Last month, marked my 28th year serving the global logistics industry. During those years, I've learned a great deal working in various roles – from operations to sales, to procurement and customer success, and, for most of those years, a combination of all those roles as President and owner of ASF.
After all these years, my cumulative experiences have taught me that orchestrating mutually beneficial, successful agreements for our vendors and clients is one of ASF's most significant differentiators. A true, effective partnership requires aligning two committed entities invested in an arrangement rooted in trust and equitable performance. It is imperative to approach negotiations clearly and avoid misconceptions about one's leverage. Simply put, we never overthink our position and never overestimate our hand. If your carrier is giving you something that seems too good to be true, it is. If you have forced your carrier into a corner where they are losing money, the clock is ticking on when they will return the favor. To be treated with fairness and dependability in performance, you must also demonstrate these qualities to your business partner. Every relationship is a two-way street in all walks of life, especially freight forwarding.
When I began my career and entered the global logistics workforce, I did so as a fresh Citadel Graduate. Throughout my 4 years as a cadet, three core values were consistently instilled in me: Honor, Dignity, and Respect. I took those values and began applying them through every facet of my working life. Now, almost 30 years later, I am left wondering why applying those values to business practice is the exception, not the rule. It wasn't until recently, on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic that shook the shipping world to its core, that I've started to understand why my philosophy has been so unique.
I believe that we've been misled to believe that in order to get ahead in the business world, no matter the industry, you've got to do so by being cutthroat. Turn on your television. Who are the business characters you most regularly see? They're sharks. They're negotiating at the peril of the person across the table from them and celebrate when the deal is done. What you aren't seeing is the future of that business relationship. What is that person who “lost” thinking as they walk out of that meeting? How do you think they’d approach the negotiation next year?
The truth is that movies and television have to paint business in that light. Would you watch a movie where the protagonist negotiated a mutually beneficial deal that left both sides successful for years to come? Probably not. But that's just the point. International shipping is not a movie, nor is it transactional. All sides, factories, ocean carriers, NVOCCs, truckers, and importers, need services year after year. So why would your business practices not reflect that? Importers benefit when their forwarder remains profitable and continues to deliver on the services promised. Forwarders benefit when they sell dependable, competitive service to their importers and remain clients for years. Tricking yourself into believing that "winning" in business is like it is in the movies, is setting yourself up for failure.
Winning in international shipping means winning year after year, not one contract season. Period.
For importers and forwarders eyeing stability, market-aligned pricing, and uncompromised adherence to agreements, it's crucial to recognize that leverage transcends mere freight volumes. The crux is the depth and quality of the relationship with your freight partner. My career has been grounded in integrity, fair margins, and being willing to lose for a time for a client willing to show the same respect and loyalty in the long run. In the dynamic world of global logistics, success is not measured in transactions but in cultivating resilient partnerships. I am proud that most of our top customers have been growing with us for over a decade.
As I look ahead, my allegiance to these tenets remains unchanged. I deeply appreciate all the partnerships I've received along this journey. I anticipate many more years of shared success, prosperous collaboration, and many new, long-lasting partnerships.