Tell me about how you got into the Freight industry? (This will likely be used as your intro piece) –
It’s a family business so Spencer and I have been surrounded by the shipping world since we were born. We were exposed to customers and overseas visitors from a very young age whilst our Mother and Father entertained them and during the summers we would work in the offices as a courier ferrying documents to and from London or sometimes in accounts to help cover for holidays. So in short, we didn’t really get into the freight industry, we were born into it!
What’s your background in shipping?
In fact we have a rich freight heritage and we can trace our freight roots back, more than 165 years ago, to Joseph Ross Waller, our great great great great Grand Father, who was a lighterman in the 19th century. Since then The Waller’s have been in and around the industry ever since, with our Great Uncle being part of the convoy that towed the Mulberry harbour to Normandy in the days following D-Day in WW2, then subsequently spending the rest of his working life in the docklands as a longshoreman and our Grand Father who being in the merchant Navy through-out WW2 served on the treacherous North Atlantic convoys. And this then brings us up to date with our Father, Gary Waller, starting up Alliance Shipping in 1975, nearly 43 years ago.
What do you think you offer as a company that sets you apart from your competitors?
In a world that is ever increasingly driven by cost cutting and efficiency, we find that both are generally achieved at a cost with the customer’s needs and requirements are put aside. We offer an unparalleled level of customer service and attention to detail at competitive rates and this is how we differentiate.
For instance, when running our air and sea freight consolidation services, it is important for our wholesale customer base to know when something changes on a sailing or if a container is short shipped by the shipping line. They inevitably have a customer (the shipper) who they have to satisfy and we appreciate that if we can give our freight forwarding customer base good information quickly, then they too can serve their customers with a similar level of customer service. Ultimately, keeping our freight forwarding customer’s clients happy is the aim of the game!
What has been your biggest challenge in the role?
We have lots of big challenges such is the nature of our roles, but I would say the biggest is finding the right staff for the job! We are very fortunate that we have a solid staff contingent, but increasingly the freight forwarding industry is becoming less and less attractive to younger professionals. A lot of our generation are working in the financial or media professions because they appear more glamourous. There is something to be said for that, but I believe that is a short term viewpoint. The shipping industry has a lot to offer young people looking for a long and fulfilling career and our job is to sell that concept to the younger staff we employ. I am pleased to say we are succeeding and are 5 years into a succession plan employing a solid mix of all ages to ensure the future growth of the company.
Your biggest achievement?
It’s hard to pinpoint one stand out achievement because over the course of us working at Alliance we have achieved a lot in a small amount of time. Our biggest achievement will come when we can equal our father’s +43 year reign at the helm!
How would you define your company culture?
Outward facing we are a conscientious, customer focussed workforce. Looking inwards we reward loyalty and hard work and strive to create an environment where people enjoy coming into the office. We work hard to ensure all four of our offices, Basildon, Birmingham, Heathrow and Atlanta in the USA, subscribe to the same ethos so that regardless of which office our customers deal with, they get the same level of service.
How do you get the best out of your team?
Working with them when they need us, but also giving them the freedom to work independently. It is important, particularly with the less experienced members of staff that they learn “on the job” with careful supervision, but that supervision shouldn’t turn into micromanagement. It is a fine line to draw but one that if it is drawn carefully creates independently thinking employees who can exceed the expectation of the customers they are dealing with.
Also, giving credit where credit is due. It is important that good hard work is acknowledged internally, because a lot of the time customers don’t see hard work that goes on in the background to make things happen seamlessly.
What’s the most important thing you are working on right now and how are you making it happen?
Our succession planning is extremely important to the future of the business and it is progressing nicely. As mentioned before, we are actively employing a mix of all age groups to ensure the knowledge gleaned by our more experienced members of staff is passed onto our younger staff members who are the future managers and leaders of the business. We are also embarking on several training programs, with the staff members earmarked for management positions attending management courses and our sales staff planning to carry out in depth sales training.
What are your thoughts on the new alliances?
In terms of service options and choice of service, it has opened up a few new routings and efficiencies and we think operationally that is going to be useful. There was a lot of talk about the Alliances bringing stability to the West Bound trade lanes from the Far East and ultimately stability in the market is good for the freight payer so we hope that the Alliances will bring this stability. However, in reality, that probably won’t happen. The issue is that there is still far too much capacity in the market and that creates peaks and troughs with the freight rates. When demand is high, the rate increases, when demand is low, the lines get into race to the bottom with each other and it becomes unsustainable for them.
What about market disruptors – how do you see outsiders changing the industry?
There is a lot of talk about online tech start-ups coming into the industry and making the traditional freight forwarder redundant by automating the process. In an ideal world, we would be worried, but as your readers will know, things rarely go without a hitch in freight forwarding and no algorithm or automated booking service will be able solve that customs issue that requires a phone call to customs or your overseas agent and no workflow can rearrange haulage through its network of drivers if a truck breaks down on a delivery or collection to ensure urgent goods are still collected to make a flight or a sailing. There are a plethora of issues that if not solved quickly and efficiently can cost shippers and consignees a lot of money. Therefore, we are not too worried as we fill the niche of providing top end customer service at competitive rates.
What are some of the common challenges you face?
Ignorance is by far the most common challenge! Even now in a push button online environment, it amazes us how naive many companies’ staff are and this applies to both sides of the shipping fence!
There is still not enough time and money spent in training logistics staff both from a shippers’ perspective and on the forwarding agency side.
How do you decide which new business to go after?
- The nature of the cargo
- Is it export or import or cross-trade traffic
- The trade lanes (does the client’s routes interface with our strengths?)
- Is it FCA, CPT, DDP and do the potential clients have a good trading record and do their financials check out. There are many scammers out there especially on import cargoes!
What are your expansion plans over the next 12/24 months?
We attend trade shows conferences every year, and effect face to face calls upon our client bases here and overseas. We work closely with our 200 strong agency network and are members of several blue chip agency organisations, networking with them here and on-site in the target trade areas. I (Bradley) am off to a conference in Cambodia in May, and Spencer is attending a 4 day junket in Miami with our Birmingham Manager Richard Dodd, these events are very useful for business development.