Updated: Dec 22, 2020
There is a lot of noise surrounding the freight forwarding industry nowadays. Many of the talks focus mainly on digital platforms and improved data reports. Also, a number of acquisitions and investments from large corporations validate the trend of moving towards technology. Not to mention what some call the "Uberization of Freight" and other similar aspects that threaten the business of traditional forwarders.
Recently, we stumbled upon a post on LinkedIn titled "What's My Issue With Flexport". The author, Bill Paul, criticizes what he deems a constant bashing of freight forwarders.
An excerpt from his article reads: "[Flexport has] been heavily backed by investors which have enabled them to become a marketing machine. That's okay, too but what isn't okay is telling the world that Freight Forwarders are archaic, antiquated and still using stone, chisels, and abacuses."
The article certainly caught our attention as a great way to understand the feelings of traditional forwarders. Wanting to learn more about his thoughts on the current scenario of freight forwarding and the next steps to take, we reached out to him for an interview.
Bill started in the freight forwarding industry when he was 16 years old in his native England. And from there, he transferred to the United States to work for Jardine Air Cargo.
Years after his run with Jardine Air Cargo, Bill joined Phoenix International Freight Services where one of his responsibilities was building ocean services from Asia. Ultimately, Phoenix International became a market leader in that trade lane.
Today, he still serves the freight forwarding industry from his recruiting company Logitalent, which he created to share his knowledge and find the right freight forwarding talent for some of the biggest names in the industry. "We speak their language and have inside knowledge of some of the biggest companies and their staffing needs".
Having amassed 50 years of experience in the freight forwarding business, Bill Paul doesn't hold anything back these days, hence why his voice is so clear and honest. Without question, he carries freight forwarding in his blood and has been one of the main witnesses in all of the changes the industry has undergone.
Here's what we asked Bill and what he had to share with us:
How do you see the current freight forwarding scenario in reality?
"There's been a massive move towards digitization and everybody in the space seems to be investing in technology. However, what I'm hearing from customers is that they still like the personal connection."
And he has no doubt that "the biggest differentiator in freight forwarding is people." And though a lot of changes are happening right now, Bill insists that "freight forwarders who eliminate that people-first connection run the risk of losing business."
What are your thoughts about investing in technology?
"Investment in technology is a huge trend but you need massive margins to be able to support what the bigger companies are doing. However, small to medium freight forwarders need to know what is out there, what kind of off-the-shelf solutions are available and the services they offer to be able to compete. Freight forwarders can use technology with a little bit of hand-holding and help in positioning themselves, knowing their value proposition and showing that value to their customers."
What should Freight Forwarders look for when hiring new people?
"Our primary business is communication, so as we see new individuals coming to the industry, what I look for is great communication skills, a sense of culture as they will deal with people from all over the world, knowledge of geography, and some math skills. I also seek for problem solvers and people that have overcome some sort of adversity in life. If they have that, they can handle the tough times. And nowadays, I also value their familiarity with technology because every element of freight forwarding is directed towards technological solutions."
What advice would you give to freight forwarders who are at a standstill, watching their profits lower and thinking about the next steps?
"Continue to invest in technology but, at the same time, invest in your people through training and development. One of the problems I see is that freight forwarders may not be investing enough time to find out what off-the-shelf solutions are out there. If they aren’t sure how to move forward, they should consider to:
Get outside consulting from proven industry experts
Look at other forwarders in your lane of similar size who are successful and find out what they are doing
Research constantly. You need to know which tools are available and what kind of solutions can work for you.
Stay focused and be ruthless about doing what you do best.
One of my mottos is "Focus on being better, not bigger. When you focus on being better, good things happen. When you focus on being bigger you lose sight of what’s important. Topline is for vanity; the bottom line is for sanity and cash flow is your reality.”
What are the main concerns of Forwarders today?
"Differentiating themselves from their competition and only competing on rates. That’s a zero-sum game where nobody wins."
What do you want Forwarders to take away from this interview?
"Every Freight Forwarder who has an Operating System (proprietary or off-the-shelf) is a “Digital Freight Forwarder”, but Freight Forwarding was, is and will continue to be a people business. Hire, train, coach, mentor and develop the best people and you’ll win."
We are thankful to Bill for sharing his knowledge and experience with us in this interview.
We have to side with him in the fact that forwarders need to look at digital as a way of empowerment without forgetting the human side. In that sense, our team wholeheartedly believes in giving forwarders the tools to allow digital to work for them and not against them. It is not about forgetting the very important value of relationships and trust, but about finding enhanced ways to nurture those values.
Want to get to know Bill? Follow his LinkedIn and read his opinion articles.