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Robert Fairchild #1

The Shipping Man

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When restless New York City hedge fund manager Robert Fairchild watches the Baltic Dry Cargo Index plunge 97%, registering an all-time high and a 25-year low within the span of just six months, he decides to buy a ship.

Immediately fantasizing about naming a vessel after his wife, carrying a string of worry beads and being able to introduce himself as a "shipowner" at his upcoming college reunion, Fairchild immediately embarks on an odyssey into the most exclusive, glamorous and high stakes business in the world.

From pirates off the coast of Somalia and on Wall Street to Greek and Norwegian shipping magnates, the education of Robert Fairchild is an expensive one. In the end, he loses his hedge fund, but he gains a life - as a Shipping Man. Part fast paced financial thriller, part ship finance text book, The Shipping Man is 310 pages of required reading for anyone with an interest in capital formation for shipping.

310 pages, Paperback

First published June 8, 2011

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About the author

Matthew McCleery

9 books14 followers
Matt McCleery is the President of Marine Money and Managing Director of Blue Sea Capital, Inc. where he advises shipowners and investors on ship financing and investment transactions. He can be reached at mmccleery@marinemoney.com.

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5 stars
363 (38%)
4 stars
358 (37%)
3 stars
169 (17%)
2 stars
52 (5%)
1 star
13 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 62 reviews
Profile Image for Eric_W.
1,920 reviews354 followers
August 13, 2016
This book is probably only for die-hard nautical fans like myself who love Max Hardberger's books. You have to be really weird like me to enjoy the arcane twists and turns of the shipping industry. If you do, and you enjoy sardonic writing, you'll love this book.

Robert Fairchild is a New York hedge fund owner/manager who becomes intrigued by the possibility of making money in the shipping industry. He's a total neophyte, completely unaware of the hazards and complications of an industry ostensibly stateless but subject to a myriad of regulations, all of which cost money and time.

Succumbing to the desire to be a ship owner and against his better instincts, he decides to buy an old freighter from a Greek broker and that's where his troubles begin. ("The truth was stark; Robert had willingly gotten drunk and made a very costly mistake for which he could blame no one but himself. This was one of the few downsides of having a one man investment committee.")
The market for charters, thanks to fires in Russia, seems to be moving his way so, greed taking over, he uses his personal funds, well maybe a few dollars, too, from the fund, to creatively finance the purchase of the ship. Then things get really hairy. "“Yeah, that figures,” he laughed condescendingly and shook his head back and forth. “Look, Mr. Fairchild, I hate to spoil your quaint little illusion, but in the shipping business everything is negotiable all the time. A word is only a man’s bond if the market is moving in his direction. And just so you know, you haven’t earned the freight until you’ve been paid the freight – and the demurrage. . . Now it appeared as if he were the ATM machine, spitting cash at the ship. In fact, the only difference between him and the lanky Indian guys in the orange jumpsuits smoking cigarettes directly beneath the massive NO SMOKING sign painted on the rust-streaked accommodation building was that they were making money. He was spending money."

Robert's travails will lighten your day. Guaranteed. And convince you NEVER to buy a ship.

Profile Image for Patrick Neylan.
Author 21 books22 followers
December 18, 2017
The great thing about being president of a maritime publishing company is that you can get your own book published without having to seduce a mainstream publisher. The down side is that no-one will tell you your book isn't very good. And the down side of being a freelance maritime publisher (like me) is that you'll probably never work for Marine Money if you give the president's book a bad review. Still, one has one's principles.

I was given this by the director of a major maritime institution who thought it was hilariously bad. But a Greek shipfinance colleague who saw it on my desk said it was very good, so there are mixed opinions in the industry. What's most annoying is that it could have been quite good, if only McCleery had hired a professional editor. The plot and the character arc are both pretty good, and the story clicks along nicely after the clunky first few chapters and before the unsophisticated last chapter.

McCleery has clearly studied novel-writing; unfortunately the only writer who seems to have influenced him is Dan Brown. Every noun has an adjective and every verb an adverb. Most writers would simply say that Robert parked his car. Not our Matt:
Robert downshifted the mighty engine and brought the $20,000 car to a complete stop in the dusty parking lot.
The whole book is littered with repetition and unnecessary detail. How many times do we need reminding that Robert's surname is Fairchild? Or that the child Oliver is his son? Or that Grace is his wife … sorry, his beautiful wife? And so it goes on.

The characters are simplistic, bordering on the stereotypical: Robert (Fairchild, in case you'd forgotten) is too gullible and impressionable to have become a hedge-fund manager. Grace (his wife, who is also beautiful, remember?) is a simpering doormat. Coco is too naïve to be a shipowner. Alex is a stereotype of the young, blonde, beautiful New York financier. Spyrolaki is the epitome of the shipping wheeler-dealer, but here my Greek friends say the stereotype is accurate.

There are a few typos too, and these grow in number as the book nears its end. Ultimately, this has all the hallmarks of a promising book self-published before it was ready.
Profile Image for Andrew Hecht.
121 reviews2 followers
August 24, 2012
While I found this book entertaining and certainly educational in matters of international cargo shipping, I was constantly perplexed by the main character's ignorance and stupidity. For someone who was a hedge-fund manager, supposedly wise at least in the ways of the financial world, he came off as a completer idiot. He entered into complex multi-million maritime contracts without legal review or advice with people of dubious ethics and then is repeatedly blindsided by clauses in the contract which he didn't bother to read or understand. Seems the height of idiocy, but maybe that's the upper echelon of the "Masters of the Universe."

(Just as side note, this was first Kindle book I read which was loaned to me through the Amazon Kindle program. It worked extremely well. I read it using the Kindle app on my iPad.)
Profile Image for Travis Tucker.
105 reviews4 followers
June 16, 2014
I give this book 1 star as an actual novel and 3 stars as an introduction to the shipping industry (a "shipping textbook" as others have said).

As far as a shipping introduction, I feel like the basics were covered well and it piqued my interest in doing some additional research on the subject.

As far as a novel, the character interactions are contrived, there are needless "name dropping" instances ("his Hermes tie", "the shrimp from Nobu", etc) and then some cringe-worthy dialog such as the following:

[while watching his son's soccer match]

Stunned by the possession, Robert watched as Oliver kicked the ball away from the group and began to chase after it. Moments before the sole opponent in the vicinity extended his foot to trip his son, the boy tripped over the orange cone demarking the sideline

"Are you okay?" Oliver turned around to ask his opponent who was examining his grass-stained knees.

"Forget that kid, Ollie!" Robert shouted aggressively, attracting the attention of the other parents. "Keep moving!"

"But Dad!" the boy pleaded. "That's Georgie."

"So?" Robert said.

"So Georgie is in my class at school!"

"I'll buy you a frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity after the game if you score a goal!" Robert shouted back.

"Later, dude," Oliver said to the fallen boy and immediately resumed his journey to the small goal at the end of the field.

It's a quick read, though, so I'd recommend it if you are at all interested in learning about the finances of the shipping industry.
Profile Image for Sudarshan Varadhan.
22 reviews6 followers
November 26, 2022
If you're invested in the global trade and the shipping industry in some capacity and are familiar with financial jargon pertaining to debt and capital markets, you will find this to be a breezy read that lays out volatilities in a turbulent trade. It's educational like a textbook and largely easy to read at the same time. Given that the people who are familiar with the industry are busy making money and don't have time for a novel on the industry, and that normal people wouldn't generally want to read about an obscure, complicated and esoteric world, I wonder who it was written for. Given I'm a part of that ridiculously small target audience comprising a bunch of weirdos who are not making money and have time for this crap, I quite liked it. But if you don't dig finance or shipping, don't even bother reading this.
Profile Image for Emil Katajainen.
5 reviews1 follower
December 29, 2022
Outo yhdistelmä romaania ja merenkulkumarkkinaoppikirjaa. Jälkimmäinen oli kiinnostavampaa sisältöä. Tässä meni vuosi, ja sain kipinän lukea kirjan loppuun kun lapseni heitti nukkuvaa puolisoani kys. kirjalla silmään. Nyt se ei enää pyöri luettavien kirjojen pinossa makuuhuoneessa.
Profile Image for Library of.
93 reviews5 followers
April 7, 2021
One of my favourite books - both very educational as well as highly entertaining. Also an easy read. Best of all worlds! Below are my notes on the book, more summaries can be found at www.libraryof.xyz

Matthew McCleery is an advisor at Blue Sea Capital and has been a board member of two Greek NASDAQ-listed shipping companies, a hedge fund and several shipping organizations. The book, which is fiction, is about the fictional Robert Fairchild’s journey from a smooth hedge fund manager to an experienced and rugged shipping man. Fairchild accidentally stumbles across the Baltic Dry Index, which is the start of a global shipping adventure. In a drunken state, he buys his first ship (a 35-year-old “old lady”) from a Greek. Fortunately he starts in a strong market, is rescued from Somali pirates by a Norwegian shipping magnate and then takes a job with him.

STRONG MARKET DUE TO CHINA’S BOOM. When China joined the WTO in 2002, one of the strongest shipping periods in world history began. China’s thirst for raw materials combined with huge export flows led to a rarely seen imbalance in supply and demand for ships. With the high freight rates that followed, new investments could be rationalized and the world’s shipyards was running in overdrive. In the same vein, the Greeks took the opportunity to list their shipping companies on Wall Street – a total of 20 were listed between 2003 and 2008.

A GAME OF COST’S. Shipping is about (1) paying the least for the vessels, (2) having the lowest operating costs and (3) having the lowest cost of capital. There are no economies of scale in the sector – it’s all about the spot market. Everyone except the shipowners have a stable earnings. Ship brokers, investment banks, shipping banks, charterers, operators, lawyers and flag states all gets paid well for their services.

THE FREIGHT COST IS NEGLIGIBLE. The shipping cost for an item that costs EUR 20 for the end customer is often only a few cents. As a result, the market is not particularly sensitive to a doubling of the freight price. But for the owner of the ship, ten cents can mean bankruptcy, twenty cents survival and thirty cents immeasurable wealth.

FLAG OF CONVINIENCE. Everything in the world of shipping takes place offshore and the sector has a “Wild West” character like few other. A large part of the world fleet is registered in “flag states” such as Panama, Liberia, the Marshall Islands, Malta, the Bahamas, Cyprus, Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Vincent. What these countries have in common is that they offer convenient regulations (for everything from ship safety to personnel issues) and non-existent tax levels.

ANONYMOUS BEARER SHARES. In the shipping sector, the instrument “bearer shares” is sometimes used. The holder of these is entitled to the company to which they relate. If you lose the shares, you lose the asset. Within the world of shipping, the “lose” option can have a great value, as you do not want to be the owner of, for example, old ships that break down and release large amounts of oil into the sea.

LAST MAN STANDING. When freight rates are low, it’s all about survival. The faster competitors’ scrap their ships, the faster the market improves. Everyone is patiently waiting for the weakest player to let go. In a bad market, a ship can have a value far below the liabilities it carries, but still have a large option value since a strong market can be just around the corner.

VALUED ON PERCEPTION. The value of a vessel is dictated by the market’s estimated future cash flows. Current earnings are not important, it is the future that matters. The option value is often a large part of a vessels value. The best buys are usually vessels that have a weak or negative cash flow. A cheap ship with a strong cash flow does not exist – then it is not cheap, then the market is good.

AMEND & EXTEND. New vessels are often financed with 25% equity and 75% debt. This can seem sketchy in a world where asset values can double or halve overnight. However, the accounting rules are generous and vessel values very rarely need to be written down. A vessel can be valued based on aggregate undiscounted future cash flows over the next ten years, based on average rates over time.

A CONTINOUS CASH SWEEP. Skilled shipping magnates empty their companies through dividends in good times to have secured capital for new investments in a bad market. In a bad market, lenders constantly carry out a “cash sweep” so as not to be forced to set companies in default – and thus write down their loans. In this way, strong balance sheets are never built up over time within the sector.

THE SPOT MARKET DICTATES. Many US investors have been burned in the shipping sector by investing based on historical financial figures. A shipping company’s book values say no more than what the company paid for the vessels. Even week old financial figures may have become useless. All that matters is the market’s current and future status. Where the previous quarter was good, the coming may be the worst ever, or vice versa – the spot market decides.
6 reviews
December 7, 2016
This book insulted my intelligence. The main character (A supposed 'Harvard Man') Is a vapid, self-absorbed dunderhead. God what an idiot. Every female character is flat and exists for the benefit of another male character. The wife is a spineless pushover pleased with whatever idiot move the husband makes (there are plenty). The female investment banker exists to be a supposed 'Strong Independent Woman who don't need no man' but really exists to show how a woman who could never previously find anyone good enough for her was instantly smitten by the powerful, masculine alpha male shipping magnate. As I said, insulting.

Every character in the shipping industry is so transparently untrustworthy, I'm not sure if this was intentional.

This book had passages so self-absorbed, WASP-y and materialistic I had to check to see if it wasn't ghostwritten by Bret Easton Ellis.

This book was described as "Half Ship Finance Text," and this was not something that discouraged me. Now after reading it I would have preferred a textbook. I can't believe this was recommended to me by the Wall Street Journal.
Profile Image for Fred Forbes.
966 reviews49 followers
August 23, 2014
After reading in the Wall St. Journal that this book was ending up in the offices of many hedge managers, I decided to give it a try. Since I have been involved in finance and investments for 35 years I enjoyed this glimpse into the world of shipping, but my sense is that those who lack a background in finance may find it a bit of a slog. The writing is not particularly strong but the story moves along. As satire of the capital markets it can be a delight, if occasionally overwrought. Characters are a bit more emotional I imagine most hedge fund managers to be (at least on the surface) and certain incongruities arise. For example, how is a fund manager fired from his own company and forced out of his own office by his largest client? Granted, not great to lose the "whale", but there are others to be tended. Still, some interesting insights and amusing moments.
Profile Image for Petras.
72 reviews57 followers
June 26, 2013
A great introduction into the business of shipping from the finance guy's perspective. Although it is a novel, a lot of things surely ring true.
Profile Image for Alex Song.
117 reviews22 followers
June 10, 2016
Pretty fun read. But overall fairly poorly written and not realistic. Hedge fund managers are not that dumb...
Profile Image for Alfheidur.
71 reviews10 followers
October 10, 2017
For anyone in shipping finance, this would be a 4 star.
For everyone else, this is a 1 star.
Profile Image for Ravi Srikant.
13 reviews2 followers
February 18, 2022
The book provided some good insights into the shipping industry but the way the investors are portrayed as dumb and clueless is quite unbelievable.
Profile Image for Mary.
733 reviews1 follower
November 17, 2022
In the early 1980s, industry financiers took advantage of doctors and dentists who wanted to say they had partial ownership in a plane or a ship at an exclusive cocktail party (bragging rights as a ‘shipping man’ only last until you have lost your investment, as the Lloyd’s ‘name’ scandal illustrated). True shipping ‘men’ are; they do not brag they are. Updating that milieu to a more modern era does not change the fundamental fact that shipping has always been a blood sport that has taken advantage of the weakest (seafarers from the poorest countries, those with too much money and not enough sense, and governments looking for easy tonnage tax). Although written by a person with inside knowledge, this book needed a good editor. There were typographical errors in the very first page that set the tone for the quality throughout the book. The characters were over the top, as they should be. Recommended reading for students in my transport class.
Profile Image for Rohan Pinto.
31 reviews6 followers
January 3, 2018
Brilliant story telling helping understand a lay person, inner working cogs of Shipping Industry. And simple heuristics to get you stared on how do you approach cyclical industries.

#Fav quote of the book
“Money is a commodity just like the ships and the cargo. Even the people who say they are broke have money available for a good deal. Money hides when there is danger, but pops out whenever there is value.”
July 13, 2022
Lovely book about the shipping industry. As the book is about a rookie shipping man, you don’t really need any knowlegde about the industry, as all terms and operations are given a simple explanation. The book often had a romantic view on the industry, awakening feelings for a simple shipping man like myself.
Profile Image for Ted Alling.
124 reviews2 followers
May 18, 2018
If you have any interest in how International shipping works this book is a 10. You can tell McCleerey does some very big business deals. The way, he explains the buying and selling methods is incredible. Fun book
6 reviews
June 19, 2020
Good introduction to the shipping industry.

Is it fiction? Yes. Is it a romanticized version of reality? Yes. But the author included enough factual information to make the novel both a good read and a teaching tool to introduce the shipping industry to novices like me.
161 reviews2 followers
June 29, 2021
somehow interesting to get insights into the shipping industry, but at the same time the author dress the text much more than what is needed. Think he could have gotten more out from the book.

not reading the second book.
39 reviews2 followers
March 13, 2023
I'm giving this book 5 stars! It was a bit corny but it was highly readable and pretty well covered off all the aspects of the shipping industry from an owner and investor point of view in a fictional novel. Surprise hit.
Profile Image for Massis.
8 reviews19 followers
March 3, 2018
Very good and interesting story. I loved reading it very fast-paced.
Profile Image for Kelsey.
38 reviews4 followers
May 8, 2018
Not the best written book—character development is a bit cheap—but does the job of giving a 101 on the tanker industry and peripherally of shipping and oil and gas trade.
Profile Image for Tracy B.
24 reviews
March 31, 2019

If you enjoy finance and investing you will enjoy this book. Its very funny and tongue in cheek, you may even recognise the characters. Recommended
2 reviews
August 10, 2020
There are better shipping books to be read

The book isn’t written that well but it was entertaining and one can learn a few things about the shipping industry from it.
8 reviews
September 7, 2020
Como novela es flojito en cuanto a estilo. Lo único interesante para mi es la temática
206 reviews1 follower
October 31, 2020
Oh I want to be a Shipping man. I man need to go back to school and figure out what all of the economic and baking terms mean
71 reviews1 follower
June 2, 2021
quick, enjoyable read
interesting glimpse into shipping & logistics
a good amount of finance / hedge fund jargon
Displaying 1 - 30 of 62 reviews

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