Tell us about how you got into the freight industry
I initially wanted to be in the banking sector, but when I went for a day visit to NatWest bank, courtesy of my commerce teacher (business studies now) they asked me how I would fair with my O-levels in English and maths. I answered that I’d have no problem with maths, but doubted I’d get a good grade in English. They said I needed English so that was that! (I wonder, had they focused on maths, would 2008 ever have happened…?). So, as it had to be a desk job, three weeks straight from school I went for two interviews with freight forwarders. Had no idea what that was, but I got them both anyway and chose Tower Express in Trafford Park. There I met my first boss: Jim Woodward. The nicest person you could ever imagine and a good teacher. I often refer to him as my mentor. I started doing customs entries (C273s, as they were then) and then moved onto operating Maltese and Canadian container groupage.
What’s your background in shipping?
Between 1978 and 1983 I had a few jobs in freight forwarding. Salford docks was closing as a commercial port so many companies were moving their operations to Liverpool. I didn’t drive, so I ended up with a few redundancies along the way. In these six years, though, I learned quite a lot. One redundancy too many, I then worked for three years as a musician (I’d previously been semi-professional) until in 1986 when I wanted to get on the mortgage ladder. The bank manager asked my profession and when I told him, he wasn’t overly convinced!
At that point I thought I would have to go back to freight forwarding. Went for an interview, got the job and after two moves ended up at TFS Cargo Services in Manchester around 1988. They started an Italian service and asked me to look after it. This was the best thing that happened as it was (although I didn’t know it then) a turning point in my career path. In 1993
I decided to leave as there was nowhere I could go in the company. But I must have made an impact on the personnel at their Italian partner – Tritrans in Varese. Several months later I was approached by M&S Europe (later to become IS Logistics, part of the Italsempione group) to join them as Italian Route Development Manager. The introduction came around because Andreas from Tritrans had moved to Italsempione Como and recommended me. It was there that I ended up meeting the people in Italsempione who would, in 1998, form ITX Cargo and become our partners in Italy. In 1998 I parted company with IS Logistics and with the assistance of ITX cargo started an Italian service from scratch, with a small forwarder/export packer in Burnley. After two years’ toil, we had turned over £2m and in a conversation one evening with Brain Hay (Cardinal Maritime) I was asked whether I had ever thought of forming my own company. Well, I had, but…big steps. Anyway, after a few months, Ital Logistics was founded as a partnership between me, the then three directors of Cardinal Maritime and a small minority shareholding from the CEO of ITX Cargo. We were on our way. That was 20 years ago.
Tell us a little more about your specialisms
Ital Logistics specialises in the carriage of dangerous goods. But, we don’t just do dangerous goods: 24.3% of our business in 2019 was related to DG but we move a whole lot more. We don’t do ‘anywhere and everywhere’ but focus on several key markets, which we do well. Yes, we do offer a full service to our clients and will act as full freight forwarder, but we have our niches.
Why was it important for you to introduce air and sea services?
Sea/air – many customers were asking if we could do more for them as they liked the service they received. We did some sea/air work but decided to employ an ocean development manager to ‘do it properly.’ This has grown quite well for us and we have two people involved in maritime now, and we are aiming to further this in due course.
What do you think you offer as a company that sets you apart from your competitors?
What do we do that sets us apart? Our company mantra is… ‘The aim of Ital Logistics is to provide a quality, reliable and personalised service with openness, honesty and integrity and to always perform to the very best of our abilities.’
We care about what we do. Since we started, just me and one other person in the back of a warehouse in Rochdale, it has always had a ‘family’ feel to the company. It still has the same feeling, even with 31 of us. I don’t have ‘staff’, I have colleagues. It’s all about respect. I have always rewarded my team and I’d like to think that their salary and benefits handsomely reflect that. The fact that people rarely leave Ital Logistics says something, and that is echoed by our client retention.
What has been your biggest challenge?
That would have to be COVID-19. 64% of our business revolves around Italy and Spain, so when they were hit hard, I thought we were looking at heavy losses, to the tune of £175-200k over three-to-four months. But it hasn’t happened. We have continued to service all of our core markets and from April onwards have traded at between 30% and 15% below normal levels – and what is more, with a reduced team. This is certainly a testament to our people and is vindication of our business ethic. Brexit is, simply, what it is. I’ve set thoughts of this aside slightly whilst we navigate the COVID-19 storm, although in previous Brexit cliff-edge moments, preparatory measures have been made with our software to enable us to issue documentation to our customs brokers. I have no immediate intention of bringing customs in house, apart from sea freight export entries under NES.
We specialise in moving freight, whilst customs brokers specialise in customs as their staple diet. So focus on specialisms: we do our bit, let them do theirs. We will come out of COVID-19 stronger, internally. The comradeship of our people has been second to none and this will hold us in good stead. Yes, we have, like many, had a setback, but we’ve been through other challenging times before.
What’s your biggest achievement?
When I look around the office and see a company that I started flourish, support people’s families and indirectly other families of our suppliers, one cannot help but feel proud. Yes, I couldn’t have done it without them, but nevertheless, it does feel good. One day some of them will take the reins and continue the legacy. Watching and guiding them to make further success of the company will then be icing on the cake.
How would you define your company culture?
Comradeship, dedication, family-feel, no holds barred.
How do you get the best out of your team?
I am always around to nit-pick. Yes, it bugs them at times, but it is this that makes them want to keep improving, even if just to get back at me! We simply get on with it together. My door is always open. I am not always right and am happy to take ideas and comments from anyone.
What’s the most important thing you are working on right now and how are you making it happen?
At this precise moment it is riding the storm of COVID-19; keeping close control and a tight rein on ensuring that we come through this period as unscathed as possible. We have spent 20 years growing in an organic way and every effort is being made to ensure continuity. We will come through this, and probably stronger than before. Just with gentle, careful, measured steps.
What are some of the common challenges you face?
Life and other people!
How do you decide which new business to go after?
No real answer to this. We will ship anything and everything as long as we are confident of being paid and can make a profit!
What are your expansion plans over the next 12/24 months?
One has to say that our current plans are to get past COVID-19 and then the 2021 Brexit formalities. Beyond that…? We are always looking to keep growing and take opportunities as they arise. Prior to this pandemic we had targets of 10% growth year on year. So there is nothing in particular, except that we aim to grow all of our core services and modes.