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Logistics operators should recruit from outside if they want to keep pace with the rapidly changing face of their industry, due to digitisation.

In a panel discussion at last week’s Transport Logistics show in Munich, Bernd Schwenger, director of Amazon Logistics and general manager of Amazon Deutschland Transport, said the consumer-centric approach of the e-commerce giant meant its staffing philosophy markedly differed from more traditional logistics operators.

“Everything we do comes from the customer,” he said. “I don’t like this term ‘supply chain’, because for Amazon it is very much a ‘demand chain’.

“It’s very important to work backwards from the customers’ perspective – logistics needs to approach and interact with the customer. We have to understand what they want and how we integrate with that.

“As a result, 70% of our team are operational researchers and mathematicians, while the remaining 30% have experience in logistics. In fact, I am the only employee in the company that holds an HGV licence.”

He added: “But I’m learning a huge amount from the tech people, and I would say it is much easier to teach them about logistics than vice versa.

However, CEO of Panalpina Stefan Karlan argued: “We might soon be able to handle shipments without any human involvement, but you will still need humans with logistics experience to deal with customers and supply chain exceptions.”

Ryan Petersen, chief executive of Flexport, a San Francisco-based freight forwarder at the forefront of the digital disruption, told the audience that his company’s recruitment policy “simply focused on hiring super-smart people”, before considering whether they had experience of the logistics industry.

“If we do employ people from the logistics industry, we generally tend to go for those with limited experience, because we don’t want people locked in the old ways.


“We are more interested in really smart people who give stuff a go and fail, rather than experienced people who say ‘it can’t be done’.”

However, he acknowledged that Flexport’s focus on developing its own software,  as a key differentiator between itself and traditional forwarders, had to be accompanied by equally heavy investment in warehousing and facilities.

“We are a freight forwarder, full stop. We are also a software company, full stop. We believe every company needs to be a software company to a greater or lesser degree, because that is how you will be able to differentiate from your competitors.

“So, we built our own software and now we have to invest in becoming a better freight forwarder.

“We also have to invest in physical infrastructure and we have just opened our first two warehouse cross-docking operations in Los Angeles and Hong Kong, because just adding a digital layer on the real world doesn’t add that much value – you have to invest in the physical world as well.”

Part of the reason for the investment, Mr Petersen told The Loadstar, was to cut the added cost and potential for mistakes that occurred with leasing warehouse space from third parties, as well as to create further cost synergies by consolidating different shippers’ volumes in one place.

But the new warehouses, particularly the site in Los Angeles, will also allow Flexport’s customers to break up container shipments while in transit.

“A Flexport client can now ship a 40ft container to a destination in the US and, at any point while that container is on the ocean, they can reroute a single pallet from it to a unique destination.

“When the container arrives at our facility in Los Angeles, our team will pull the re-routed pallet, re-label it, and arrange for delivery to the new destination while the remaining pallets continue on their original journey.

“This will allow companies to fulfil all of their client orders directly from the shipping container – reducing fulfilment time, the cost of delays and lost sales, and ultimately client inventory and working capital needs,” he said.

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  • Paul Newman

    May 15, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    What Flexport is claiming with their cross docking operations to re-route single pallets is not new. I first saw such an operation with a facility to cross dock 100 containers simultaneously in LA over 30 years ago

    • Elaine Marsh

      May 15, 2017 at 3:52 pm

      This happens every single day in logistics. Flexport is good at hype. But you have to be pretty dense to listen to Ryan and think “OMG, these guys are really doing something different”. No, they are not. A fancy GUI with the same industry hacks behind the scenes doing what we’ve been doing in this industry for decades. Because PHYSICALLY the same exact thing has to happen. The fact it is communicated in different ways doesn’t change anything to be honest.

      • Kevin Liu

        May 16, 2017 at 3:58 pm

        Ho ho ho ho ho, if only you knew how much goes on in the software behind the UI…

        • Elaine Marsh

          May 16, 2017 at 10:56 pm

          Smoke n’ mirrors Mr. Software Engineer…. smoke…and…mirrors.

  • Elaine Marsh

    May 15, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    Fact — Flexport hired a dozen or so hacks from Expeditors in San Francisco. Fact # 2— Flexport was a proverbial s*** show and the smart people have left.

  • Nick Coverdale

    May 15, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    We don’t employ logistics people for logistics is like saying we opened an abattoir and employ hairdressers,

    As to last paragraph of Flexport , re directing cargo while it’s on route is something
    new?? ,come lets get serious people ,re consolidating (crossdocking) cargo in HKG started to decline 20 years ago because to expensive for companies who want to be profitable or those don’t well carry on .

  • mike harrison

    May 17, 2017 at 10:22 am

    Elaine Marsh said it all, smoke and mirrors.
    Logistics is Logistics..

  • Kristin White

    July 21, 2017 at 6:35 am

    Elaine- you are 100% correct. As a former Flexport employee, I can confirm. CEO/COO brain washes the “smart college graduates” to believe they’re inventing and disrupting but it’s only because they’ve never seen it. Who believes? People who don’t know logistics, start ups supporting each other OR those who believe the UI is attractive (it is) and peel a handful of containers, but inside is nothing more or less than a typical FF. Calling to check freight arrival etc. Why do you think they hire so many people? All smoke n mirrors.