#MeetTheLeaders EP06: Marco Civardi
In the latest addition to the Ergon #MeetTheLeaders series, we catch up with Mr. Marco Civardi, Maersk Area Managing Director for Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, to discuss the progression of his career thus far, his vision for Asia’s emerging markets, the challenges and opportunities brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and what, in his opinion, makes for good leadership.
Discussing how he came to join the transportation and logistics industry in Asia, Marco explains that, back in his native Milan, Italy, his parents were themselves part of the industry, and so his career choice can somewhat be considered an extension of the family heritage. It was his sense of curiosity, enthusiasm for travelling and seeing the world that led Marco on this journey. “[My career] started in Italy, [where for a] very, very short time [I was] working for an airline, British Airways,” says Marco. “Then [came] my first assignment…in Japan. Other than that, I spent time in Hong Kong and also, I got a stint in Australia to study a full-time MBA there and then back again to Japan.”
What had initially been intended as a two- or three-year expedition to Asia is still ongoing to this day, 23 years on, with Marco leading the team in Maersk’s focus on the region’s emerging markets of Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. “Asia is such a diverse region. In every country, you get something new, [so my] appetite to learn is still there,” says Marco, “[and] as long as [there’s still something to learn], mixed with some healthy degree of curiosity, the journey can continue forever.”
In his incessant quest for knowledge, Marco outlines the important takeaways from his experience in each country: “Japan gave me the learning of how to really serve customers, particularly from a consumer point of view[— to] learn the essence of customer service.” In Hong Kong, where “people are thinking and acting pretty fast,” Marco developed an understanding for the importance of being flexible in the workplace. And, working in a high growth environment like Vietnam over the past few years, Marco feels the experience has helped him mature in his leadership role. With Asia Pacific still having so much to offer, Marco looks forward to continuing his life journey between Asia and Europe, where he likes to return during the summer months when it is “at its best.”
Growth: Developed vs Emerging markets
Marco’s breadth of experience of the industry provides him with an insightful and comparative awareness into the needs of both external and internal stakeholders from the developed and emerging markets, “when it comes to clients, I think the emerging market expects providers to be two steps ahead, ready to serve our customer when they have ambitious growth opportunity.” Conversely, the developed market provides “a much more level playing field where the competitiveness of your product or your customer-centricity, [as well as] the quality of your people [are the factors that] really make a difference,” says Marco.
“[The] emerging market entails a different set of challenges; [it is] much more [about] preparing for the growth of your customer medium-term, navigating through complexity and infrastructure, and also building a batch of leaders that are able to take [on] more senior roles.” Marco continues, “In Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, staff engagement is very important. How people feel is very important. So, it is our duty to create a level of stability that is, of course, a result of retaining our talent that we nurture and build.”
Marco expresses that a customer-centric approach to business is key to leveraging the growth potential of the Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos markets. This includes anticipating clients’ needs by “always thinking [about] what the customer is facing today and tomorrow.” Marco says that at Maersk, the company aims to provide clients with as many ocean and air freight logistics services at as many touchpoints as possible.
When asked about similarities between the current Vietnamese market and that of China 15 to 20 years ago, Marco observes, “I think we see a very dynamic free trade agreement approach in Vietnam, and I am pretty sure that it was the same in China back then.” He feels the Vietnamese workforce’s can-do attitude and entrepreneurial approach are positive attributes, and that “the labour arbitrage in favour of Vietnam” to be another important pull factor– guaranteeing competitiveness and which provides potential for strong growth in the coming 5 to 10 years.
Perhaps it is these same attributes which have helped the country rise to the challenges brought about by COVID-19 pandemic. Marco says, “I would say Vietnam in particular responded well to the COVID challenge. I think clients are now…much more aware of the fact that they have to spread [their sourcing] dependency on different countries…and to be much more agile in the way the goods are flowing.”
In his discussion with us, Marco emphasizes the importance of people-building as a means to develop leaders of the future. He advocates that while talent development will always be an important issue no matter where an organization is in the world, it is especially significant for emerging markets, where there is a chance to make a more profound difference. “The notion of nurturing and creating talent is just one way to defend an organisation from [the] relative scarcity of talent out in the market,” says Marco.
Himself an associate certified coach, Marco is driven by being able to help colleagues develop the right techniques and confidence to realize their own solutions. He says, “people are willing to find solutions to issues by themselves because most of the time solutions are already inside people. It is just a matter of having the right technique to extract the gold from them, which is [often] hidden [inherently] somewhere.”
As a leader, Marco strives to make a positive difference, whereby both himself and his colleagues are able to improve, personally and professionally, through collaboration. “I try to mix both elements of humour and performance. I try to have competitiveness and empathy at the same time.” Marco embraces the notion of ‘servant leadership’ where the leader is one who serves the community around him, “colleagues are clearly the first [to be served]. By serving colleagues to the best of your ability, automatically, customers benefit.”
Marco notes that leaders should take into account the diversity of colleagues’ cultural backgrounds. “There are countries in Asia where engagement with the staff is much more direct and open, so you know where you stand pretty quickly,” says Marco. “There are other countries where communications tend to be offline and in more private settings, so you need to be agile in how to adapt to different cultural nuances, [understanding] where you can be more direct in public, or where you [should] be softer, and then try to find a level of intimacy [in which] people can express themselves more confidently.”
The key to his leadership philosophy, Marco says, is personal and professional evolvement through the constant strengthening of one’s skills, “to me, self-renewal is very, very important. [It’s about] trying to understand how you can be a new and better version of yourself.”