MSME Spotlight: Courtney Lange, Naval Architect, Tsunami Marine
TSTT Corporate Communications
Tell us about Tsunami Marine… How did you get started?
Well, Tsunami Marine is quite interesting as it’s the only Naval Architectural and Marine Surveying Company of its type in the Caribbean. We deal with the certification of anything that floats – boats, ships, mobile and fixed offshore structures – and we act on behalf of governments and oil and energy majors throughout the region. Our primary focus is ensuring the safety of the people that serve on board ships and offshore marine installations, as well as the protection of the marine environment from a legislative and international convention perspective.
In essence, we’re a very Caribbean-centric certification and compliance agency, that provides technical support for the maritime sector. Our logo exemplifies our mission and we have been lucky to have built a team that believes and remains devoted to the preservation of life and the environment as the prime motivator for their careers. Additionally the use, improvement and sharing of our collective acumen has cemented a common approach to enlightenment of the maritime sector within the Caribbean.
The business isn’t based on making sure we increase our profit every year, but making sure we fulfill that role of providing safe working areas and safe ships. People think the Caribbean is just about sand, sea and fun, and forget that the majority of the region’s economic wealth is derived from the sea, and or associated offshore activities. Therefore what’s pivotal in our economic stability is the protection and support of international shipping and offshore activities that provide the vehicle for all international trade and sustainable tourism.
What role does technology play in your business?
For us, we are competing against foreign agencies and technology is a key factor on an international playing field. The other agencies, whether they are based in the US or Europe or other parts of Latin America, are sometimes two clicks ahead in terms of access to new software, new ways of communicating and or the electronic sharing of innovative ideas and information. We have a new normal we’re going into now and we have to move with the technology. We work with a lot of ships that are mobile, and offshore platforms that are remote therefore the issue of communications, and advanced technology is something that is always a challenge for us.
What has been your biggest challenge as an MSME?
Ignorance of what the maritime sector is about and the role of some of the key support agencies in the sector is probably our biggest challenge. People still think of seafarers as though they’re sailors, and they don’t really see the seriousness and impact of people who are dealing with the regulatory framework. In fact, most people in Trinidad and Tobago don’t appreciate that this country runs on the maritime sector. All of our export commodities are fueled by those platforms that are offshore on the East and West Coasts. We are one of the largest exporters of LNG, ammonia and urea in the world.
Up until now, people think that the big business is all about building roads and hotels and houses. Our maritime players, people who invest in the maritime sector, don’t always enjoy full support from financial agencies because most people know how to finance a car but they don’t know how to finance a ship, and most people know how to insure a house but don’t know how to insure an offshore installation. Whether it be our shipyards, people involved in offshore supply or support, it’s a challenge to help people understand, respect and value what we do.
What is the biggest challenge MSMEs in the T&T and the Caribbean face?
In order to manage an MSME effectively, you need to have quality management as an integral part of your operations. Quality means: say what you do, do what you say, and record it. Make sure you’re able to repeat processes systematically and efficiently to achieve customer satisfaction. We’re not good at long term planning in the Caribbean – that’s one of our biggest Achilles heels – so plan your work, with a clear objective using processes that continually improve based on feedback, lessons learnt from mistakes and innovative thinking. In my opinion an organization driven by financial profit only is difficult to sustain.
What advice would you give to an MSME or entrepreneur who is now getting started?
The first thing is to stop and think it through. It’s important to take some time to think about what you want to do with your life, how you want to structure it, and then decide whether you can be an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is a person who has the ability to set up a business by effectively managing the financial risks and realize some type of financial profit. However a successful business person is someone who is able to continuously manage the risk whilst improving the product supplied in quantity or reputation. Entrepreneurs can be engrossed with the whole concept of money and making more money, but the acquisition of more money is not necessarily a life sustaining philosophy.
Entrepreneurial thinking is not solely about starting a business, in my opinion it means you’re a free thinker with the ability to invent, and, you can invent within the framework of an organization. If we all collectively think like entrepreneurs, you can be an entrepreneur both in business and as part of a business.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your business?
The COVID-19 pandemic took us all by surprise. Nobody had any warning, the barriers were dropped suddenly. I talked before about planning as one of the key things in business, but you need to have time to plan. One of my professors always said when you are faced with a difficult situation, the first thing you should do is stop, do nothing, think it through. Don’t rush into any decisions. But, if you don’t have time to plan then you have to make snap decisions, and COVID-19 definitely gave us no time to plan.
Even when we thought we were taking all the necessary actions in the interests of national health and wellbeing, we spent a long time in a period of uncertainty that really affected, not just us, but the people who we support. Trinidad and Tobago was already in a little bit of an economic funk,
so with everybody owing everybody money, to face a situation like this you just have to hope and pray that everybody is on the same page once the economy restarts. It’s always sad when you have to scale down your operations, and then there’s a lot of planning that has to go into what happens when things normalize and you have to ramp back up.
What are some things you're looking forward to 'Post-COVID'?
There are three key points.
Firstly is that if the world were to be hit by a serious virus, we do not have sufficient medical infrastructure to deal with everybody on the planet. Country by country, we have to build our medical infrastructure so that doctors don’t have to decide who lives and who dies. In the Caribbean we have to start thinking and planning for our future, not waiting until the hurricane is almost on the beach to suddenly decide what we’re going to do. We’re good at crisis management, but crisis management is not adequate.
Secondly is that the WHO was trying to tell the world that we’re not keeping our bodies the way we ought to. We’re not eating well, we’re not exercising enough and I’m hoping that we’re going to focus on wellness as a whole.
Last but not least, I’m waiting for somebody to tell us that we don’t have to social distance anymore and we can get back to the point of being able to meet and embrace all of our loved ones. Christianity teaches us that the less fortunate and downtrodden find faith and hope through the interaction with God and caring people.