Why did you decide to do a Ph.d., and would you have chosen differently if you were to do it today?
I had always dreamed of life at university but never gotten to the point of making this happen. I had also wanted to "give back" to students and society after years of having worked for different firms around the globe including my own consulting firm. As a management consultant, I felt that having an educational edge was important for the rest of my career wherefore starting at 43 years of age and finishing at 48 did not matter to me. Overall, I would not have done things differently if I were to do it today.
What kind of industry is your company/organisation a part of?
a) The logistics industry: Shipping, maritime, ports, land transport, air transport, sea transport, freight forwarding, supply chain management, warehousing, distribution, last mile, contract logistics, 3PL, 4PL.
b) The offshore wind industry: Wind turbine generators erected and operating at sea.
What type of tasks do you perform?
Sales, contracting, management consulting, networking, Board of Directors.
What is your typical workday like?
I run a project driven organization where the client projects determine what my day looks like. I often go to client premises to facilitate consulting assignments through meetings, workshops, interviews, and other specialized sessions. I also work with the team or alone on performing research, doing analysis, or presenting results and findings in one of our office locations.
What has your career path looked like until now?
In 1989, I joined A P Møller-Mærsk as a shipping trainee. In 1991 upon completion of the trainee program, I was posted to Jakarta, Indonesia as country manager of the A P Møller logistics firm, then MCC. From Indonesia, I was quickly given also regional responsibilities and in 1994, I was promoted to country manager of the A P Møller logistics firm in China (then Mercantile). After a stint back at the head office in Copenhagen, I was given the responsibility as Deputy Regional Manager of the A P Møller logistics business (then Mærsk Logistics and later Damco) in Asia-Pacific based in Singapore. The region spanned Japan in the North East to Australia in the South to Dubai in a Western direction.
In 1997, I was headhunted to be COO and President of DelCon Asia in Hong Kong which was a venture of Conmel in Gothenburg, Sweden in partnership with ABF Freight System in Fort Smith, AR in the USA. In 1998, I was headhunted to become the Director of International Traffic at Toys"R"Us in Paramus, NJ, USA.
In 2000, I was again headhunted to become the Assistant Vice President of Strategic Planning and Business Development for APL Logistics in Oakland, CA, USA. For APL Logistics, I was later promoted to Vice President, Europe based in London.
In 2003, I started my own management consulting firm, Panticon. Over the past 15+ years, the company has solved more than 250 consulting assignments in the logstics and offshore wind industries for firms around the globe and as part of this, I have personally served as an interim manager at CxO level in countries like the US, the UAE, and Sweden. Since 2000, I have been a non-executive member of select Supervisory Boards.
How close is your current career to the ideas and dreams you had as a Ph.d. fellow at AAU?
My current career is very close to the ideas and dreams I had as a Ph.d. fellow at Aalborg University. I am thrilled and excited to have gone through the Ph.d. education process which to me was also very much the opportunity to immerse myself in a different world and a different way of thinking. Especially when it comes to research, analysis, and academic rigour, the Ph.d. has added tremendous value. Besides working in my current job, I also have an ambition to serve academically with research, student supervision, and possibly teaching going forward. My strength is that I have a 30+ year global industry track-record and therefore "speak the speak" also of the firms and people in the industries, I understand well. After the Ph.d. tenure, I can therefore "bridge" academia and industry which could provide for some very unique and challenging student assignments going forward.
As part of my Ph.d. tenure, I had the pleasure of being in front of the EU Commission several times to help alter the text of two Horizon 2020 funding calls amounting to EUR 35+ million. These funding calls (later issued as LCE13 and LCE14) called for the development of construction and maintenance options for 10+ mega-Watt wind turbine generators and I argued towards the EU Commission that a ports/logistics/transport aspect should be added to these calls because without logistics, the turbines could not be erected and maintained. With help from firms in Germany and Denmark as well as lobby activity from the German and Danish governments, I was given a chance to insert text directly into the draft call texts and this was adopted and included in what was later issued as part of these Horizon 2020 calls. Securing the backing of companies and working with funding calls as well as applying for funding to further my research are areas that also have my keen interest.
Having lived and worked for 18 years in seven countries outside my native Denmark, I have a strong passion for cross-border team work and I have a unique cultural understanding. This puts me in a position to make teams deployed across different continents of the world work together seamlessly. From an academic perspective, furhering my research on how industries mature coupled with how new markets emerge in other parts of the world would therefore very much make sense for me to pursue further.
Although I have been engaged in several exciting and interesting conversations, I have so far not been able to secure forward employment with a university to take my research further. At the request of industry, I have, however, secured support to have the eight main conclusions of my Ph.d. research translated to a series of brief reports which are now becoming available to the public for free. Also, my Ph.d. industry reference group of supporting firms has decided to continue the work done from 2013 through 2018 and they have kindly made it feasible for me to continue to facilitate this forum at their request. Although in a different shape, the research therefore does live on.
How have you made use of your Ph.d. education, and which of your Ph.d. competences have been most important to you?
Writing the eight academic articles that formed the basis of my Ph.d. thesis was done over a long time period. This was mainly due to the education process involved in my learning to write academic research papers as opposed to management communication to be reviewed by managers of firms and/or non-executive members of the firm Supervisory Board.
In addition, the academic research papers took a long time to get peer reviewed and many alterations had to be made before publication. As such, the bulk of the data and information used in the peer reviewed journal articles was created from 2013 through 2016 and the timing of most of the journal articles was 2016-2017.
However, the offshore wind market that I used as my case industry moved forward constantly and a number of new markets started to emerge during the time of my Ph.d. endeavours. When I started the Ph.d. research project, China was the only new market outside the North European "core markets" around the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. As such, my Ph.d.-related research and travels therefore largely concentrated on China where I spent a total of close to two months in country during the Ph.d.. However, other countries in Asia-Pacific and the Americas soon emerged as well and I covered these new markets along with China both from a literature, news media, and market perspective which was supported by my extensive private travels to get first-hand knowledge and impressions.
After the Ph.d., I ensured that high-quality market study reports on 10+ new offshore wind markets were produced and made available for free download via my company's website.
What do you remember most from your Ph.d. studies?
During the Ph.d. studies, a requirement to obtain a number of ECTS credits at doctoral level existed. I opted to select a number of very interesting educational programs of high quality comprised of subjects that had my very keen interest and passion.
The most interesting courses were clearly the INSEAD course on "Strategic Management" and a course on "Mergers and Acquisitions" as these topics matched my primary Ph.d. learning objective. Academically, a course on "Philosophy of Science" was very interesting to get to a good understanding of how academia and academic thinking is organized.
Is there a teacher/colleague from AAU you remember especially, and why?
The most challenging and complex paper, I wrote, was the cross-case paper that utilized my three case studies to perform a comparison of the mature vs the new offshore wind markets from a supply chain readiness perspective.
My co-author from Aalborg University, Professor Rasmus Lema, was extremely kind to me and very patient as I re-wrote the paper several times over the three years our collaboration lasted. In the end, the paper was published in a very respected academic journal and it is my most cited publication. I am thankful to Professor Lema that he stuck with me for a very long time. And believed in the research enough to keep supporting the journey of continuous improvement and refinement all the way through peer review to publication.
What made the strongest impression on you during your Ph.d. defense?
The strong support of my project from the offshore wind industry made a very strong impression on me during my entire Ph.d. study period. The fact that more than 350 people attended the eight after work meetings I organized around Denmark from 2013 to 2018 was a strong testimonial that the research was useful and needed by industry. This was further supported by the fact that close to 300 people attended the three academic conferences I organized during the Ph.d. study period.
This culminated at the Ph.d. defense on August 21, 2018 where Ørsted offered to host the defense for which I am forever grateful. In the fantastic Gentofte surroundings of Ørsted, more than 100 people showed up for the defense itself and the backing from industry was again overwhelming with my own estimate being that 80%+ of the attendees had an industry background as opposed to academic.
What career advice would you give to current Ph.d. fellows at AAU?
In a Danish Ph.d. setting, the time for the Ph.d. study is relatively short (three years) with lots of mandatory tasks such as teaching/student supervision for six months and the learning process to obtain the doctoral ECTS points also equal to six months. The time available to create/collect/analyze data and to write the academic papers to be peer reviewed is very short if such papers are to be submitted and possibly published before the Ph.d. thesis is defended. It is therefore important to organize the Ph.d. study period very rigidly and quickly get started with the work.
I organized my Ph.d. in such a way that the last of the eight papers were peer reviewed and published during the period where I wrote and then subsequently revised my Ph.d. thesis. In the end, all eight papers were published by the time I was completing my Ph.d. thesis writing process and also defending my thesis. This enabled me to select only a portion of the published papers to make use of as my main Ph.d. thesis topic and the result was that the Ph.d. thesis was much more narrow and focused whereas the overall research that I did was broader and had dealt with topics that I was very interested in and passionate about.
The subset of the research that I picked out for the Ph.d. thesis itself was clear and understandable to the Ph.d. thesis Assessment Committee and my work during the Ph.d. study was centered around the areas of study that I was interested in for my own educational purposes going forward in life.
What are your dreams for the future?
I would love to supplement my current position with part time work within academia where I can work on cross-cultural student projects with industry and publish occasional academic papers with relevant research findings from these case studies.
Anything else you would like to add?
As during other periods of life, lots of events will incur during the Ph.d. study period at the university and in the private sphere of a Ph.d. fellow. The key is to stay focused and not give up even if the world seems to be extremely tough and unfair. In my case, I met Stine and we had our boy, Sander, in the middle of the Ph.d. which was fantastic.
Also the brave men and women of the Wind Energy Department at the Technical University of Denmark made a difference and supported me tremendously during the writing process of the academic papers as well as the Ph.d. thesis and especially Charlotte Bay Hasager deserves a great "thank you" and tribute for the unselfish support and involvement.
Blå bog for Thomas Poulsen
Age and place of birth: 49, Vejle, Denmark
Title of Ph.d. dissertation: Logistics in Offshore Wind
Department at AAU: Department of Materials & Production
Faculty at AAU: Faculty of Engineering and Science
Campus at AAU: Copenhagen
Year of Ph.d. graduation: 2018
Masters Programme and university: Master of Business Administration, Copenhagen Business School (2011)