The perfect gentleman
It takes a lot to be considered a perfect gentleman by your colleagues, and more so to retain that title for over 40 years. Find out why Wärtsilian Fred Danska is universally admired and revered by his colleagues.
When you have worked for over 40 years in a company, you tend to be known for many things – an expert, a leader, and last but not the least, an awesome fellow. Fred Danska is all that and more.
In his long career with the company, Fred has been at the forefront of technological innovation, experimenting with digital tools long before digitalisation became a buzz word in the industry. In the 80s, he created Wärtsilä’s first customer database using a Wang word processor, while in the 90s, he used Microsoft Access to build the company’s first Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Since then, he has served in many roles and is now the Director of Cruise Business.
At a time when people switch jobs quite frequently, the fact that Fred has been loyal to Wärtsilä for such a long time is a feat in itself. However, when asked about his reasons, his answer is characteristically modest.
“The inability to find a decent job,” he says laughing. “But jokes aside, I have had the opportunity to do so many interesting things here. I love challenges, and for the last 20 years, I have been dedicated to the cruise world, which is ever changing and full of new opportunities.”
A legend in his own right
His dedication shows in the numbers, with Fred being part of the team that grew Wärtsilä’s engine base for cruise ships to about 80% market share in the 1990s. In the cruise industry, Fred is known as a legend, and his expert advice is widely sought after by people both within Wärtsilä and outside. This also poses a problem. What will happen when he finally decides to retire? How will he ensure that his knowledge is still available?
“I have, over the past five years, actively worked on introducing my colleagues to my contacts, and have been sharing my views on the cruise business,” he says. “I am confident that I have been able to provide a solid continuation for Wärtsilä’s cruise business so that by the time I retire, everything will be in good hands. But I guess I could be available for ‘special projects’ even after that.”
When asked to reminisce about key moments in his time at Wärtsilä, Fred refers to his so-called ‘Stone Contract’ collection, something that is both a testament to his business acumen, as well as his penchant for telling a good story.
“I love telling stories and I figured out a way to make signing a business deal a memorable story in more ways than one,” he explains. “We started signing our business contracts, starting with our first 4-stroke engine order with Meyer Werft in Papenburg, in stone. That day started my stone contract collection. You have to do crazy things like this once in a while to honour the moment and to have fun.”
Tricks of the trade
Fred’s contribution to the cruise industry was recognised recently when he was awarded with the Seatrade Cruise Outstanding Contribution Award at the Seatrade Cruise Med conference in 2018. He says the path to success and to building good customer relations is fairly straightforward.
“I believe key ingredients are honesty, dedication and devotion. Courtesy is also not to be forgotten,” he says. “And it is important to be truly interested in the customers’ feelings and to understand their situation. On top of this you need to be humble. That said, these ‘qualifications’ are a part of our culture at Wärtsilä and are not unique to me.”
As a veteran of both the industry and the company, Fred has witnessed first-hand the sweeping changes affecting the marine industry. While regulatory and technological changes are inevitable, he believes it is the environmental changes that have had the greatest impact on the sector.
Fred foresees the maritime industry gearing up to tackle this challenge through the increased use of smart devices and technologies. This is especially true for the cruise industry which has been going through a growth spurt and building ever bigger ships to meet demand.
“The biggest challenge facing the cruise industry at the moment is how to embrace sustainable tourism,” he remarks. “To their credit, the industry has been working hard to do just that, using more fuel-efficient engines to reduce emissions and switching to LNG-fuelled ships.”
A Wärtsilian and a gentleman
Fred believes that Wärtsilä will be a spearhead in this transition with its smart solutions and services. It helps, he says, that the development cycle today is a lot faster and more agile than it was in the ‘diesel era’ when R&D work, testing and verifying took much longer.
“Today we have products that have a much shorter development cycle and, in my mind, we have been able to combine new solutions with old ones,” he explains. “I see Wärtsilä getting more committed to sustainable future of the society and developing both products and operations to reflect this commitment.”
When he is not spending time at his summer house with his family, Fred sees himself playing the role of an ambassador in the upcoming marine transition, spreading the good word about Wärtsilä’s capabilities and promoting smart solutions to the industry at large. But, he stresses, he is always available to help his colleagues, no matter what time they decide to call him.
Is it any wonder then that Fred is considered the perfect gentleman by his colleagues at Wärtsilä?
“Hearing things like that humbles me, but I admit, it feels very nice,” he says in response to this. “I just hope that I am able to continue living up to that reputation.”