“Predicting the superstars of the future is tough,” says a leading German shipowner. “It depends on so many factors — how much capital they have available, how lucky they are in life.”
The challenge of predicting who will have influence in Germany’s post-KG (limited partnership) financing landscape has never been more difficult than it is today.
In recent years, Germany has spawned a bevy of talent from a new generation of shipping entrepreneurs with big ideas on the direction the industry should take.
Take Christian Oldendorff, a shipping heir with a radical and visionary outlook.
In some ways he stands apart from the new generation that frequent the Hamburg scene.
For a start, he prefers to spend much of his time in Berlin, where his venture capital business is based. It is here that he ponders putting his own money into ventures that could shape the future of shipping.
Oldendorff is owner and investor in Amplifier, which describes itself as a visionary company that supports creative entrepreneurs and applies contemporary technology in the shipping space.
He runs Amplifier after stints with Reederei Nord, the company he co-owns with his 35-year-old twin brother Nikolaus.
They inherited Nord in 2013, a decade after their father, Klaus E Oldendorff, who ran the company from Cyprus, died aged 69.
It is likely the twins drew inspiration from their 63-year-old uncle, Henning, who in the past two decades implemented ideas that built Oldendorff Carriers into Germany’s biggest dry bulk company.
Christian’s strong shipping pedigree saw him work at Nord in Hamburg and Cyprus, as well as with Teekay, Morgan Stanley, Maersk Broker, Bocimar and Deutsche Bank.
He studied at the Cass Business School in London, a training ground for much of Germany’s shipping elite.
Industry leaders need ... not only to live up to their environmental and social duties, but also seize the economic potential of technological leadership
He moved into the financial sector when he established Oldendorff Overseas Investment, a shipping asset management fund that drew capital from institutional investors.
Through Amplifier, Oldendorff puts his own funds into many maritime-related start up and alternative investments. It has invested up to €2.5m ($3m) with start-ups in the maritime, logistics and mobility technology sectors with a portfolio that includes Katapult Ocean, Teralytics, Nautilus Labs and ShipStock.
One of its more recent venture is WindWings, a patented wind-assisted propulsion concept that Reederei Nord plans to help develop and ultimately install on one of its bulkers.
That reflects Oldendorff’s growing role as a pioneer of low-carbon initiatives. At the end of 2019, Amplifier published the Towards Net-Zero report to show pathways to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in the North Sea and Baltic Sea.
“Climate change is the biggest challenge of our generation,” Oldendorff wrote in the introduction to the report, published by the Sustainability in Business Lab at Swiss science and technology university ETH Zurich.
“The time is now that industry leaders need to take action and find solutions to approach that challenge — not only to live up to their environmental and social duties, but also seize the economic potential of technological leadership.”
Oldendorff has since spoken publicly of seeking to decarbonise shipping completely by 2035.
At the BlueInvest day in Brussels this year, he argued that such goals could be attained by a commitment to carbon taxation, a collaborative approach and funding for new technologies.
Oldendorff is able to focus on those ventures while a professional management team in Hamburg and Amsterdam handles a fleet or more than 50 vessels.
The 17 mainly aframax tankers, 11 handysize bulkers and 26 feeder boxships are owned by the Oldendorff family or by private individuals from Europe and the US.
Ultimately, though, Oldendorff is one of a number of his generation in German shipping who could have a significant impact in the coming years.
Younger members of the Oetker, Dohle, Rickmers, Rehder, Von Rantzau, Schulte and Bunnemann families are all making their mark.
But Oldendorff’s ideas and growing influence make him one of the first to watch.