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“SPI Marine bids farewell to Mike Kardel.”

Mike Kardel a much loved colleague and leader, has decided to retire after 35 years in shipping while still young enough to enjoy the fruits of his labour and before we rope him into any other long-term projects! Mike is well known and respected within the industry, and will be sorely missed. 

“His character and dedication to staff is an inspiration to those who work for him, and has resulted in a high level of staff retention, and lead to SPI’s cumulative experience across all our offices. It has been a pleasure to work with Mike as a colleague and a partner, and while he leaves SPI Asia in very competent hands, he will be missed,” Jeff Mavelli, SPI Marine President, who has known Kardel since 1998.

It has taken Mike to retire, to finally grant us this interview!


Q: How did you get into the industry and what were you doing before? How many years have you been in shipping and with this business?

A: I joined CF Ahrenkiel Hamburg as an apprentice in 1985 at age 19 – So before that I had been at school!  I had never been a diligent student, always more interested in skiving off and being one of ‘the lads’, even in the rather ordered environment of a British public school (Oundle), so had decided early on that University, where lectures are optional, while fun, may not be my best course. My father, who had himself started as a ship agent at Jebsen & Co. in Hong Kong, recommended an apprenticeship in shipping. Whatever course I would want to take, he reasoned that every facet of trade and industry needs transportation, so knowledge of shipping would always be useful. At age 16 I interviewed with Christian F. Ahrenkiel (our Christian J. Ahrenkiel’s father), who noted I had acquired new shoes for the interview!   In all honesty, it probably wasn’t the shoes that swung it – Christian F. Ahrenkiel stems from Rødekro, near my hometown of Aabenraa in Denmark, and he had attended dance classes with my grandmother, who, unfortunately, chose my grandfather, since Ahrenkiel senior was apparently too short!

At the time, an apprentice would work their way through all the departments / businesses, but after the technical maintenance department and three months in London, where Ahrenkiel had a small brokerage in those days, I joined United Chemical Transport (UCT), a pool between Tankreederei Ahrenkiel and Knöhr & Burchard, trading a fleet of 20 chemical tankers between NW Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, which had just been established. As such, they were short of staff and I stayed there throughout my apprenticeship, first in ops and then fixing ships, which was unheard of for an apprentice in those days. I was eventually hired full-time by Horst Ritter, the MD of UCT, after I had passed my exams at the Handelskammer Hamburg. This was my start in the gas and chemicals business.

Q: You’ve had quite a journey from spearheading Panasia Marine to realising SPI Marine Asia and SPI’s Market Intelligence Unit. What has been your drive and how have you seen the industry change?

Kardel showing of his footballing skills at an Odfjell Tournament

A: The drive I guess has always been a commitment to others and a refusal to fail the team: My colleagues, whom I promised would do well if they joined us; and the shareholders, who believed in me and backed me, when they had no reason to in those early days.

Q: What has been your proudest moment?

A: Seeing my colleagues prosper. There is nothing better than seeing someone smile when you tell them they’re going to get a raise or a bonus!  With that said, there have obviously also been years where we haven’t done well, but, by and large, those that have stayed with us for the long haul have done well (or at least I hope they think so) and that makes me very happy!


“Thank you for your insights, positive words of encouragement, giving us all the opportunity to work with you and for leading us into the future. Mike, you will be sorely missed, but we at SPI Marine wish you all the best on your next adventure,” Bonita Nightingale, Head of Market Intelligence.

Q: As you retire, what are you hopes for the business and what do you see is the future for shipbroking?

A: The world is changing and so our industry has to adapt, hence our drive to lead technological progress in our field. Having started in the early 2000s with ShippingDesk, I feel we have a wealth of experience in this area and are well positioned as a business to take advantage of this opportunity.

The biggest challenge is one of short-termism, which certainly isn’t unique to shipping. Generally, I feel people nowadays think in terms of immediate results – they worry about the here and now and think less about the longer term and building sustainable relationships. This does of course also present opportunities, but it’s generally not been my way, so perhaps now is a good time for me to move on. As you can see, I’m already turning into one of those old fogeys harping on about how everything was better in the old days and harking back to the good old times of yesteryear!

Q: What do you do for fun outside of the office and how will you be spending your time?

A: I’ve always loved sports, football (soccer) and tennis, in particular. I’m a passionate Arsenal and Denmark football supporter and one of my goals is still to win the SPI Fantasy Football Mini League once again!

After 35 years in shipping, first things first, I’m going to slim down and get healthy!  On account of golfers elbow, I haven’t played tennis for some 6-7 years, so I’m going see if I can start playing again now.

When we return to Hong Kong I also want to take some courses and see if I can start coaching kids football.

Living in HK, I also want to improve my Cantonese and plan to take lessons.

Then, of course, when the world returns to ‘normal’, Eva and I intend to travel and I want to spend more time with my dad and family in Denmark, especially in the summer months. Naturally, we will try to plan our trips around sporting events and concerts.

Q: What advice would you give young people coming into the industry now?

A: Work hard!  When I started SPI Asia (or Panasia, as we were then) I worked 12-hour days (sometimes more), 7 days a week – Eva hardly saw me during our first years in Singapore. This is of course extreme and not recommendable, but it’s what it took to build a business from nothing and to offer a comprehensive service without any resources at that time. While I firmly believe that people work best when they have a healthy work/life balance, I also believe, regardless of your talents and capabilities, that hard work will always be recognised and rewarded. Even if you aren’t God’s gift to shipping, clients will always appreciate if they see you are working hard for them.