Women at the Top in logistics

Women are successful and valuable contributors to senior management in a wide range of industries but the logistics industry has a reputation of being led by men.  What is the level of participation to the leading teams in the industry?

More years ago than I care to remember (well ten to fifteen years ago) I was unlucky enough to get press-ganged into attending a couple of conferences on board ocean-going liners.  The first time was on the SS Canberra, the second the newly-commissioned MV Oriana.  They were strange times; three days on a comfortable (Oriana) or somewhat less comfortable (Canberra – some ten years earlier it had been in the Falklands) with days chock-full of 30-minute meetings with what were ostensibly prospective customers but in practice were mostly freeloaders who agreed to meet because they got  a free cruise.

But what I remember most are the formal dinners and what followed.  The dinners, bizarrely, were black-tie affairs.  The diners (there were hundreds of us) were predominantly (and by predominantly I mean over 95%) men.  I’ll ignore the ethnic or religious background of the participants (that’s another can of worms for a later date) but the gender mix of the participants reflected that of the industry at the time.  A medium-sized UK haulier was run by a woman.  ‘Bees round a honey pot’ sprang to mind to describe the attention she got after dinner.

The world has thankfully moved on a lot since those days, and that made me wonder whether things had changed much.  It’s clear to anyone that works in it that the industry is still male-dominated and it’s difficult to get meaningful data, but an unscientific review of the most readily available information – the published 2013 statements of quoted logistics companies – does give a certain flavour.

These statements are largely focused on financial information, naturally enough.  They might have some corporate jargon about their equal opportunities policies but there is little concrete measurement disclosed.  The one tangible piece of information on gender balance comes from the composition of their boards.  I have complemented the published information with that gleaned from company web sites

Most of my sample have similar structures; in the Anglo-Saxon world non-Executive directors (in continental terms a Supervisory Board) with the Management or Executive Board or team.  Ceva, perhaps unsurprisingly now the holding company is incorporated in the Marshall Islands, was the most opaque.  The first mention of the management team comes in note 7 to the statements on page 39, with a further mention of the management team in note 28 on page.  I have used the Ceva web site to get an up-to-date picture.  Deutsche Post DHL was probably the clearest and most accessible.

Representation of women on select boards and senior management teams
Representation of women on select boards and senior management teams

So the most impressive participation is in DP-DHL, where some 22% of the participants are women.  Before we get too carried away, mind, the bulk of these are employee representatives on the Supervisory Board, which rather confirms the stereotype of left-/right-wing attitudes to equality.  DP-DHL also deserves credit for having a woman executive, although I must confess to slight disappointment that she works in a stereotypical role – HR.

Expeditors had one woman on the board and two executive officers.  Pleasure at the presence of two women on the Norbert Dentressangle Supervisory Board is slightly muted by the surname of one of them – Dentressangle.  As for the rest, the table tells its own story.

Overall some 11% of these directors or management are women.  But take out DP-DHL and the proportion is a measly 6%.  I’m no demographer but I recall that the proportion of women in the general population is about 50%.  That’s one hell of a gap.  As an industry we should be ashamed of this.

Room at the Top

Like buses, no examples for a while, then a bundle of changes turn up together.

DHL Supply Chain

In March 2014 it was announced that Bruce Edwards would be retiring and would be succeeded by John Gilbert as the Board of Management member responsible for DHL Supply Chain.

It doesn’t seem to have taken long for the ripples to flow through the organisation.  In June it was announced that:

  • Paul Graham former CEO APMEA is to become Global COO for DHL Supply Chain and CEO Mainland Europe, Middle East and Africa (MEMEA)
  • Oscar de Bok is appointed as CEO for DHL Supply Chain’s Asia-Pacific Region

In a separate announcement Graham Inglis, CEO Europe at DHL Supply Chain, has become divisional chief development officer, responsible for the growth agenda including sales and marketing and the global sector and product teams.

And in the Exel business in the Americas:

•    Scott Surredin named Chief Executive Officer of North America
•    Jose Nava appointed Chief Executive Officer of DHL Supply Chain, Latin America

All these changes appear to involve internal DHL Supply Chain people.


Meanwhile on the good ship Ceva on 2nd July it was announced that Brett Bissell is appointed Chief Operating Officer, Contract Logistics.  I wonder if he’s known to his friends as ‘Bex’?

On 3rd June it was the appointment of Christophe Cachat as Chief Information Officer.  In May CEVA announced Michael Schaecher as Chief Operating Officer, Global Airfreight.  Two days earlier Hakan Bicil’s appointment as Chief Commercial Officer was announced.  He joins Ceva from from Panalpina where he was EVP, Head of Strategic Business Development.

These last three Ceva appointments are external.

Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet three-month user review


Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet


I bought my first Mac (128k RAM. single 400k floppy disk drive) in 1985 (yes, I’m that old) because the user experience and interface felt a million years ahead of anything else available, especially what was then called the IBM PC.

That design advantage has, to my mind, been maintained even to today.  Before any Windows or Linux advocates get uptight I fully acknowledge that those operating systems (I use Windows at work and Linux just for the experience) are much better then they were and if you’re happy using them, fine.  But we all have different tastes and preferences; otherwise we would all drive the same car and wear the same clothes.  A Subaru Impreza Turbo driver can justifiably question the Aston Martin Vantage V8 driver over his choice.   The Subaru will be cheaper, quicker, seat four and actually have a usable boot.

Nonetheless the Aston Martin owner’s choice is as valid as that of the Subaru driver.  The former sees exclusivity and quality.  Too often we see alternatives as right or wrong when in fact they are just different.  Embrace difference.

So over the years I have spent many thousands of pounds on Mac computers with capability way beyond what I will need during the computers’ lifetimes, software I don’t need and will use once and obscure peripherals (Microtek SCSI scanner, anyone?) just for the sake of it.

Lately one of my principal reasons for buying Apple has been eroded: Apple products (especially iPhones and iPads) are ubiquitous.  They’re no longer exclusive.  I can’t find a product to match my iPod Touch, but any Tom, Dick or Harry has an iPad.  ‘Think Different’ (to use Apple’s grammatically incorrect 1997 advert) and buy an iPad?  I don’t think so.  So when the time came for me to look at upgrading my first-generation iPad I turned not to the guys from Cupertino but at an Android tablet.  I still want my choice to be select and a premium product.  Samsung is too common, so I turned to a brand I have grown up with and trust:  Sony (makers of that 400k drive in my first Mac, Trinitron TVs, the Walkman, the badly underrated MiniDisc and my favourite short-wave radio).

The tablet

When you share an operating system with almost other tablet manufacturers (bar Apple) and that system isn’t under your control you have to work hard to differentiate your kit from others.  Sony has achieved this by making a tablet which is:

When I took the tablet out of is box first impressions were very good; the tablet, despite its light weight and thin profile, felt solid and very well-built. with high-quality materials used.

The protection from water and dust comes in part from the ports for connection and charging (micro-USB, reasonably enough) and memory (micro-SD) being covered.  Clearly the covers need to be closed to protect the ports but in reality when they’re not in place they dangle in a very fragile manner.  My other concern is with opening the covers.  They are necessarily a tight fit and the only way I could open them was using my fingernail to prise them open.  This isn’t very elegant and on the first tablet I had the cover became slightly damaged within 12 hours.  That might be my fault but it’s also not great design.  Consequently I try to charge the tablet using a dock (not included) that charges through a robust connector on the bottom face of the tablet.  I also try whenever possible to connect to my Mac by Bluetooth so that I don’t run the risk of damaging the covers.

Those port covers do look delicate
Those port covers do look delicate

On firing up the screen is clear and attractive.  Response to touch is fine, comparable to the iPad.  Two speakers have been described elsewhere as giving good stereo separation; that’s overstating it a little.

I chose the version with 32GB of memory, to which I added a 32GB micro-SD card (which John Lewis included free) for all the music and videos I want.

Moving from iOS to Android

To a long-term user of iOS Android feels very different right from start-up.  Not better or worse, but different.  On boot-up the user is presented with a desktop of five pages.  These are customisable with any applications that you wish to have there.  The second thing I noticed was the number of applications, shown on two pages accessed from the home screen.  Android is of course a Google system so the default browser is Chrome, there is a link to the Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps, Google+ and YouTube.  Imposing its personality Sony includes a Walkman application for music, Xperia Lounge (for all sorts of experiences in which I have no interest) and Xperia Link, PlayStation and PlayStation Mobile, Sony Select and What’s New apps.  On top of that lot there’s all the apps you would expect: email, contacts. alarm, clock, calendar, camera, photos and the like, and a neat weather widget that uses your location.

Included applications for which there is not (as far as I know) an equivalent included in iOS are:

  • FM radio (uses headphone cable as an aerial) which is surprisingly good
  • OfficeSuite pro, an office suite with very good functionality and surprisingly usable on the Z2’s 10.1” screen
  •  File Commander, which enable one to browse the filesystem, which I miss in iOS, which keeps that detail from the user
  • Sketch, a simple drawing program

As far as I can tell, iOS has a compass, Siri and fingerprint recognition.  Apple also has FaceTime, of course; you’ll have to download Skype for the Sony.

Using the Xperia Z2

Let’s face it, most tablet use is for web browsing, email, downloaded media (music and video mainly) and on-line media such as YouTube.  It’s difficult to fault the Z2 for any of this, although scrolling on-line video isn’t perhaps as smooth as on an iPad.

My other use is for BBC iPlayer and on the Sony and Android it’s a nice piece of software, as it is in iOS.  I also have an aversion to Chrome, so I downloaded Firefox, which works with no problems.

Battery life?  Difficult to judge from specifications; a tablet might have a larger battery but negate that by consuming more power.  Camera?  Seems pretty good but if I want to take pictures I tend to use my Olympus.

One area where the Z2 is better than either my iPad or iPod Touch is Wi-Fi connectivity.  I travel a lot and there are Wi-Fi spots to which my iOS kit either will not connect or gets an IP address such as 169.x.x.x which does not give internet access.  No such problems with the Sony.

Integration with a Mac

This is not surprisingly the Z2’s Achilles’ heel.  Apple’s control over both hardware and software makes their integration between devices and platforms comparatively seamless (although I personally have a bugbear with recent iTunes implementations which, for me, have lead to a less intuitive interface).  Sony has made a creditable attempt at  synchronisation between a Mac and the Z2 with its Sony Bridge for Mac software.

Sony's Bridge for Mac software
Sony’s Bridge for Mac software

This enables you to drag any iTunes media to a connected Xperia device and it works well.  The problem for me is my desire not to open the port covers any more than I need to, because disappointingly the Bridge for Mac software does not work over a wireless connection.  My solution is to do one big initial migration of stuff using the Sony software via USB, and then make incremental changes by sending files over Bluetooth from the Mac to the Z2.  Not ideal, but workable.  Sony really need to get this Bridge working over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth sharpish.


I’m very pleased with the Xperia Z2 tablet.  It is a high-quality and impressive piece of kit.  Its low weight is remarkable and its protection from water and dust is unique, even if its usefulness might be a little debatable.  Performance is good and the included range of software covers almost all requirements well.

My only complaints are about the robustness of the port covers and the inability of the Sony Bridge for Mac software to work wirelessly.

Would I buy it again?  Definitely yes.

The decline and fall of the UK logistics industry

Fifteen years ago, as the world partied because it was 1999, the average stock analyst following logistics companies on the London Stock Exchange (‘LSE’) had some choice.  In the Support Services, Shipping or Transportation sectors (or whatever they were at the time) there were at least the following players (in alphabetical order):

  • BOC (logistics business BOC Distribution Services became Gist in 2001)
  • Christian Salvesen
  • Hays (Hays Logistics)
  • NFC (including Exel Logistics)
  • Ocean Group (MSAS and McGregor Cory)
  • Tibbett and Britten
  • Transport Development Group
  • Unigate (Wincanton)

This collection of operators considered themselves to be amongst the global industry’s leaders.

Depending on ones definition of logistics, one could throw P&O and Bibby in the mix too.

The logistics industry has flourished on the globalisation phenomenon and this has surely contributed to the consolidation the industry has witnessed.  And that consolidation has affected the UK logistics industry more than most.

So what happened to the UK’s players?

Where are they now?

  • BOC    – acquired by Linde 2006
  • Christian Salvesen    – acquired in 2007 by Norbert Dentressangle
  • Hays (Hays Logistics)    – Hays Logistics spun off as ACR 2004 to Platinum Equity Group; acquired by Kuehne + Nagel 2005
  • NFC (including Exel Logistics)    – merged with Ocean Group 2000 to form Exel
  • Ocean Group (MSAS and McGregor Cory)  – merged with NFC to become Exel 2000; acquired by Deutsche Post 2005
  • Tibbett and Britten    – acquired by Exel 2004
  • Transport Development Group    – acquired by Laxey Investment Trust 2008; sold to Norbert Dentressangle 2010
  • Unigate (Wincanton)    – Wincanton spun off 2001; still independent

So of the eight businesses in our 1999 list (to some extent of course an arbitrary selection), four (BOC/Gist, NFC, Ocean Group and Tibbett and Britten) are now in German hands, two (Christian Salvesen and TDG) are French-owned and one (Hays Logistics/ACR) is Swiss, leaving a solitary remaining independent British player, Wincanton.

Of course the nationality of the ultimate holding company might not mean anything (witness how Jaguar Land Rover has thrived under Indian ownership), but a group does not need two head offices, so one suspects that Bracknell and Windlesham have suffered and when push comes to shove decisions are made in Bonn. Munich, Saint-Vallier or Schindellegi.  It probably does not reflect a diminution in British influence, but both the new DHL Supply Chain CEO and the post’s previous holder came from Exel in the US.

And who’s around now?

The Motor Transport Top 100 is a useful if flawed summary of the UK industry and that reveals the growth of parcels operators.  A significant new entrant to the quoted ranks is Royal Mail and Wincanton has been joined on the LSE by Eddie Stobart (in 2007) and Clipper Logistics (June 2014).

And that’s your lot.  A somewhat different picture to that at the end of the last century.

Letter to shareholders

As I wandered through the 2013 annual statements of our leading logistics companies in search of financial insight, my curiosity turned for some reason to the letter to shareholders that often seems to kick such documents off.

Having spent my fair share of time drafting mission statements, vision statements and chairman’s statements explaining why the last year really wasn’t as bad as the numbers suggest, I was interested to see how industry leaders set the scene for the dry facts that follow.

Often, quoted companies seem constrained by the regulatory restrictions imposed on them; others limit themselves by choice.  Ceva‘s report dives straight into the meat, explaining that on 2 May 2013 CEVA completed a major financial recapitalisation. CEVA Holdings LLC (a company incorporated in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, of all places) became the new parent company of CEVA Group Plc and its subsidiaries.  In the circumstances I suppose one has to respect their fact-based approach.

Of the others I looked at the principal common theme was the essentially bland and frankly meaningless, sometimes almost cut-and-paste management-speak that too often pervades such documents – challenges, focus, efficiency and the like.  Here’s the earth-shattering contribution from the CEO of the industry’s leader, Deutsche Post DHL:

In today’s age, tailored logistics services are a key to success for companies in many industries. We are proficient in this business and are determined to offer every customer precisely the service they need to be successful. Doing this means facing a wide range of challenges,

I have no idea how many man-hours went into this prose but do they think anyone actually reads something like that?

K+N‘s chairman used an interview format to lead with:

With net earnings of CHF 607 million, Kuehne + Nagel’s result for 2013 marks a new milestone. It shows that our company has returned to its former strength. Our measures to enhance efficiency have proved effective, and I am particularly pleased that we have achieved such a positive result in a year that was challenging and characterised by uncertainty both from a macroeconomic viewpoint and from the internal perspective of the company.

I need to dig a little more into that ‘uncertainty… from the internal perspective of the company‘.

Panalpina took a very matter-of-fact approach:

In 2013, we were able to improve our result by CHF 80 million.  Whilst this is a positive improvement over last year, we still have much to do to reach the targets we have set ourselves. We are therefore focusing our organization into converting more of our considerable gross profit into net profit, in which our shareholders participate.

Good to see the acknowledgement that shareholders participate in net profit.  Of course, improving the result by CHF 80 million isn’t the same as making CHF 80 million.

But my personal award goes to Expeditors for their refreshing and very human statement:

2013 was a decent year, but not a great one.

Well done them!

Local custom and practice

Screw local custom and practice, I know what works for me...
Screw local custom and practice, I know what works for me…

Few industries have been as affected by globalisation as has that of logistics, and the expansion of the European Union in 2004, 2007 and 2013 has led to movement of people, generally but not exclusively, from East to West.

Sometimes the visitors struggle to adapt to local custom and practice or, perhaps, just need familiar surroundings to ease their loneliness.

A fine example of this, the unfamiliarity of East European migrant labour with West European warehouse lavatorial standards, and the practical response of an enlightened employer can be found here.