from the right spot you will find high quality. Yeah, China is a really modern country and they … I’m a little bit afraid that they are able to do what they are doing right now. Because I feel that Europe as well as the United States are standing a little bit behind. And if they’re not focusing to be develop better, instead of trying to fight against such an economy like China, they will lose, I guess.
Jay Sparks: No, that’s interesting. But it’s also interesting that, focusing on their needs right at the beginning of the relationship was so helpful. Because the way business is done in China is very different to the way it’s done in the United States. But it’s good to know that that one similarity is there and can work. But it’s certainly a lot more work on your end than just trying to do a transaction or get a contract with the right person. Okay.
Morten Haderup: Yeah, that’s true. Actually it’s true. And you have to be careful, because if they feel you only want to scam or rip them, they will do the same with you. And you will lose your investment if you’re not showing the right behavior. The art and cultural difference, or differences in China, yes, but they are huge. I’m teased, every time I’m coming over and pondering a lot of culture compared to what I learned but yes, you have to accept that you are in another man’s house if you can say so.
Jay Sparks: Yeah, yep. No. That’s a, that’s a great attitude, and I’m glad it’s working both for you and for them. And just lastly, just because I’m interested because you’ve come to the United States but you’re not doing shipbuilding here, right? You have other products, if I heard you right?
And why is it easier for you to maybe do some of those things in this country versus China or you know, some place in Europe? Because given your background you could probably do this anywhere you wanted to at this point, but why are you choosing the United States to try to do these businesses that you’re starting?
Morten Haderup: It came with the time. I mean, the United States they have a lot of cruise industry, yes. But they have the passengers and they have the cruise ships. So, they have no shipyards over here, if you are doing refurbishment or building new cruise ships. So the market actually, also cruise companies are sitting here, it’s in Singapore, or Europe or wherever. But still the orders are coming from here, or many of the orders are coming from here.
So I’m visiting the United States, yeah, often. Actually I don’t know where I’m living right now because I would assume in any kind of plane, airplane.
Jay Sparks: Yeah.
Morten Haderup: Because it’s not that easy as much as I’m settling right now but every time I’m coming to the United States, and have some meetings, I was asking myself, “What can I do in the time in between these meetings?”
I was looking into the markets and did some research and so on. I found a couple of interesting things which I started research on, but I will then put some investment, when they had. So it’s more or less for the time in between that we build up the business, not to get bored when I’m over here.
Jay Sparks: So it’s just that you have time that you can look in to certain opportunities, and you happen to be in the United States so that’s where you’ll start the business, or there are things in the United States that make it easier for you to start the business? I guess I’m not … Is it both or-
Morten Haderup: Yes, that’s true. Starting a business in the United States is pretty, pretty easy … maybe not that easy like in Denmark, but yeah, compared to Germany or China or Indonesia, it’s really easy starting a business here and if you have the right guys around you, or the right lawyer around you, things are getting smooth, and things are going good. It’s easy, it’s easy.
And then, the market is here because you have a lot of people, and for this business we are doing now here, you have really a lot of people, a lot of customers and right now the pockets are filled with money. You don’t have to forget that.
Jay Sparks: Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s important, right? You have to go where the money is.
Well, that’s really amazing. You’re doing all the basics, now you’re looking for opportunities, you’re doing the research, you’re focusing on you know, what your customer needs, not what you have to sell. You’re building relationships, and you’re being honest and you’re working hard and that shouldn’t be such a massive difference but obviously it’s working very, very well for you as it’s great to see.
Is there anything else that you would like to share? I know we could go on for another hour, I’m sure. But is there anything else you’ve learned in your travels that would be particularly helpful for any businessperson?
Morten Haderup: I think the thing I’m, or the most valued thing I learned in all my travels was to listen and to watch people before starting to decide.
Jay Sparks: Excellent. That is great advice, and thank you very much for taking the time for me today Morten. This is really fascinating. I hope we get a chance to talk again soon. And thanks to everyone else for listening to Finding Unique Value and we look forward to sharing our next guest with you soon.