Alexander Hellmers, CEO, Project Logistics Alliance, discusses the concept behind setting up the alliance with member companies across many parts of the world, and its aim of furthering global project freight forwarding businesses with specialised know-how.
What are the objectives of the specialized global network Project Logistics Alliance?
The Project Logistics Alliance (PLA) was founded in December 2016 by industry experts from around the globe to address the unique demands of project freight forwarding. The network was established by highly experienced project freight forwarders to build on the expertise they jointly possessed, focusing on maintaining high-quality services and expanding the unique knowledge base demanded by the project forwarding industry. The objective is to have companies that are highly specialised in their field and have the know-how to handle and manage projects.
What are the major issues and challenges of the freight forwarding & shipping industry that can be addressed by PLA?
Through the Project Logistics Alliance we enable our members, who are small to mid-sized companies, to offer their customers end-to-end solutions. The “big guys” like DHP offer the same services under one umbrella by having an office in every market. These offices are not necessarily specialised in projects, and DHL and company then use the “hidden champions” in the market (which are sometimes even our members) to offer these services.
PLA levels the playing field; when you are a PLA member you can advertise global coverage of truly specialised partner-companies to your customer. This puts you right up there with the global players, even though you don’t have an office in every country. Thus, we are a close-knit community that keeps each other updated on social media and chat groups. We have a partner section that includes container solutions, project cargo carriers, ports and software solutions.
We recently concluded our 4th Annual General Meeting in Dubai. Our members got the opportunity for the much-needed face to face networking in a safe space, and exchange ideas to tackle the current problems.
PROJECT LOGISTIC ALLIANCE 4th ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING IN DUBAI
What is the structure of the PLA and the criteria for becoming its member?
The PLA has a very simple and straightforward structure: we are strictly limited to 2 members per country, and to guarantee sufficient coverage in larger markets, including China, India and the USA, we are represented by 4 members. Besides the members listed for countries they represent, we have a partner segment that distinguishes us from other networks. Our partners add exceptional value to our members by providing strategic business opportunities that help their businesses to leap forward to a competitive advantage.
We have implemented the strictest entry criteria for registering new members and partners to the PLA, thus ensuring that only genuine and experienced first-class project freight forwarding companies join the network. The companies have to evidence a track-record of projects handled; have to give evidence that they are active in the market they wish to represent; and have to prove that the company is financially sound.
Bringing global specialized freight forwarders under one umbrella is a quite daunting task; how do you plan to bring more members under the PLA?
Today, we have 194 members in 119 countries and 15 strong partners. In recent years, the African market has been expanding rapidly and finding reliable agents is difficult. So, the team and I are concentrating more on this region so that the members and partners are in capable hands when requiring services in the area.
The plan of most networks is to grow at all cost and get member numbers up. But this is not what we aim for; we don’t want to be the biggest network, nor do we want to be the network having the most members. We strive to have a dedicated community where people know and value each other. The relationships people build at PLA last for years. And this is how it should be. Nobody needs 50 agents in China or India to quote on the same business.
We see a realistic member number in the network at around 250 members plus some partners. After that, there are simply no markets that can sustain a reputable project freight forwarding.
What are the benefits and values that the PLA provides to its members?
PLA equips all its members with reliable partners all over the world. We offer a robust directory or a list of experts in project logistics in their local markets. Our members, who are usually small to medium-sized companies, typically don't have the time to do marketing, and this is where PLA steps in. We already have an extensive marketing base and offer professional marketing services to all our members. Apart from this, the team also facilitates meetings amongst the members and partners and arranges for virtual meetings once in a while to ensure the community is active.
Additionally, every year, we organize a conference where we encourage all the members and partners to strengthen both personal and professional relationships. These events are high class and the best organized ones in the industry (at least that’s what our members say!). The annual meeting is at the core of what we do; we see personal relationships at the heart of everything we do and consider this more important than ever in a world that has become increasingly short term, impersonal and transactional.
When, where, and how are your meetings with members held and how frequently?
Traditionally, and during the pre-covid times, we have held an annual general meeting every year where we invite the community to meet the people they conduct everyday business with to strengthen their relationship.
In 2019, we held the biggest meeting in our history in Istanbul with over 160 people attending. However, with the onset of Covid-19, we had to substitute the annual general meeting in 2020 with a number of online meetings that we call “kaffeeklatsch” - a common German word that translates into “an informal gathering over coffee cups to chat or gossip”. These are smaller break-out groups which are flexible and the main idea is offering people a guided time in which they can meet and chat.
With the general high workload in the industry, and the number of online conferences, and with virtual meetings and zoom calls exploding, people don’t seem to be as interested in having full conferences online because its simply not the same! Therefore, we are proud to say that in 2021 we were back to meeting in person and back to sharing personal time in a stunning location. With countries like China and most part of Asia facing significant travel restrictions, we consider the number of attendees (70 in total) to be fantastic.
What are your views about the logistics market of South Asian countries, especially the Indian market? Tell us about your Indian members.
The situation in these markets in mixed; Cagatay is booming and exports are higher than ever. In contrast, Vietnam went into a strict lockdown in the summer when most countries had gone back to the new normal. India has also been easing up travel restrictions and people were able to engage.
The Indian subcontinent is represented by 4 members: Express Global Logistics, Kodan Solutions, Lift & Shift India, and Premier Global Logistics. Most of these founding members of the network have been with us since the inception of PLA. We are delighted to have them on board since they are market leaders in the country. We have only heard positive reviews from fellow members who work with them regularly.
In terms of projects, we hear that many companies are revisiting projects since Q2 2021; these projects were put on hold since mid-2020. For forwarders and particularly project forwarders who are not in core exports or imports markets, and who are also not in rapidly developing markets, the last 1.5 years were rather grim.
What is PLA's long-term strategic planning?
Our strategic vision is to go much further for our members than simply holding an annual meeting. We need to make it easier for our members to link up, communicate and share information. Further, we want our members to find the right partner in every corner of the world and to establish qualitative and long-lasting business relationships.