Pardon the Disruption: Shawn Cole — ‘Thoughtful, reliable and innovative’ service

Shawn Cole, EVP, Cargo. © 2017, Chris Rank, Rank Studios

Delta Air Lines is something of an up-and-comer among the smaller-category cargo carriers covered in Air Cargo World. Delta took home our 2018 Air Cargo Excellence (ACE) Gold Award in the category earlier this year and has consistently pursued opportunities for innovation since then. Shawn Cole, vice president of Delta Cargo, told Air Cargo World that the carrier’s success is thanks to its cargo team of 2,000 global employees and their focus on providing service that is “thoughtful, reliable and innovative.”

To further explain this motto, Cole said his priority is to be “thoughtful in how you engage your customers” at Delta Cargo. “Are you listening to your customers and where they’re telling you the market is going?” This thoughtfulness, he added, translates to “how you interact with your employees and make sure you’re providing the necessary tools and refined processes” that allow them to do their jobs and provide reliable service. Given airfreight’s higher cost, compared to other modes of transportation, reliability is “the name of the game. You’ve got to drive results,” Cole added.

Cole, who began working at Delta Air Lines about a decade ago and switched from the passenger side to cargo operations less than two years ago, called the change “the best career move” of his life. While executives on the cargo side among combination carriers and airports sometimes lament that cargo is often an afterthought compared to the passenger business – which typically brings in more revenue – Cole said that the Delta leadership team is “fully engaged with cargo” and looks for ways to provide more support to its cargo division.

“We are aligned at the hip because they see this as a great portfolio business,” he said of how Delta’s leadership regards its passenger and cargo businesses. “Why not maximize the value of that aircraft, if it’s going from Atlanta to Incheon, or Atlanta to Shanghai? And if we have solid joint-venture [JV] agreements on the passenger side, why don’t we harness that on the cargo side?”

Delta has entered into a number of partnerships and agreements over the past year, including an airfreight JV with Korean Air for trans-Pacific routes, and a cross-border JV with Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet. While the partnerships were entered into

with passenger service in mind, the belly space on those flights has been a boon for Delta’s cargo operations.

In Cole’s opinion, “the leadership team at Delta got this right. We treat the JVs as family – we’re going to learn from them and they’re going to learn from us.” Among Delta’s partnerships, Cole added, “Air France-KLM is bigger than us, Korean is bigger than us, we’re bigger than Aeroméxico and Virgin Atlantic, but we can all learn from each other.”

Cole said he’s been “fortunate to have some great mentors in my life,” and his mentors at Delta imparted an important lesson for everyone in air logistics: “What they taught me is first, to be humble,” he said. “Just because you have a winning hand today, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to have a winning hand tomorrow. But being humble doesn’t mean being a pessimist. It means, how do I set myself up for success through my team for the foreseeable future? So plan ahead.”

One way Delta Cargo plans ahead is in how it meets the innovation cornerstone of the Delta Air Lines brand. An early point in Delta’s innovation plan was its cargo control center, launched in August 2017, which gives the Delta Cargo team the visibility allowing them to track freight moving in its network anywhere across the globe.

“We know if there’s a disruption because of bad weather” or another disrupting event, “and we can reroute it to a different hub” through the cargo control center, Cole said.

The carrier has already rolled out several innovations, including its GPS-enabled, expedited-delivery DASH critical products, Bluetooth-enabled tracking in ULDs and the new launched just over a year ago, which allows cargo customers to book new shipments, manage existing ones and track all of it online. Looking ahead, Cole wants Delta Cargo to continue to embrace new technologies and seek out customer feedback the carrier can act on to improve its services.

“Eleven years ago, there wasn’t such a thing as an iPhone, right? Just think about how that’s changed the market – it was a disruptor. So I want to make sure that we’re leading that kind of disruptive edge,” he said.

Back to Main Feature | Alexey Isaikin, Volga-Dnepr | Wan Lin, Cainiao Network

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