June 20, 2018 11:30 AM, EDT

Maersk Appoints First Female Executive in 114-Year History

Duncan Rawlinson/Flickr

In an industry that stands out for having virtually no women in its top ranks, a rare thing just happened.

A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, the world’s biggest shipping company, has appointed a woman to be its chief financial officer for the first time in its 114-year history. Carolina Dybeck Happe, 45, who has held various high-ranking posts at lockmaker Assa Abloy AB, will start at Maersk by the beginning of next year.

Carolina Dybeck Happe

She will be the only woman on an executive board dominated by men who in most cases have been at Maersk since they were in their late teens. CEO Soren Skou, now 53, started at the company in 1983. The average tenure of Maersk’s C-suite men is about three decades. Dybeck Happe says she isn’t giving interviews on her new role yet.

The CFO appointment follows at least one investor’s request that more attention be paid to diversity.

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Anders Schelde, chief investment officer at $18 billion-asset manager MP Pension, says his firm sent a letter to Maersk and other companies it owns shares in discussing its expectations with regard to corporate social responsibility. The correspondence “paid special attention to gender diversity,” he said.

Maersk’s latest appointment comes amid concerns that the shipping industry is becoming an awkward laggard in the push to become more gender diverse, despite the well-documented economic and governance benefits of doing so.

When it comes to the C-suite in the shipping industry, women account for only 3% of executive jobs, according to Bloomberg. Maersk Chairman Jim Hagemann Snabe addressed the issue in April, telling Bloomberg that the company was reviewing female candidates for the CFO job.

Schelde at MP Pension said Maersk’s CFO appointment “sets a new course.”

“It’s very gratifying to see that Maersk is now putting actions behind words” following on from the chairman’s comments, he said.

The new CFO joins Maersk as it works toward completing its transition from being a conglomerate that has included energy operations, to a leaner business focusing on transport.

For Schelde at MP Pension, Maersk’s decision to target a more diverse management structure is reassuring given the historic restructuring the company is going through.

Maersk has set itself a goal of having found buyers by the end of the year for the energy units it hasn’t already sold. It received $1.2 billion last year for its tanker division. In March, Maersk completed the sale of its oil production activities to Total SA for $7.45 billion in shares and debt. It still has a drilling unit and an offshore supply service division that it plans to divest.

It’s a “very challenging transformation of their entire business,” Schelde said. “And especially in this situation there is an obvious need to think all around, and increased diversity can clearly support sound decision-making.”