Six questions for Vele Rupa, General Manager–Corporate Affairs, Steamships


Vele Rupa was recently appointed as the new General Manager – Corporate Affairs at Steamships. He chats with Business Advantage PNG about his new role, the opportunities he sees in the market and what lies ahead for the company.

Steamships’ Vele Rupa. Credit: Steamships

Business Advantage PNG (BAPNG) What were you doing before joining Steamships?

Vele Rupa (VR): I joined Steamships about five months ago. My previous role was with the Mineral Resources Development Company (MRDC).

MRDC was responsible for managing the equity and participating interest of landowners in mining and petroleum projects such as PNG LNG and the Santos-led Kutubu Project.

Before MRDC, I worked for the Department of Treasury and, prior to that, I began my career with ExxonMobil PNG. That’s my background: stakeholder engagement and commercial in mining and petroleum.

BAPNG: What attracted you to join Steamships?

VR: Steamships is a household brand. It’s one of the oldest companies in the country – everyone grew up around Steamships because you either had a family member who was part of the Steamships group or knew someone who had an interaction with Steamships at one point in time.

When the opportunity came up, I said to myself, ‘Why don’t I have a go at this? Something new, something interesting outside of my comfort zone, outside of the extractive industry. You’re never get too old to learn and to grow in your career.’

It was excellent opportunity and having conversations with the leadership team about how I could contribute in growing Steamship in the future, I was confident that my addition was right – and the transition has been good.

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BAPNG: The last two years have been challenging for all industries because of COVID, where is Steamships now?

VR: No one anticipated the scale and breadth of the impact of COVID, and everybody went through this trial-and-error phase of living with the situation. The last two years have been challenging for the private sector and the country.  Of course, Steamships was not immune to the negative impacts of the COVID-induced slowdown.

However, as an organisation, you must be open to embrace the challenges in front of you. If you’re proactive and pragmatic about where you want the organisation to go, then definitely you will adjust to any situation.

Steamships was part of this global experience, but I think its focus was: ‘What do we get out of this? Can we get better? Yes, we can.’

We definitely have a new way of doing business that allows us to stay relevant in this day and age and especially in PNG. Staying relevant, engaged and being proactive is very important.

BAPNG: What are Steamships strategies to stay relevant?

VP: The last two years, I believe, brought us closer to our people, because that’s where the heart of the organisation is.

Steamships’ focus, and one of the reasons why I joined the company, is having Papua New Guineans in roles that make a difference.

This has made a difference to the individuals and has lifted the profile of the company too. Because of what has happened over the last two years, Steamships has given a couple of young promising managers opportunities for growth.

The Group remains steadfast in its commitment to supporting the people it employs, bettering the communities in which it operates and reducing the impacts it has on PNG’s unique environment.

We understand that our long-term business goals can only be achieved when our business operations are imbued with the principles of sustainable development.

BAPNG: You’ve only been in the role for a few months, but what opportunities do you see in the market?

VR: Opportunities are everywhere. Steamships has been not only a household name but an organisation that is ready to invest back into the country. It made a conscious choice 105 years ago to come to PNG and establish a home here. And that focus remains: investing into the PNG economy.

For us, not only as Steamships, but broadly as part of the business community, we’ve got these large resource projects coming on stream and with them come growth opportunities. Having survived COVID with strong finances intact, we are looking for new investments and growth opportunities.  Our focus remains one hundred per cent in Papua New Guinea, and we are confident of working in partnership with the Government and PNG stakeholders to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

BAPNG: You got experience with landowner groups, what does this mean for Steamships?

VP: We’d like to partner with our landowner companies in the resource space and give them an opportunity to be part of creating value that the resource projects enable.  But to do so in a way that is long-term and sustainable over many future generations. We want our joint ventures to be the kernel from which tomorrow Papua New Guinean companies grow.

I strongly agree with our collective focus and believe that by partnering other PNG businesses and a focus on our landowner groups, we can drive growth and business opportunities in the country outside of the extractive industry investments.

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