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Lothar Moehle has been a stalwart of the air cargo scene for decades. He’s been on both sides of the coin: first at UPS and DB Schenker; and latterly at IATA’s Cargo iQ, the standards organisation. After some 50 years in the industry, he is retiring. So, what is his takeaway from a half-century in business?

What stands out as the most important thing you’ve learned?

One thing never changes. The customers must be served in the manner they expect.

But behind-the-scenes, the logistics industry has continued to develop.

New technology has enabled sectors such as ecommerce. Today you can run an online web-shop and, as a seller, you never see or need to handle the merchandise, you don’t need a call centre or customer service department, you don’t even have to write an invoice. Everything is fully automated and contracted to service providers. You just need to monitor that the money and profit is being credited to your bank account.

Many manual processes in warehouses, trucks and aircraft have faded away, making life so much easier, safer and quicker.

In my opinion, people need to be flexible and change whenever circumstances change to stay on top of ever-changing requirements.

Most importantly, I feel it’s necessary to remain humble and treat your counterparts and staff with the respect they deserve.

What has been the greatest challenge?

There have been several over the years.

Setting up the processes to move PPE shipments from China to Europe, while hardly any aircraft were available, and many operations on the ground were shut down at the same time.

Being involved in 9/11 and the immediate days after, when no flights were moving to/from North America. At the time I was manning a central point at head office in Germany, where all the information came together and needed to be verified and re-distributed to our network and customers.

Finally, moving six generators and six diesel engines destined for a power plant in Nairobi with, initially, no port equipment, no heavy-duty low-loaders and no mobile cranes in Nairobi available – simply because they didn’t exist at that time in Kenya.

But we did it.

What has been the most enjoyable part of your career?

Without doubt, meeting so many different people from diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences while travelling to so many different countries.

Living in Kenya and Saudi Arabia gave me the opportunity to understand why people who originate from diverse cultures and background have different ideas, have gone through different experiences and, therefore, have alternative methods of doing things – but nonetheless successfully. There is a saying in Africa: “The white man has the clock, but we have the time.” This quote explains a great deal.

Of what, career-wise, are you most proud?

My involvement in Cargo iQ since it was founded. We have been successful in creating a substantial number of standards in the air cargo industry, starting with the MOP. Many of those standards have been introduced over the years and the newer generation of experts might not even realise that Cargo iQ was the initiator.

Very recently one IT provider even started to offer, commercially, quality information by using a quality KPI and milestones created by Cargo iQ. Although this IT provider is using a different (or, should I say, incorrect) definition of the KPI, it speaks for itself that Cargo iQ was the first organisation to have built this KPI.

What Cargo iQ has created must be good, otherwise it wouldn’t be copied…

You’ve worked both for Schenker and for IATA; what are the most noticeable differences between working for a private company and an association?

In a private company you are expected to work like an entrepreneur, with P+L in mind. Good cooperation is needed, which requires good teamwork. The most important aspect is customer service. If you don’t deliver the level of service to the customer, you will not survive for long.

In an association, Cargo iQ is not-for-profit, profit is not important. However, costs need to be tightly controlled and monitored. But the work is different, as the interests of so many private companies need to be channelled and prioritised, so that each individual member sees their requirement reflected. The members are always first and foremost.

And this is where the success is so obvious: starting with the MOP, which later became the industry MOP endorsed by IATA; the measurements of individual shipments by using agreed KPIs and milestones, enabling proper benchmarking on an industry-wide scale; up to the quality measurement tools Cargo iQ has created so members can become certified. Only because of good cooperation within the membership did Cargo iQ become so successful.

I can’t really say which I preferred. The work was always interesting, and I liked what I was doing. Being an optimistic person by nature helped.

What were the most significant changes you’ve seen during your career, and how did you adapt?

Without doubt, technical advancements.

Just two examples: aircraft have become far more fuel-efficient and less noisy, and they are far more environmentally friendly. Just compare a B707 with an Airbus 350.

I started to work when manual typewriters and telex machines were considered state-of-the-art in many offices. Where do you see these antiquarian machines today? Today we are talking ONE Record and a variety of ways data can be exchanged among stakeholders.

It has not been difficult to adapt, as all these changes have taken place gradually over several years. For example, I only realised that we didn’t need the telex machine any longer when we moved offices and forgot to connect it again. In the meantime, fax machines had taken over.

Is there anything you would have done differently, given the chance?

I have always had the globetrotter bug in me, and would have liked to work (and live with my family) in more countries than I have. My work has involved a great deal of travelling and so I have had the chance to explore the world a little bit.

I would always choose the logistics industry again, and in that sense there is nothing I would have done differently.

One challenge for many people in logistics who have to travel, is getting the right work/life balance. Did you achieve that, and if so, how?

Work/life balance is particularly important and brings its challenges. I have been extremely fortunate that I have a very supportive, lovely wife who gave me enough room for my career. As she was also working full time, our work schedules – with proper advance planning – enabled both of us to find the right balance,  even though we had no supporting family nearby for babysitting duties, etc.

It might be to do with the education we received from our parents. We grew up in an environment and mindset of “first work and duties, then fun”, which – as I fully appreciate – has changed during the past 20 years or so.

You have offered numerous young people starting out in logistics support, a friendly face and encouragement (including your correspondent). What advice would you give young people starting out in logistics today?

I have always enjoyed what I have done in logistics. It is an industry where nothing is static or boring, as the challenges are manifold and need to be solved.

For anyone looking for a vibrant career, logistics is the answer. It is not always a nine-to-five job. Thinking on your feet is often required, but that in turn leads to new innovations.

Logistics is one of the oldest professions in the world. Even in Egyptian, Greek and Roman times, goods needed to be transported from A to B – which, over many centuries has developed into the logistics industry as we know it today. Of course, Julius Cesar would have had, in his time, to wait a bit longer to get his smartphone delivered…

What are you planning to do now, both work and for fun?

I certainly want to spend more time … a lot of time … on the relaxing part. My wife and I wish to travel extensively. In addition, we are planning a relocation to the north of Germany.

I own a motorbike and I certainly will take advantage of the warmer months and undertake more trips. Reading has always been an important part of my life, and I am looking forward to having more time for that too.

I do realise that I have been very fortunate in my career, and have always been able to rely on excellent support from superiors, mentors, colleagues and partners. I would be happy to give something back to the community and to let others benefit from my experiences. If there is someone, an organisation or company who think I can offer some advice or assistance, I would at least be willing to listen to a proposal.

Having said that, I am not pursuing a career as a consultant.

Lothar, thank you for your time – both today, and for the past 50 or so years.

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  • Roy Linkner

    June 07, 2024 at 3:08 pm

    Thank you Lothar, congrats and best wishes in your retirement.