An Interview with John Cotzias, Founding Partner, Xclusiv Shipbrokers (June 2020)

John Cotzias and his team at Xclusiv Shipbrokers are passionate about international shipping, trade and development.

John has been President of the Hellenic Shipbrokers Association since 2013, and represents the 4th generation of the oldest Shipbroking house in Greece, his family having been active in both Sale and Purchase and Chartering of ships since 1893.

As well as being an active shipbroker from 1990, John has also been a maritime and shipping advisor for various Greek and international shipping companies.

Your family has been in shipping for well over 100 years. When did you start your career in shipbroking?

I started in 1990 when telex was the way we communicated, then came fax, then the email harbinger GN-Comtext, and now email and supercomputer power in our palms, using smartphones. In those 80’s early days, which I am happy to have witnessed in real-time, we had ship advices on paper organised in folders and in dedicated storage rooms, or scattered around, spending most of our time trying to stay organised, or at least look organised. We even reached the point of hiring programmers ourselves, trying to explain to them the business of shipping, make them brokers and how we envisioned working practically making our daily processes into something that could be programmable.

Founded in late 2017, Xclusiv was Broker of the Year in 2019? That’s a great achievement – how did it come about?

Less than 2 years of existence, that is definitely an achievement that we feel very proud for. It’s our aim to contribute to a positive change in the shipping industry, exceeding our clients’ expectations with teamwork, creativity and aiming for excellence in whatever we do. We are really grateful to our clients for embracing us from the very beginning and we look forward to supporting them in the years to come. Definitely achievements of this magnitude, create obligations of keeping to top standards and with the “bar set high”, this is something that we continually strive to maintain.

Over the years you must have seen some significant changes in the systems and procedures used by shipbrokers. Prior to introducing Compass to Xclusiv, what systems had you been using?

Most of the team have been using Compass for years, well before we started Xclusiv, some of us where part of the first broking companies that embraced the software since its very early days.

Going back many years ago, we used to work with cards, searching for advices and vessels in stacks of cards (like the ones in the picture here) and different boxes containing bulkers, tankers etc. We tried to develop an electronic format for advices, even teaching as mentioned a developer about the SnP business. When email became popular we were using Outlook, but it’s not very helpful for SnP, collaboration and team working. We had trouble using Outlook in an environment that involved Microsoft Servers, Microsoft Exchange, various servers, running specific tasks, sending many messages, needing a separate address book and CRM. In general we had to integrate many various hardware and software in order be somehow operational.

“exactly what we needed, everything in one place”

When you discovered Compass, was it the solution you had had in mind?

When I was first introduced to Compass I thought this is a software solution that brings our working modus into one screen!! (We only had one screen at the time and that was also smaller heavier and bulkier on our desks!) Its was exactly what we needed, everything in one place, emails, ships, filing, contacts and circulars – all easy to find and all linked together.

Xclusiv Shipbrokers offices in Kifissias Avenue, Athens 15451

Having tried to develop your own custom solution, what was it that made you eventually look for an existing software solution?

We quickly realised our own customised solution wasn’t good enough. It was written in Access, using visual basic and other code, was not flexible in any way, and to update even one header in its preset columns you had to find the programmer free – he was always tied up – and willing to make any changes. We were investing way too many resources and getting very little in return. All the other available solutions at the time had fragmented screens, with no integration; ships for example were separate from emails. Compass approached us with their all-in-one solution, bridging ships, ship data, emails, contacts – we jumped right in, as mentioned one of the first Greek broking houses to quickly try it out. We did look at other solutions but none met our requirements for information needing to be easily accessible, in one place, plus they were not in Athens so proximity helped us then to develop our wish-list and suggestions that were always listened to.

When did you start using Compass software?

As I said, we had all been using Compass before, so we made sure Compass was in place as soon as we started Xclusiv Shipbrokers. For those few people who had not used Compass before, they were trained and onboarded within a very short period.

A change in software and systems always brings with it challenges. What challenges did Xclusiv face when it introduced Compass software and how were they overcome?

There are always challenges especially in the IT world. But good selection of our experienced IT team (that ThinkCompass suggested/recommended), enabled proper planning of all requirements. Ultimately good cooperation and good spirit met fully our given timeline of deployment for the entire process from the start, and all tasks were met without any hiccups. Our choice of deployment of Compass into our cloud server was a very important and correct choice. Internet of Things (IoT) and the way things are evolving today, made us all think properly of all pros and cons of not installing Compass locally.

If you had to name the single, greatest advantage that you feel Compass brings to Xclusiv, what would it be?

The most important is probably that we can circulate ships so easily, especially from the mobile app, so that’s anywhere we happen to be – on holiday (well what resembles a holiday while continuing to work), travelling, practically from anywhere. The fact that our emails, ships, circular lists and folders are all synced gives us an edge.

“the value it brings to the broking business is many, many times what the software costs”

Would you say that introducing Compass to Xclusiv has been a good investment?

What can I say? Surely it is, but if you asked me what was the ROI I couldn’t give you a number, only say that the value it brings to the broking business is many, many times what the software costs.

Which of our recent innovations have you found to be of most value?

CompassAir, web-browser based is the future. Just for your info, every updated new release is more than welcome, and these days with the Covid-19 work from home quarantine period, most of my colleagues realised what I have been saying for a long time, that CompassAir web is faster, stronger and in one word the future ahead. Queries are quicker, messaging is done in a flash, both searching and creating our outgoings and the more features of Compass NG that become integral parts of Air, plus some features that are only part and able to be deployed in the new environment give as a glimpse of the future.

If you were to recommend us what would be the reason?

Firstly support. You are always there to quickly solve any problems that arise. Then you continually improve Compass in response to our changing needs, we really appreciate that. What you have built is extremely robust and the CompassAir solution seems like the super-fast solution we want, that certainly meets all we require as an SnP broker, it saves us time by using intelligent automation and the mobile app means we can work from anywhere. We don’t have to rely on co-workers finding and then forwarding information, everything is at our fingertips.

Name one thing on which Compass has an impact, day to day

Many benefits, not only a single one. Many times when travelling you hope to find email information and conversations, a vessel advice, in general whatever we input in our system, from weeks, months, even years ago. When you have the ability for information to show up every time on the mobile app in seconds after pressing search, it brings a sigh of relief.

Thank you John for spending your valuable time talking to us today. One final thing, if we could use a quote from you, what would it be?

“Goodbye fragmented software, hello Compass, actually hello CompassAir!”

Xclusiv Shipbrokers

Xclusiv Shipbrokers was founded in November 2017. Lloyds List Shipbroker of the Year in 2019, it applies many years of experience and expertise to Newbuildings, Sale & Purchase, Projects and Finance and Trade deals. As well as including the President of the Hellenic Shipbroking Association, the team members, who have themselves lived and worked in over ten countries around the world, are able to access an extensive global network. That network is based on long-lasting business relationships and augmented by strategic partnerships in the United States and the Far East.