One of the air cargo sector’s strengths is its breadth of astute management. As the industry heads optimistically into the uncertainty of 2014, it will rely heavily on the guidance of its top executives. Air Cargo World has selected six of the industry’s best to highlight in our annual Air Cargo Leaders feature.
United Cargo head says airfreight’s future lies with new ideas
Few people know that United Cargo President Robbie Anderson is an introvert.
“It’s just my natural tendency to be quiet and more introspective,” Anderson says, “but in my career and certainly being married to my wife, I learned you have a lot more fun talking to people.”
And now, what Anderson likes so much about the air cargo industry is the people involved.
He started his airline career with Continental Airlines, which eventually merged into United. He worked his way from catering to flight operations. In 1994, he got his first airfreight job as division controller for the cargo division, which he served as for two years.
Anderson has spent more than half of his career in the cargo business.
He calls airfreight a “relationship-focused industry.”
“As large as it is, it’s still pretty small,” Anderson says. “One thing I recognized when I left in 2005 and came back in 2010, the names were all the same.”
It’s no wonder why he says people are also the aspect of his career in which he takes the most pride.
“What I’m most proud of is to see the people I work with succeed in their careers. It’s been one of the most gratifying things to work with individuals that you see, just pure talent,” Anderson says. “To help understand where they want to go in their careers and find ways to help them move along those career paths and be successful – I think that’s probably been the most rewarding thing that I’ve seen.”
He says however the economy develops, the future of air cargo is in new ideas.
“Air cargo plays an irreplaceable role in the worldwide economy – and there is a tremendous upside opportunity to improve the service we provide,” Anderson says. “Since our planes aren’t likely to fly any faster, we need to promote a spirit of entrepreneurship and creativity to develop innovations on the ground. Then we need to test these innovations to determine whether they enhance or create value for our customers.”
Anderson earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from Stephen F. Austin State University and his MBA from the University of Houston, both in Texas. He serves as chairman of the Airlines for America Cargo Council and is a member of the International Air Transport Association Cargo Committee.
Anderson began working in junior high school. His first job was running livestock in a sales barn in his hometown of Tom Bean, Texas, a town with a population of under 1,000 at the time.
“It was a big farming community, and it was a great place to grow up. Small, small school. Literally played every sport. You had to or we wouldn’t fill the team,” he says.
Anderson was responsible for getting pigs, horses and cattle into and out of a pen and loading them into trucks for farmers.
“What I learned in the sales barn is you don’t want to stand between a 500-pound sow and anything. You want to get out of their way,” he says, laughing.
Learning to dodge pigs, Anderson no doubt knows the importance of speed. And he says that is the very aspect that the air cargo industry needs to improve on.
“E-commerce was a high focus for the industry when I left in 2005, and when I came back in 2010, we’re still talking about the same initiatives of E-freight and e-airway bill and really trying to get the industry to buy in on why we should do this,” he says. “I think that’s been one of the frustrating parts for a lot of us.”
Anderson has three children. In 2005, he moved to Cleveland with his family for work. Once their last child finishes high school in spring 2014, Anderson and his wife will move to Chicago, where Anderson now works.
One of his hobbies is spending time with family. He also likes to walk, fish and travel. The beach is his favorite destination, so each summer, he and his family go on vacation to Destin, Fla.
With a long cargo career behind him, Anderson gives his formula to make it in the airfreight industry: persistence, a strong work ethic and a willingness to take risks and make mistakes.
He also stresses investing in yourself through education.
“That doesn’t have to mean a formal education such as college. It can be through coursework or training or reading books or listening to audio,” he says. “I think it’s really trying to continually improve your value and worth to yourself and the organization for which you work for.”
And Anderson, the self-described introvert, says to invest in people and relationships.
“At the end of the day,” he says, “that’s what makes the world go around – your willingness to work with other people.”
Al-Saleh says Agility will earn its name
Essa Al-Saleh worked in the oil industry before joining global logistics firm Agility in 1998. He was an engineer with the Kuwait Oil Company and was part of the team charged with reconstructing oil fields damaged during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. He spent four years doing that before getting his MBA in finance from Boston College. He is now president and CEO of Agility’s Global Integrated Logistics business group and is based in Baar, Switzerland, south of Zurich.
So how was the segue from oil to logistics?
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Al-Saleh jokes. “When I jumped into logistics, we had 300 people operating in one country, and we wanted to develop the business. At the beginning, it was very hard and the interesting thing is we very quickly went through tremendous growth and investment and development. The best lessons were the many mistakes I made during the process. But after learning through mistakes, things developed very nicely.”
Al-Saleh says the logistics industry is primarily about people. He enjoys interacting and working with customers. Logistics also requires a good understanding of many industries, including pharmaceuticals, oil and gas and various high-tech sectors.
“You have to understand a lot about a lot of industries,” Al-Saleh says. “We are always learning and seeking new ways to apply knowledge to solve problems. We cut across many geographies in our operation. There’s a lot of cultures and different understandings and insights. It makes this business quite exciting. Few industries are quite like it.”
Observing the industry as a whole, Al-Saleh says it’s in flux around a few core issues. The way the industry has been doing business is not the way it will do business going forward, he says.
“There will be a lot more standardization and technology coming into it,” Al-Saleh says. “There will be more information sharing within the business to provide information to operations and empower them to make informed decisions. A lot of our customers are growing in terms of size and geographic coverage. We want to have consistent service whether it’s in China or the U.S. or Europe.”
Agility’s air cargo business will depend on how it leverages its technology platforms, Al-Saleh says. Another challenge will be how to provide value to customers for the price they are paying.
“Customers are always looking for lower costs, and that is a challenge that we have to deal with over time, especially in the marketplace we are in,” he says. “Another issue that’s more longer term is customers and where they source and manufacture. Ultimately, the customer base is evolving. Distances will become much closer between where they source and where they deliver. There are potential long-term implications in that sense. These are both challenges and opportunities that exist in our industry.”
As for Agility, Al-Saleh says the company is focusing on emerging markets and key industries.
“I believe we will see growth in a specific set of industries that we feel are important to us. In the high-tech industries for example, we will be providing solutions that are closer to the manufacturing base, which could include storing supplies for them for when they are needed. We see growth opportunities across our network.”
Al-Saleh also sees growth opportunities in the pharmaceutical, oil and gas and chemical industries. Markets with growth potential include the usual suspects, he says, such as the BRIC countries, areas of the Middle East and areas of Africa.
“Our philosophy is to live up to our name, to be agile and to have the ability to adapt to our customers’ needs, whether it be operating in a certain geography or providing special solutions,” he says.
Al-Saleh got the entrepreneurial bug at as an older teen. He created his own business selling computer-related equipment. That led him to seek an electrical engineering degree at Tufts University in Boston.
“It was a great learning experience and very valuable,” he recalls. “I dealt with suppliers and customers. I was a wholesaler and developed ways to promote the product and then deal with the finances of it. I learned that you can rest on the success you have early on and think it will continue forever.”
When not at work, Al-Saleh enjoys spending time with his family and running.
“My oldest is looking at colleges, and I spend time doing that. I enjoy exercising, in particular, running,” he says. “I ran a marathon last year and yesterday I ran a half-marathon.”
–John W. McCurry
Hactl executive loves the air and sea
If you ask Mark Whitehead what he feels most proud of in his career, he won’t say acquiring wealth.
“Some people might say, ‘Making lots of money,’” says the chief executive of Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited. “But making lots of money is driven by the market, and you have to be in the market at the right time, because you can’t generate lots of money if the market’s not right.”
Instead, Whitehead feels most fulfilled when he is developing young professionals.
“You can develop people. You can do that in a good, bad or indifferent market,” he says. “You can inspire them to what they should and shouldn’t do, and you can create a role model.”
Whitehead hasn’t been in the air cargo industry that long, but he had made an impression. He became chief executive of Hactl in 2010.
Before that, he was trained as a lawyer, and in 1983, he transferred to Hong Kong with the London firm he worked at. In 1987, he joined Jardine Matheson Group, a British conglomerate. At one point when he was running the company’s shipping business, Whitehead went to Indonesia to investigate pirate activity.
After he worked as executive director of Hongkong Land, a property investment company, Whitehead began his job at Hactl. He describes the airfreight industry as dynamic.
Whitehead grew up in Warwickshire, England. That’s where he developed a hobby he still practices to this day: yacht racing.
“It’s always been a very important part of my life,” he says. “I was a difficult teenager and failed to be able to communicate with my parents particularly well Monday to Friday. But when it came to Saturday or Sunday when I needed a ride to the yacht club and also to borrow one of their boats, I all of sudden became very communicative with my dad, and he also used that as a great opportunity, which I now realize, to talk to me about many other things.”
Whitehead now races boats every Saturday and is vice commodore of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.
He has two kids who attend college in the U.S.
Right now, Whitehead says, air cargo is in a difficult phase. He talks of the many factors pushing the industry.
Whitehead says the industry needs to be concerned about the shift from air to seafreight.
“As far as seafreight is concerned, it’s a rounding error, but that move of cargo from airfreight is a significant impact on the business,” he says.
There is also the high price of oil, security concerns and weather and political events affecting business.
“It’s an industry which needs to make more money,” Whitehead says. “From the airline’s point of view, the return on investment is not very attractive.”
But all these factors make the airfreight arena intellectually entertaining and challenging for Whitehead.
“That’s what makes it so dynamic,” he says. “There are some very, very entrepreneurial, entertaining, pleasant people in the business, and at the end of the day, I do fundamentally believe it’s a robust business that will never go away. You cannot envision a day where there’s no air cargo industry.”
Whitehead says entrepreneurism and reputation are keys to making it in airfreight. People make mistakes, but they need to stand by what they say, he explains.
“It’s not about the name of the company. It’s about the name of the individual,” he says. “Once people know that they can do business with you and stamp you, you have that reputation as delivering, then that goes an awful long way to people’s success or failure.”
Whitehead seems to bear that stamp of approval. People who worked with him 25 years ago still call him to weigh in on their careers.
“I like that very much that they still ask me for my opinion after so many years,” he says.
Air cargo endures many bumps, but Whitehead remains optimistic about its future. It is a robust business, he says. More and more people will travel, and product will move with them.
“The world’s economies will grow, and air cargo will grow with it. It’s as simple as that,” Whitehead says. “There will be threats and challenges, but as an industry, it’s fundamentally robust, and it will continue to drive economies.”
–By Adina Solomon
Brittin begins path to air cargo with raspberry-picking
After a 15-year-old Douglas Brittin worked picking raspberries, he realized there had to be something else out there.
“I hated every minute of it, so I started my own business painting houses,” he says. “A friend of mine and I went into the house-painting business summers and weekends.”
Throughout his career, Brittin has used that same ambition – that same initiative – as he moved through transportation jobs, starting in rail and trucking in Colorado, to eventually move into air cargo.
His first job in the industry was as a regional manager focusing on the oil industry in the Rocky Mountain region.
“It was broader in scope than just regional trucking operations or even rail at that time,” he says. “It seemed a lot more variety to it in the market and the needs and the service levels and everything else. It kind of attracted me on that point from a sales standpoint.”
Now more than 30 years later, Brittin has become secretary general of The International Air Cargo Association. He began his job in August, moving to Miami from Washington, D.C., where he served as division director, air cargo for the Transportation Security Administration.
He worked at TSA for six years, beginning in 2007. He has also worked at Panalpina, Menlo Worldwide Logistics and Emergy Worldwide, a now defunct cargo airline.
Brittin says he wants to continue to grow TIACA’s presence across the air cargo supply chain. The group represents everyone from shippers to airports to forwarders.
“We want to make sure we continue to expand and really make ourselves the recognized platform leader on all issues impacting all those sectors, primarily in the areas of security, global market access, safety and certainly and then also environmental issues,” he says. “I see my role as continuing to grow and expand our presence in all those areas.”
Brittin says the air cargo industry’s most pertinent issues include dealing with regulatory concerns and the different cargo screening requirements around the world.
“You have a global carrier, for example, or a global freight forwarder. They don’t have the ability to put in common best practices at all their global locations because they have to deal with all this wide variety of issues,” he says. “That’s going to be a continued challenge going forward.”
But for all the problems facing airfreight, Brittin says he enjoys the industry because no two days are alike – there are always new emerging markets and capabilities.
“Whether you’re working with customers, whether you’re working with operations, whether you’re working with technology systems to support all those issues, it’s an ever-changing environment in an effort to try and do something more efficiently and drive something to the bottom line,” he says. “I just enjoy that aspect of it.”
When it comes to life outside cargo, Brittin spends his time on outdoor activities such as tennis, skiing and hiking. In fact, he has climbed six 14,000-foot (4,267-meter) peaks.
“I’m going to have to continue to adapt to that and adjust that as I’m now in Florida,” he says.
Brittin says in order to be successful in airfreight, industry players need to provide reliable service.
“You have to take care of your customers because in this industry, you’re so reliant on so many other people who are not necessarily your own,” he says.
He says those who can provide high-level customer interface and information that shippers want will survive.
“That’s why there are still so many players in the marketplace. There are so many niche players that provide tremendous focus on certain market areas. When people really need things done, they know who to go to in those areas,” Brittin says. “There’s all these different little pockets of people that really know the insides and out of their shipper needs, and that’s still what it comes down to – being able to take care of that. But it takes a lot of effort and certainly a lot of hours to make a company work and grow, and do it profitably.”
Brittin speaks about his past position at TSA – where he worked on implementing security and regulation standards without disrupting commerce. He speculates how this experience will come into play in the future at TIACA.
“Now in this position,” he says, “I look forward to putting all that together and continuing to support industry to do it the best way and provide the security that everybody looks for.”
Woodrow relishes challenges of air cargo
James Woodrow enjoys a good walk when he’s not busy guiding the cargo operations for Cathay Pacific. Sometimes, his method of keeping fit involves going to the numerous country parks spread around Hong Kong. Other days, he opts for something a little more challenging.
Recalling a recent team charity walk, Woodrow says, “The four of us walked 78 kilometers up and down the hills of Hong Kong.”
Navigating the challenges of the global airfreight sector is certainly no walk in the park, but Woodrow embraces the responsibilities. He became director cargo for the airline in September when his predecessor, Nick Rhodes, was appointed director personnel for Cathay. Woodrow has worked with Cathay or its parent group, John Swire & Sons, for 23 years. The first 15 years or so were with the company’s seafreight division. He subsequently became the airline’s general manager in Japan before moving to cargo in 2009.
“Having spent the last four years in cargo, I pretty much knew what to expect,” Woodrow says. “In my previous role, I was in charge of sales. Now I am responsible for the whole cargo operation. This industry has plenty of issues including safety, lithium batteries, restraint for heavy cargo and security with [the Transportation Security Administration]. I hope my timing is good and the industry picks up a little bit after a rather difficult two-and-a-half years.”
Woodrow’s promotion to director cargo came in the days leading up to the airline beginning full operations at its new cargo terminal at Hong Kong International Airport.
“It’s exciting for Cathay and exciting for Hong Kong,” Woodrow says. “The US$750-million terminal has 2.6 million tonnes of capacity. It’s pleasing that it’s now fully operational, and we need to make the most of it and leverage the opportunities that it gives.”
Whether working in airfreight or seafreight, Woodrow says he most enjoys traveling and meeting the various people working in the sector.
“The major difference between seafreight and airfreight is that in seafreight, you see a balance of shippers and forwarders. Airfreight is a little different in that 98 percent of our customers are freight forwarders. It’s interesting meeting people and finding out about their business. We do get to meet the major shippers from time to time because they do have an interest in what we are doing. It’s interesting to find out a little about their business and how it runs. Hopefully we can be an integral part of the success of their business.”
Looking at the industry in general, Woodrow says it’s been disappointing since April 2011. He says a turnaround in 2014 depends largely on the confidence of U.S. consumers. The peak airfreight season in Hong Kong is a bit short this year, he says, but offers two good months at the end of the year. However, he notes that those two stronger months at the end of the year don’t make up for the preceding 10 difficult months.
“Going forward, the business depends on how the U.S. economy turns out and whether U.S. consumers have the confidence to begin spending again. Every time it looks like it might happen, some uncertainty develops whether it’s in Washington or something in Europe. We never quite get to the point where the U.S. consumer can say it’s behind them. U.S. corporations have a couple of trillion dollars on their balance sheets and are willing to invest, but want to feel that we are in a better place going forward.”
Fuel costs add to the uncertainty. With prices for Brent crude oil continuing to top US$100 (74.6 euros) a barrel, the situation continues to be difficult for freighter operations, Woodrow says.
“Fuel costs are such a high percentage of our overall cost of operating a freighter,” he says. “There’s also a lot of new capacity coming to the market, particularly wide-body bellies coming from Asia-Pacific and Middle East carriers. At the moment, there’s a gap between supply and demand, and we have more supply coming.”
That new supply includes more freighters to be delivered within the industry. Woodrow says Cathay has parked two freighters to date and notes that most of the major European and Asia-Pacific carriers have parked freighters.
Woodrow and his wife have four children, two boys and two girls, which also keep them busy. Born in the U.K., he spent eight years in Australia, where three of his children were born.
He studied economic and law, and his first job was working for an accounting firm during holidays while at university. His first job at John Swire sent him to Papua New Guinea, which he describes as “a very interesting place.” Despite the ongoing difficulties in the industry, he looks forward to the challenges.
“There are interesting times ahead,” Woodrow says. “At Cathay, we have invested in new planes, which along with our new cargo terminal, puts us in good stead. Hong Kong is a good place to run a hub.”
–John W. McCurry
Moore shows logistics can be fun
If you engage Vaughn Moore in conversation, it won’t be long before he interjects his alma mater, the University of North Carolina, whether it be about the university’s basketball heritage or otherwise.
“It’s a big thing to me,” says Moore, president and CEO of AIT Worldwide Logistics. “I sneak it into most conversations even though I live in Chicago.”
Moore became co-owner of AIT in 2012 after leading a friendly management buyout of the company. He has been in the industry for more than 20 years and previously served as AIT’s global vice president of sales and marketing. Count him among those in the industry looking for reasons to be hopeful for 2014.
“I am not convinced that the economy has made a full return,” Moore says. “I am cautiously optimistic, especially in terms of air exports from the U.S. I am seeing some increases there that we have benefitted from. We hope to see more consistency in that space.”
Domestic air cargo in the U.S. is at best flat, Vaughn says. Airlines are going more toward narrow-body planes for cargo.
“There is more point-to-point cargo as Southwest has been driving and some of the bigger airlines are trying to adjust,” he says.
Moore believes the gradual implementation of e-airway bills will be good for the industry. He says airlines based overseas have been the leaders thus far in implementation with U.S. flagship carriers lagging behind.
“However, airlines are asking us and a lot of forwarders if it’s important to us and eventually things will catch up, and the e-airway bill will be the standard,” he says.
Moore says the recent trend of slow steaming of oceanfreight, where carriers are slowing product delivery by five or six days in order to reduce fuel consumption, is helping the airfreight business to a degree.
“The byproduct is that slow steam is sending more freight into the air in order to get products on the shelf,” he says. “I expect to see that segment of imports to grow for that reason.”
Diversification will be a key for companies going forward.
“We are finding out the importance more and more of diversification,” Moore says. “You’ve got to be diverse enough in your services and products in order to be able to weather the storm in difficult times. You have to make sure that you have enough offerings that when one is down, another rises up. We’ve seen that at AIT.”
Moore says he didn’t go to college with the idea of getting into logistics. That concept evolved over time.
“I ended up getting into transportation, as it was referred to at the time, because I saw it as an opportunity to have an impact. I came into the industry in sales and saw that you could be paid commiserate to what you produced,” he says. “But once it gets into your blood, you don’t leave. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Moore says when he entered the logistics field, it wasn’t considered an exciting or “sexy” industry, but he says that has changed over the years.
“People are desiring to come into our industry when they come out of college, and jobs are available,” he says.
While he won’t use the phrase “recession-proof,” Moore says logistics companies are needed regardless of the state of the economy. He says that years ago, logistics jobs were considered blue-collar jobs, but today there are more white-collar jobs and more education programs available.
“No one wants to be quoted saying they are completely optimistic about the short term,” Moore says. “Do I believe there is real hope? Absolutely. I firmly believe there is. When you look at recessions throughout history, it has been industries such as ours that lead us out of the doldrums. I feel a lot better going into 2014 than I did going into the previous years since 2008, that’s for sure. We have to be at the tail end of the hurricane that we’ve been through.”
AIT, meanwhile, is positioning itself for growth. In the last few months, it has opened four offices around the growth, positioning for global expansion.
“While some companies are contracting, we are growing,” Moore says. “It’s important for the industry to see companies growing. We will continue to look for ways to grow and invest and to make our company healthier. We have a pretty good story to tell, and I feel we are going in the right direction. It’s a good time for us at AIT. We are having a lot of fun, and I use that word on purpose. It’s fun when you are doing something that makes an impact.”
In addition to following UNC sports and golfing, Moore spends time with his wife and daughter, who is involved in equestrian activities.
“We own a horse, and I’m a barn dad,” Moore says.
–John W. McCurry