Almi Tankers Leadership Programme

Almi Tankers is a Greece based marine transportation business serving the oil industry. It has worked with Saïd Business School to transform its leadership culture, to help better serve the needs of customers, and react effectively to issues and challenges within the shipping industry. 

A need for transformational leadership

Almi Tankers is a relatively new oil tanker management company. It began its operations as a small tanker company in April 2009 managing only two large crude oil tanker vessels. The company’s expansion plan included the management of fourteen additional large oil tankers from 2011 to 2018. In addition, the people employed at its headquarters tripled, accompanied by the recruitment of about six hundred new seafarers to crew the new vessels. Today, Almi Tankers transports around 150 million barrels of oil around the world annually.

The transportation of oil and its products by sea is an inherently risky activity, potentially dangerous for the environment and the health and safety of the people involved in the operations. The company is focussed on very high health, safety, security, quality, and environmental measures to meet the demanding needs of its customers - the major Oil Companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil, and BP. 

The prevalent leadership style throughout shipping has been that of a command and control, based on mostly rigid procedures and processes, both ashore and especially aboard the vessels. This reflects the vertical hierarchy of maritime ranks and the related allocation of responsibilities and tasks.

To help the organisation achieve the highest possible standards in what is a highly competitive market, Almi Tankers identified that a different mindset, capability, and leadership was needed to cope with the challenges of the future. At an individual level, the objective was to ensure that its leaders developed stronger self-awareness, improved critical decision making and gained the confidence and leadership capability to encourage employees to be the best they can be. At an organisational level, Almi Tankers recognised that it needed a leadership culture that was more empowering and team led.
The CEO of Almi Tankers, Captain Stylianos Dimouleas explains: 'We need our people at all levels to lead the way and be role models on our journey to safety excellence and incident free operations. Human error is the cause of 75% of the incidents and accidents worldwide. Operational integrity and safety are our top priority and we want all people to be leaders, and consequently become safety leaders. Learning to unlearn and relearn along with the adoption of an agile “growth” mindset as opposed to a “fixed” mindset is, we believe, the path to eliminating incidents and making the difference in our industry.'

Designing the leadership programme

The first stage of the partnership with Almi Tankers was a diagnostic exercise. This was to understand the needs of the organisation, start the process of participants reflecting on the changes that were required, and ultimately inform the design of the programme. Carried out with fifteen employees from Almi Tankers, the diagnostic uncovered several leadership themes. These included areas of development around valuing differences, trust, giving and receiving feedback, embedding values, and aligning behind the organisational strategy.

While many employees were incredibly positive about working at Almi Tankers, there was evidence of some discontent around management and leadership effectiveness. Most employees acknowledged the formal hierarchy and respect for authority, but opinions differed with some experiencing a clear command and control style, and others a more empowering approach depending on their line manager, and where they worked. The interviews revealed that there needed to be a more team-led leadership culture aligned across the whole organisation.

The diagnostic phase was extremely valuable and helpful. We based our decision to work with Oxford Saïd on an internal context review, sense making of our own data, and awareness of the external context and future challenges.

Elpiniki Stylogianni

HR Manager at Almi Tankers

The HR Manager of Almi Tankers, Elpiniki Stylogianni comments: 'The diagnostic phase was extremely valuable and helpful. We based our decision to work with Oxford Saïd on an internal context review, sense making of our own data, and awareness of the external context and future challenges. The work done with the valuable help of the Oxford Saïd Business School, both during the diagnostic phase and the programme design, was perfectly aligned towards our main strategic goal. We required a shift from being good to being great, and a comprehensive framework for leading excellence across the organisation.'

Twelve design themes were identified, focused on how the leadership culture at Almi Tankers could shift from being good to being great, and exhibiting leadership best practice across the organisation. For example, how to move Almi Tankers from having ‘some pockets of a traditional shipping mindset that accepts a vertical command and control style of leadership’ to ‘all employees developing a modern mindset that encourages a more empowering, involving style of leadership.’

Design themes: From-To shifts

graph showing design themes: From-To shifts

The main aspirational shift for Almi Tankers is to create a consistent approach so that all employees experience the exemplar, all the time.

Prior to the programme start, all participants were surveyed (May 2019) on each of the twelve design themes, being asked to what extent they agreed with statements about the organisational culture. In addition, participants were asked about their perceived confidence and capabilities as leaders. A further survey took place (September 2019) after the programme to assess the impact of the leadership development process. Coaching sessions were evaluated as an opportunity to reflect and put learning into practice (January 2020). A follow up workshop was delivered at Almi Tankers’ premises (February 2020) to reflect on the impact of the programme and work on maximising team motivation and engagement.

Programme structure

Spread over two modules, all the sessions were aligned to the themes that came out of the diagnostic phase.

The programme was designed to be very flexible. Sara Wright, Programme Director at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford explains: 'We went to Almi Tankers with a programme structure that could be readily adapted. The leadership focus of the programme meant that it was a highly personal experience for the participants. The sessions needed to be able to flex easily, to meet the immediate needs or concerns of the participants in the room at the time. We did this by preparing an outline for the two days, as well as taking further material and exercises just in case. During the event we constantly reviewed the feeling in the room, what participants were saying and adapting and flexing to take it in the direction that was needed.'

The two modules were delivered at Almi Tankers’ headquarters in Greece but preceded by several activities to help prepare the participants. Participants were able to think about their own development by accessing relevant content, such as articles, blogs, and videos, via the Canvas multimedia platform. All participants took the MBTI personality type questionnaire, which was then discussed with their individual coaches prior to the programme. There were further coaching sessions after each of the two modules to help participants reflect on their learning and apply it back in the organisation.

    Module one: Purposeful leadership

    • Focussed on the context of the shipping industry, the development of Almi Tankers itself, its vision and what it needed to change internally and externally

    Module two: Aligning and leading change

    • Moved on to how to develop and change both leadership and organisational culture

    Full programme timeline

    Almi Tankers programme timeline schematic

    Impact and results

    The programme has had a significant impact on Almi Tankers, both in transforming the leadership culture, and contributing to business and operational successes.

    Almost half of the Head Office personnel participated in the resulting High Performance Leadership Programme - Heads of functions, Key Personnel, Port Captains and Port Engineers and first line Officers.

    Leadership transformation

    All twelve of the design themes showed increased agreement scores after the programme in comparison to the survey undertaken at the start of the programme. The highest scores were around pioneering innovation, empowering and inclusive culture, and clarity around future strategic direction. 

    On a ten-point scale, participants’ capabilities and confidence as leaders went from 6.5 and 6.6 prior to the programme to 7.6 and 7.7, respectively.

    Reflecting on this, Captain Stylianos Dimouleas said: 'Being a leader is about influencing people towards the achievement of a shared goal. It is about trust, integrity, vision, strategic thinking, and decision-making, let alone inspiration and creativity. Simply put, it is about “leading people and managing change”. Although it usually refers to the top levels of a hierarchy and requires senior management commitment, it applies to all in the organisation and it is not only a property of people who have power and authority. I believe that this is now apparent across our organisation both ashore and aboard.'

    Almi Tankers has established a Company Engagement Scorecard which is reviewed annually. The results following the Oxford programme have increased across all levels of the organisation.

    Employee engagement scorecard

    graph of employee engagement scores for different categories
    Motivation campaign badge with figures climbing a mountain

    In addition, a 'Motivation Campaign' was launched in 2019 focusing on better understanding team leaders’ behaviours that motivate or demotivate their team members. Structured conversations take place between Departmental Managers and team members revealing some common motivating and demotivating factors and highlighting the importance of empowering the team. 

    In the annual Leadership Development Feedback Form, Almi Tankers has seen improved scores in all criteria including delegating and empowering, strategic thinking, being stress resilient, creating alignment and being a performance development manager.

    Business and operational successes

    Almi Tankers has improved its performance benchmarked against its customers' satisfaction criteria. For one of the three biggest oil companies in the world, which works with 850 organisations, they are now ranked 13th (in top 1.5%), an increase from 43rd in June 2019. 

    It is one of the very few shipping companies operating tankers worldwide that has successfully obtained an ISO 27001 certification, the information security standard. It has also maintained its ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO 45001 certifications with flawless audit results.

    Almi Tankers has received recognition from shipping and maritime organisations. It received a '10 Years Quality Management Excellence Award' from Lloyd’s Register UK and the 'Quality Shipping Award for the 21st Century Program' from the United States Coast Guard.

    Amidst the Covid-19 crisis, it has secured long term partnerships with major oil companies for its whole fleet and secured its position in a very volatile global market. In June 2020, it took re-delivery of a 319,000 tonnes (carrying capacity) vessel at the port of Long Beach California amidst a Covid-19 resurgence in the area.
    Captain Stylianos Dimouleas comments: 'The Long Beach project was one which required a significant number of actions and arrangements around the world. It is an excellent, concrete example of the positive impact that the Oxford programme has had. Almi Tankers’ leaders have acquired stronger self-awareness, improved their critical decision making and have built the confidence and leadership capability to encourage all members of the team, ashore and on board to be at their best.'

    The programme and coaching helped me to step out of my comfort zone, understand behaviours, and put actionable items on my agenda.

    Almi Tankers programme participant

    The Founding Director of Almi Tankers, Michael Fostiropoulos summarises the impact of the partnership with Oxford: 'From the outset in 2009 my wish was to help Almi Tankers grow into a model tanker operator that would not just follow standards in our industry but set the standards. Eleven years later with the efforts of our team members aboard and ashore under the leadership of Captain Stylianos Dimouleas we are very close to realising this vision, ranking Almi Tankers amongst the top 1.5% of tanker operators worldwide. Oxford has helped significantly in this journey. 

    In 2013 I spent two weeks attending the Oxford Strategic Leadership programme and the Oxford High Performance Leadership programme. I wanted my team members to benefit themselves from the positive influence of the Oxford leadership programmes. I was absolutely thrilled when we managed to organise a bespoke programme for Almi Tankers. It has helped deliver a leadership transformation and delivered concrete results. A heartfelt thanks to Sue, Sara, Nigel, the coaches, and their colleagues at Oxford Saïd Business School for delivering such an excellent bespoke programme. Congratulations to Captain Stylianos and his team for making the most of this valuable opportunity.'