Ferry Business - Autumn/Winter 2022

8 7 maritime history. But please can we not lose sight of the 2,200 people whose jobs have been saved. And I’ve been really encouraged and inspired by how these people are pulling together to rescue our business.” With optimism returning within the walls of P&O Ferries’ headquarters at Channel House in Dover, Hebblethwaite remains resolute about the wisdom of his decision and the company’s future prospects. “In the outsourced model that we moved to, which is an industry standard used by the vast majority of shipping operators, we now only pay people that are onboard working,” he says. “This has given us a framework for survival now, and a chance to thrive in the future – importantly a means to protect jobs for the long term.” While ruefully reflective, Hebblethwaite is committed to his purpose. “We saw what happened to trade in the UK when we were not in service – nobody is well-served by an unviable P&O Ferries. Every action that we take is part of a much bigger ambition to radically change P&O Ferries so that we can become an industry leader again. “As difficult as the last few months have been, professionally and personally, context is everything – we get to take an amazing legacy business on an important journey back to being the leading ferry operator in Europe and I am excited about it. I do regret the impact that my decisions have had on 800 seafarers and their families, but I passionately believe that I have a responsibility to save this iconic British brand and protect the 2,200 other jobs that were at risk. It was never going to be easy.” Looking to the future, Hebblethwaite is focusing improvement efforts on three fundamental pillars. “We need to have the most efficient and flexible seagoing operation in the industry,” he says. “We must convert sales into profit more efficiently than anyone else and we have to deliver the best customer experience.” For now, tourism traffic is back to 2018 volumes on all routes other than Dover-Calais where the market is still down across the board, but P&O Ferries is achieving its share of the DoverCalais market and freight customers are returning. Hebblethwaite says that 2022 has become the year for “turning the vicious circle into a virtuous circle.” 2023 will start with significantly more positive news as the company looks forward to the arrival of Pioneer and Liberté, the two new double-enders hopefully dubbed the ‘Ships of the Future.’ Hebblethwaite is confident that their arrival will make a transformative contribution to the business, with a strong play in each of his priority pillars. But there is still a lot of mileage left in this year and much to accomplish as the team in Dover unites to rebuild the fractured brand. Time will judge whether Hebblethwaite et al can turn it around at P&O Ferries. If they do, perhaps critics of the events of 17 March will soften in their judgement? CFR “ I do regret the impact that my decisions have had on 800 seafarers and their families”