YARDMATE2017: Network and enter the French shipbuilding market! Belon-Laitinen tells you how

By 21.11.2017News

Marie-Zoé Belon-Laitinen has just arrived from one of her frequent business trips to France. There she attended the STX France yard to support Finnish companies who have specific projects with areas such as service elevators. YardMate caught her in-between trips for this interview.

Marie-Zoé Belon-Laitinen (third from the left) bringing a group of French delegates to the Meyer shipyard. Image by MZBL

In YARDMATE2017 fair Belon-Laitinen gives a talk on STX France and the Finns’ potential there. She represents at the fair both Belon Trade Consulting and the French-Finnish Chamber of Commerce (FFCC). Of her role in the latter she says:

Currently I am the vice-chairman of the French-Finnish Chamber of commerce. We have been elected with Sébastien Cailliau to run the Chamber last March. Our main task is to develop networks! We work hand in hand with partners to motivate Finnish and French business communities to work together – not forgetting the export teams and associate institutions of both countries (e.g Team Finland and l’équipe de France de l’export).

This sounds familiar to a yardmatian! Communities and teams, networking to boost business. And the Belon Trade Consulting part?

I jumped straight into shipbuilding fresh out of the school. The core business of the first half of my 15 years in shipbuilding industry was to represent French companies in Finland business-wise as well as project management support on Turku ship yard at the time of the big series of ships such as Voyager and Freedom for the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCCL).

Lately it has been more about supporting Finnish firms at STX France St Nazaire yard since the Oasis III ship started its construction in 2013. My work month is divided pretty much 50/50 between Finland and France.

The shipbuilding industry, especially the cruise ship building, is booming. YardMate has formed a growing network of turnkey providers and SMEs to answer to the shipbuilding needs. How does Belon-Laitinen see the role of business networks during the next few years in the marine industry?

It is capital to activate the network, gather information and get involved in as many projects as possible for SMEs as you never know which of the leads is going to emerge from all this information. Face-to-face contact is the key. I know this is time-consuming but it really is as important as to attend major international fairs.

The next few years, and we are talking at least till 2026, are looking bright for both the French and the Finnish cruise ship yards for a few reasons:

• the shipowners are valuing the construction quality in Europe and are sticking with their favorite yards’ loyalty
• both the French and the Finnish companies have contributed a lot to this industry and are well known for this in general though not always in the details. The SMEs should not hesitate to ask for support from bigger firms well settled in France. Usually this kind of partnership works well. Also French/Finnish joint venture can be a success to go together to a new market, look at a very good example from KOJA and AXIMA who are going to the German market together.

Any difference between Finland and France on how networks operate in the shipbuilding industry?

There are many differences in the networks’ operation – once again due to cultural difference. If you want to belong to the French network you have to behave like a French person and that is usually quite difficult for the Finns (and vice-versa!). In France networking is about meeting, talking and eating together a lot and often. There is always a lot of talking before anything happens. For the Finns it is the other way around, not much talking is required and networking can be done via email and online.

What people expect from the networks is to be able to talk the ‘same language’: using shipbuilding terms, mentioning major actors and companies, knowing the value chains and connecting to the key people to have access to the interesting deals. And all is done mostly in an unformal way.

The topic title of Belon-Laitinen’s YARDMATE2017 marine fair talk says ’STX France ship yard has the best order book ever’. What possibilities are there for us Finns?

Finns are now well known as such in the French shipyards. Lately Finnish companies’ input has been about 10–15 % of the value of each ship. This depends also on the will of the shipowner.

RCCL has been a very good and loyal customer requiring quite high standards that are well known to the Finnish firms. RCCL very often recommends the Finnish firms as the basic reference for their ship construction.

Therefore it is very important for the SMEs who do not benefit directly from the shipowner ‘push’ to get involved in the bigger projects dragged by the internationally known companies. Once again in this scenario networking is a very good way to get to know the managers of these companies who are always interested in new technologies, high standards and Finnish quality in general. Network and be curious!

There is a lack of workforce, on every level, in the Finnish, German, Italian and French yards. Since the French yard is fully-booked and there is a lack of manpower, they have a hard time finding good and qualified workers – and it is not always for a cheap price. Also, any kind of automation systems, modular systems or any other system that saves time, human resources and money are very welcome.

What are the strengths of a Finnish company offering their services in the French marine industry?

Finnish know-how, high quality, high standard execution, respect of the time table, speaking good English even at basic levels, working independently and efficiently without supervision (but this can be a weakness too in France…). Thinking beyond the project is appreciated, and this the Finns have been good at. As an example, the modular cabins were brought to the French shipyard by the Finns.

About weaknesses, the Finns are not used to the formalized and bureaucratic ways in France, they lack patience facing administrative formalities, are not always ready to adapt – and do not speak French. But these are things that can be overcome.

And what does Belon-Laitinen wait from her audience at our YARDMATE2017 fair on Dec 1?

For the Finns to invest time for business development on the French market and really get interested in it.

Usually France comes at the most in the 6th position after: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Russia if not further after UK, Italy or Spain in some cases. SMEs have to remember that in France the shipbuilding industry is as big as in Finland and that the Finns are already in a good position as it is THE industry where the Finns are really taken as a reference.

For once, the Finns need to be proud of their skills and capability! If they explain what their company does usually they get a chance to have a meeting with the technicians or purchasers (or even both). This opportunity can lead to open new markets, new industries or new shipyards.

What would make your day, Marie-Zoé?

That would be to hear a company finally say they would rather go to France than Germany! There already is a very strong presence of Finns in the German shipbuilding market, but in France there might be only one Finnish company for one task, and with the good reputation of the Finns… every company should do their own math!

Thus, business networks are the key in the French market, too, and saying Yes I Can, with appropriate business planning, may open you markets you didn’t think existed. Marie-Zoé Belon-Laitinen, an established member of shipbuilding networks and YARDMATE2017 speaker, with strong hands-on experience on how to enter the French market.

Interview by: Annika Perho