MIAMI – In her more than 40 years of active service in the freight forwarding business, Ruth Snowden has seen her share of changes in the industry – many of them hard-fought and slow to emerge. As she prepares to step down from her current role as executive director of Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA), and enter retirement, she made one more presentation yesterday at the CNS Partnership Conference, called “Driving Successful Change: What Will It Take to Get There?”
During her Plenary Session presentation on Monday, Snowden described the almost alien of freight forwarding industry in the late 1970s, compared to today’s modern, more inclusive profession.
When she got her first job in 1979, “I’m not even sure I knew what a freight forwarder was,” she recalled. “My training consisted of a week of watching the night-operations staff as they loaded pallets.” Today, however, “Young people have wonderful opportunities to receive real training in this sector.”
More distressingly, “there were no women in the industry outside of sales in 1979,” Snowden said. “And I mean none!” In fact, she was not let into the Toronto Transportation Club until around 2000, when they finally changed their rules that had barred women from joining. “I think we have a number of women today who are not in clerical roles” and “we’re doing a fairly good job,” Snowden said, adding hopefully, “but I think we can do a little bit better than that.”
To date, changes in the industry have been coming gradually, from the fax machine of the 1980s – one of the first efforts to digitalize cargo data – to the Cargo Accounts Settlement System (CASS) of the 90s, to the barcode tracking of the 2000s. Soon, she warns, change may become overwhelming. “We’re facing a tsunami of change,” she said. “It’s going to be revolutionary.”
To ensure that the change coming on the horizon is successful, Snowden encouraged the adoption of what she calls the “Five C’s” of successful change: Collaboration, cooperation, communication, connectivity and commitment.
“We have to have stronger collaboration to build a consensus to implement this important change,” she said. “We have to work together to move cargo faster through our systems.”
For cooperation, “people have to want to see the change,” she said. “You can’t force them to cooperate.” Operations managers who focus only on results need to be convinced that change is good.
Communication and connectivity, being the most obvious, are probably moving forward the fastest with so many digital forwarders cropping up. Finally, there needs to be commitment to move forward. “We can’t afford to wait another 25 or 30 year to replace legacy systems,” she said.