Of the two overall winners in this year's Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA) Quality Award, ship-management company Eurasia stands out as an intriguing case study in global management. The firm competes in an industry with global reach, relies on an international workforce and must adhere to a strict service schedule that would make the world's top courier companies cringe. The firm is to some degree insulated from regional economic downturns, in part because it has few fixed assets and limited overheads. If Eurasia sounds like a good play in troubled times, its owners would probably agree. But wholly owned by the Bernhard Schulte Group, a Hamburg-based family with a 400-year heritage of ship management, little information on the company's annual sales is made public. Hong Kong-based Eurasia president and group managing director Rajaish Bajpaee is reluctant to talk about the company's earnings, but suggests that consistent growth indicates that things are on the right track. The number of ships under management has surged to 73 this year, up from the low 40s in 1998. Eurasia now operates more than 4.3 million deadweight tonnes in shipping material, valued at more than US$2 billion. When evaluating Eurasia's business model, Mr Bajpaee says it is important to keep in mind the company is focused on the management of third-party assets. Those assets - large ocean-going container ships, oil and chemical tankers, and bulk carriers - are constantly in motion and require a tremendous amount of logistical support. 'The ship-management business is essentially serving the asset in three areas: trying to generate cost efficiencies; maximising cargo capacity throughout the year; and preserving the value of the asset,' Mr Bajpaee says. 'If a ship's useful life is 25 years, it is our job to ensure that it gets that many years of useful operation.' The Bernhard Schulte Group is the second-largest ship-management group in the world, with US$10 billion of assets under management and a workforce of more than 3,000 seafarers. Hong Kong-based Eurasia represents the Far Eastern arm of the Bernhard Schulte Group's empire, with operational responsibility throughout the Pacific basin. It employs 120 onshore staff and 1,200 seafarers. Last September, Eurasia was named Asia's best ship-manager by Lloyd's List. Eurasia's service portfolio includes ship management (crew management, technical management), a marine consultancy (new ship design and construction, retrofits, conversions, quality assurance, technical consultancy), and shipping services (procurement, logistics, maritime catering, and financial advising services). 'Each box has its own product line,' Mr Bajpaee says. 'You have a total range of marine services under one umbrella, within which the core focus is on ship management.' If anyone thinks developing a shipping business is easy, Mr Bajpaee advises a closer look. 'The biggest challenge is people,' he says. 'Ships are like floating factories, they move from A to B. The vessel may be trading in South America or Europe. You have the ship management being done on board the ship by the top four officers - that is the management of that factory. You've got to have these people competent not only in a certain set of skills, but also in the attitude and commitment to carry the task off with excellence.' Mr Bajpaee points out that the captain is often responsible for a vessel worth US$20 million, cargo worth US$20 million and the lives of up to 22 crew members. Crews must be totally self-reliant. 'If a fire breaks out on a ship you can't call the fire brigade,' Mr Bajpaee says. 'The human challenge is enormous. Every voyage of a ship is still an adventure as it used to be during the days of Columbus.' One reason for the company's success is strong internal control. In its report, the HKMA's board of examiners (BOE) praised Eurasia for operational excellence in a number of areas. On the category of leadership, the BOE noted: 'Eurasia set out a clear company vision with core values which balance the needs of [its] customer[s], staff and shareholder[s].' Eurasia also excelled in the areas of information and analysis, and strategic planning. The BOE said in the summary of its report on Eurasia that the company outperformed 'by aligning its people, business processes and top technology to continuously comply with different international regulations'. Mr Bajpaee says credit should go to the office staff who overcome a logistical nightmare on a daily basis. One of the biggest challenges is making sure the multinational seafarers are available on time for the scheduled crew rotations. These rotations can occur in distant ports, often with less than a 24-hour window before the ship sails. Mr Bajpaee called on the government to facilitate development of higher-level studies in maritime management and human-resource development, to improve the state of Hong Kong's shipping industry. The founding of a university dedicated to the industry would help qualify Hong Kong residents for top jobs and raise the profile of the shipping industry in the local economy. 'People are not aware of the contribution made by shipping to Hong Kong,' says Mr Bajpaee.