May 1, 2023

From VYP to Head of Commerce

Mara Vroon followed the Venturn Young Professionals (VYP) program from 2012 to 2014. Her last project as a VYP was at APM Terminals Maasvlakte II where she works to this day. We spoke to Mara about her experiences during the program and talked about her current position.

Mara Vroon (36) started at Venturn in 2012 as a Young Professional. After obtaining her master’s degree in International Business Management, she decided to look for a traineeship that would allow her to get to know different companies. During her search, she discovered the Venturn Young Professionals program. “Growing up next to the Westerschelde river, the gateway to one of Europe’s largest ports, and being a passionate competitive sailor, I was always fascinated by the marine environment and logistics at large. When I found out about Venturn and their VYP  programme the maritime touch of the programme made me enthusiastic.”

First projects

Although Mara’s time as a VYP feels like a long time ago, what has stayed with her from the programme is that she really enjoyed the variety in projects. Mara started with semi-government organization ‘De Verkeersonderneming’ in a project to reduce freight traffic during rush hours. “By spotting trucks we analysed traffic flow patterns in the Waalhaven and around the A15 highway, especially during rush hour. Thereafter we engaged into conversations with trucking companies to discuss attainable solutions to avoid rush hours. After that I joined the KNRM, a non-profit organization and something completely different. Furthermore I also did a very cool project for UASC, in which we assessed the various management layers of all agency offices worldwide.

Mara’s last project was at APM Terminals Maasvlakte II as a Business Developer. She started when the terminal on the second Maasvlakte was yet to be finished, a year before the terminal opened. Within this project landside parties were prepared for the opening of the new, advanced and highly automated container terminal. For this type of operation, the key challenges were to obtain information on the modality with which a container would leave the yard in advance. “Topics like how and where you get that information. From a shipping company, from a carrier or even from a shipper? Who is the best party to provide that information? And what can you offer in return? How do you arrange it technically? Since it concerns a vast number of containers manual registration is obviously not an option. The need to share data led us to partner with Portbase quickly.”

APM Terminals Maasvlakte II

Mara liked APM Terminals Maasvlakte II so much that she decided to stay there after she completed the VYP programme. ”I started with business development, then I became Customer Service Manager and I’ve been Head of Commerce since April 2021. In those eight years, the role has developed along with the terminal. Or maybe I was part of the development.” During the first two years, her role was about preparing for the opening of Maasvlakte II and APM’s large, automated terminal. Creating the right expectations was an important part. “It was an exciting, but tense period with a lot of ad hoc trouble shooting. Together with RWG, we were the first terminal to make Portbase and the use of truck time slots mandatory.” For the next two years, the terminal struggled to deliver the high operational expectations. The terminal faced numerous shutdowns where no containers could be handled. Complaints management was a big aspect at the time. “Once we got that under control, we were asked to focus on the hinterland and the exchange of containers between terminals in the port. We set up several rail connections and offered shunting between the terminals. Not only in the hinterland but also in the Port of Rotterdam. Recently, we transferred that part of the business to Maersk. The upturn in the container trade was the key driver to redirect our focus to our core tasks again. Making sure our entire organization is future-proof and ready for the expansion to double the terminal, which will hopefully be approved later this year.”

Valuable lessons

One very valuable skill Mara learned during the VYP programme and still uses today is project management. “That is really something you will use for the rest of your life. Not just in business, I mean, have you ever tried to throw a children’s party!?” According to Mara, you not only learn from your own project, but also from the projects of your fellow VYPs. “Exchanging experiences with each other is really very valuable.” In addition, the importance of a team and good cooperation is something that was clearly present in the programme from day one. Also, something you enjoy for the rest of your life.

“Exchanging experiences with each other is really very valuable”

The biggest challenge for Mara remains change management. ”Many workstreams within a company bring the challenge to deal with a lot of different colleagues. It is so important that you include these colleagues in every step of the process to ensure that you become better together. Moving together and the common driver remains one of the biggest challenges.  I really enjoy, and it feels like a victory, when you have everyone aligned and you can successfully improve a service, start rolling out a new product or accommodate a new customer.”

Future

Mara certainly has the ambition to continue to develop, for now she is still in the right place in her current position. “I haven’t really pinned down which position I would want in the future.”

Mara’s tip for current and future VYPs? “Invest in your personal development. Speak up. Be open about what you like, where you want to go and where you see yourself. Find out what knowledge and relationships you need for that and make sure it happens. If you want it, you can do it!”

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