BUSINESS PRACTICE. Bega’s 25th Anniversary: from Unwanted to One of the Port’s Leading Companies

 

Bega stevedoring company from Klaipėda started out in 1992 from scratch. Now it is the first of the port’s private companies and one of those companies that have greatly contributed to the port’s development. Today Bega is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
The results that the company has achieved in a quarter of a century are truly phenomenal. The former unused territory of the soviet Cardboard Combine with berths that were unsuitable for port’s activity was turned into a powerful and technologically-advanced segment of the port of Klaipėda.
Bega company was and remains the first in implementing the majority of innovations at the port of Klaipėda, giving start for bulk and liquid, as well as many other “unorthodox” cargo handling, which currently constitutes a substantial part of the entire stevedoring volumes at the port.
Aloyzas KUZMARSKIS, Bega’s Board Chairman, is one of the company’s founders and its long-time leader. The many years of his fruitful work were acknowledged with the first Medal of Captain Liudvikas Stulpinas, awarded by the Ministry of Transport and Communications of the Republic of Lithuania. Today Mr Kuzmarskis shared his thoughts about life, business, people’s relations and the footprints they leave on the Earth.

Mr Aloyzas, the 25th anniversary of the company is an excellent opportunity to remember where it has all begun. What were among Bega’s first aspirations and ambitions?
After the restoration of Lithuania’s independence on 11 March 1990, the economic blockade of the USSR made Lithuanian companies look for new markets for their production, thus giving the port of Klaipėda a special role. The port did not export any mineral fertilisers or cement before.
Namely that was the reason for the establishment of Bega stevedoring company. On 17 February 1993, suggested by the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, allowed Bega to rent a 70 000 sq. m territory at the port of Klaipėda – the former forest harvest site of Klaipėda state carton combine with a 650 m bay. The length of the berth, suitable for ships, was only about 100 m with the depth of only 4 m.
The first cargo was big-bags of fertilisers for export from Kėdainiai Chemistry Factory and Jonava Azotas (later renamed to Lifosa and then – Achema). The first vessel Vinga was loaded in autumn of 1992. It carried 1 199.5 t of ammonium nitrate, produced by Azotas in Jonava. The total number of employees at the company at that time was 10, including the director.

Does the company today meet your dreams and expectations, cherished 25 years ago?
In 25 years Bega has developed more than half a million cubic metres of bulk cargo accumulation and storage capacity for bulk fertilisers, minerals, agricultural produce for food and fodder, other types of bulk cargo, as well as 90 thousand cubic metres of liquid cargo storage capacity. We also have roofed railway car and motor vehicle loading/unloading stations, a productive vessel loading equipment, an efficient railway service, as well as our very own locomotive park. Currently we are building a separate cement terminal. In total the company has 8 specialised terminals for different types of cargo.
The development of bulk agricultural product stevedoring has been most rapid in recent years. Bega was one of the first at the port of Klaipėda to invest into developing bulk agricultural product stevedoring capacity. In 2013 we began using the universal terminal for agricultural products, which is one of the largest and most modern of such terminals on the entire east coast of the Baltic Sea. This terminal is the first in the Baltic region to have technological equipment for both export and import of bulk agricultural products simultaneously. It is also used as the distribution centre for bulk agricultural products (HUB). The technological solutions, used at the terminal were developed and implemented by Bega’s experts according to market demands and have truly met our expectations.
With recent development of the Lithuanian crop sector and increasing exports of Lithuanian grain, Bega has made additional investments into the expansion of the terminal for agricultural produce. This year we’ve completed the last development stage and have built 6 silos for grain, the total capacity of which is 60 thousand cubic metres, as well as a new railway car and motor vehicle unloading station. The investments into the capacity of agricultural produce handling currently enables Lithuanian grain exporters to accumulate about 300 thousand cubic metres of exported grain at Bega’s terminal, which can operatively accept grain and other agricultural production using railway cars and motor vehicles, and load them on multi-ton vessels. Moreover, the company operates high-performance grain cleaning and drying equipment, which enables the farmers to deliver grain to the port directly from vessels, without any intermediary elevators.

What works make you proud and satisfied most?
First of all, I’m proud of our excellent team. No matter how far Bega goes in terms of modernisation, the main focus was, is and will remain on our employees – the people, that create and manage that modern technology.
In the eve of our 25th anniversary, the company employs about 300 people. With small fluctuations this number remains the same since circa 2000. The majority of our current experts came to work here back during their studies at university and other schools, started making a career after graduation and continue working here to this day, i.e. Bega company was their only employer.
Perhaps, differently from other similar companies, Bega keeps to its business philosophy of performing almost all possible functions inside the company. Therefore, we employ not only brigades of dockers and dock operators that implement almost all handling works, but also railway, mechanical, automation, energy, constructions and maintenance, cargo calibration, territorial maintenance and other services. Namely this enables Bega to develop and build robots or other modern technology, automate all handling processes and remain the general contractor even at large construction works of infrastructure and superstructure objects.
Bega has always been known among the most advanced companies. Moreover, in recent years we have also demonstrated our ability to not only implement, but also develop modern technology. Probably the best example of that is the railway modernisation program.
In 2016 the company’s experts have developed and produced an electric railway locomotive-robot, which was acknowledged as the Lithuanian product of the year and awarded with a gold medal. This piece of equipment is controlled remotely. Moreover, the robot can be programmed to perform car pulling, stopping at a specified location and other manoeuvres without any additional controlling, sending the data to the central dispatch. We plan to eventually replace all of Bega’s locomotives with such electric robots.
We will also introduce robots into other areas of our activity.

In business the road to success is rarely easy. Have you encountered any failures and disappointments?
At the beginning of our company not all of the market participants gave us a warm welcome. Some unknown capital tried to purchase Klaipėda cardboard combine at any cost. They deceived its employees and some of them, including trade union leaders, were involved into the dirty business, which manifested in all kinds of means, from rallies and demonstrations to news publications. Newspaper headlines said “Bega, get of the quay”, while various experts were predicting a future of doom.
Looking back from the perspective of 25 years, it becomes clear that not only these predictions did not come true, but also were completely false, while Bega’s hard work earned the company strong positions in the port industry.

What is the basis of the interrelations between the leader and the entire team?
Bega has strong traditions in the field of social politics and keeps to them for many years. One these is the decision of assigning premiums to non-smoking employees, or those attempting to quit this habit. It has encouraged dozens of employees to quit smoking. Another tradition, held on the eve of 1 September, is to celebrate the beginning of the school year with the employees, whose children are about to start the first grade at school. The company aids its employees in bringing up their children from the day they are born. Every new-born receives a special baby basket, clothes, and the lucky parents are awarded a one-off allowance. Before Christmas, the company holds a gala for its employees, offering the company’s “veterans” extra attention and financial incentives. For Christmas, all company employees receive holiday premiums, gifts and goods for their Christmas feast. We focus a special attention on our employees’ possibility to take up sports. All these things strengthen our interrelations and create a good atmosphere in the team.
Perhaps that’s why we almost don’t have any staff turnover. The main influx of new employees comes from technology or engineering students, coming for practicum, who later can stay at the company, building their careers.

What plans do you have for Bega’s future?
The possibility to use the greatest potential of the company’s superstructure at the port depends on the infrastructural parameters, effectively ensured by Klaipėda State Seaport Authority (KSSA). In recent years the port has undergone a number of strategic works and what we need to do now is finish them in order to maximise the parameters of the only port in Lithuania. It is very important that the Seaport Authority is aware of that and has already started implementing the future port development programmes.
Currently we are undergoing the reconstruction of Bega’s berths 67–68, adapting them to 16.5 m depth. What makes this important is that these berths will become among the first at the port of Klaipėda to be able to accept Baltmax type ships, i.e. the largest vessels that can enter the Baltic Sea. Of course, this requires the implementation of the other KSSA projects – dredging of the port’s channel to 17 metres, the reconstruction of the sea gate, etc.
This year marked the completion of the reconstruction of the berth 66 and installation of new railways. In total Bega uses about 16 km of railways, 4 km of which belong to the company.
In turn, we have a long-term development programme for the next 5–10 years, which involves developing the superstructure behind the berths under reconstruction, increasing stevedoring capacity, expanding universal storage space, etc. After this programme is completed, the company’s stevedoring potential will exceed 10 million tonnes of cargo per year.
Moreover, we can see the perspectives of using reserve territories near the company for logistics, distribution, cargo calibration, containerisation or other types of primary processing, i.e. developing services that create added value.

Klaipėda benefits from the good practice of marine companies contributing to the development of the city’s well-being, culture and marine traditions. Bega is one of these companies. Which cultural projects are you fond of most and which of them get exceptional attention from Bega?
Since the beginning of its BEGA realised that the company has certain social obligations – not only to its employees, but also to the country, the city in which it operates, and its communities. Namely Bega initiated the revival of Klaipėda’s abandoned fountains. In 1998, with none of the former fountains functioning, BEGA, in its seventh year of operation at that time, resolved to renew the Dangė Square fountain using its own funds, and signed an agreement with Klaipėda City Municipality. Based on that agreement, Bega took care of the fountain using its own funds to cover any related expenses for almost 20 years. Another project was the reconstruction of the symbol of Klaipėda city – the sailboat Meridianas.
At the end of 2015 we signed a three-year sponsorship agreement with Klaipėda Drama Theatre. One share of the support will be dedicated to developing the professional stage art, while the other – for specific theatre people personally, selected and awarded by the community of Klaipėda Drama Theatre. Together with financial incentives, Bega also awards special Muse nominations, symbolically embodied by statues, created by the sculptor Klaudijus Pūdymas from Klaipėda.
Aside from these larger social projects, for many years now we have been a patron of Klaipėda Medeinė school for children with special needs. Every year we also sponsor the largest city celebrations, cultural and healthcare institutions, book publishing, as well as other cultural and social projects.

After twenty-five years of successfully leading the company, this year you have, in marine terms, transferred the helm to an experienced steersman – Laimonas Rimkus, an excellent expert of technology and former Assistant Director General – while you yourself remained in the role of the captain. What was the reason behind you transferring the powers of the company’s Director General?
Young experts working at the company must see growth and career opportunities. I gave the helm into reliable hands and I’m happy to be able to focus more attention on strategic, future and other development plans, instead of the daily routine.

Thank you for the conversation.
Happy anniversary and we wish Bega and its team to remain in the strong leading position the company has today!

 

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The magazine JŪRA has been published since 1935.
International business magazine JŪRA MOPE SEA has been
published since 1999.

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