As the global economy expands, manufacturers and retailers require more complex logistics solutions for the movement of raw materials and finished products around the world. This now includes, shipping, warehousing, packaging, and distribution to retail outlets or end-users, all of which has created new opportunities for third-party logistics specialists able to provide such services on a contract basis.
In order to capture a larger share of this market, Jerome Gillet, regional logistics director of Geodis Overseas Ltd, has been involved in setting up a new structure, Geodis Solutions Asia, which will specialise in contract logistics. "For the past 20 years, we have focused our attention on air and sea freight forwarding, but the range of services we provide now extends across the entire supply chain," he says.
Mr Gillet's role has been to set up a new team with logistics expertise, define its strategy, market the newly established service capabilities, secure new projects and implement them. This requires extensive travel within the region to meet existing and prospective clients and to propose cost effective ways of meeting their specific logistics needs. Among the high-profile accounts are DaimlerChrysler in Malaysia and Carrefour in Indonesia and South Korea. Visiting them regularly means that Mr Gillet spends only a few days every month in Hong Kong. "When I am back in town, I take the chance to think through business strategies, meet with suppliers and follow up on outstanding issues," he says. With his current range of responsibilities, those issues are mainly in the areas of business development, solutions design and implementation, IT and corporate account management.
Candidates who don't have an MBA can make up for it with extensive operations experience
As a business school graduate from France, Mr Gillet took his first steps in the logistics business in 1994 with Exel, when he became administration and systems manager at their 20,000 square metre distribution centre (DC) south of Paris. "I was responsible for stock inventory management and my primary duty was to ensure there were effective measures to control what was received from suppliers and stored at the DC in terms of both quality and quantity," he explains. "The job also entailed overseeing the warehouse management system, making modifications when required, and monitoring productivity targets."
When originally deciding to go into logistics, Mr Gillet had set his sights on gaining overseas experience. The opportunity presented itself in 1998 when Marks & Spencer asked him to audit their warehouse operation in Hong Kong. An initial three-month stint led to an offer to take over as operations manager and, subsequently, he was promoted to the position of general manager. He then moved to a regional role as account director for Johnson & Johnson Asia-Pacific and was headhunted by Geodis two years ago.
Despite the complexity of his job, Mr Gillet says what he most enjoys is the process of creating new ideas from scratch and seeing them produce positive results for customers. When recruiting, he therefore looks not just for a degree or a diploma in logistics, but for candidates with an aptitude for business and the right personal qualities. "Candidates who don't have an MBA can make up for it with extensive operations experience," he says. In his opinion, the best place to start learning the business is in warehousing, where newcomers get first-hand exposure to operational procedures and customer needs. Because of an acute shortage of warehousing experts within the industry, those with the relevant experience can now command higher salaries than many MBA graduates.
As his job demands regular international travel, Mr Gillet points out that the ability to adapt to different working environments is very important. He also notes that the logistics sector is geared to meeting deadlines and requires people who are prepared to put in more than the standard nine-to-five day at the office. "The hours can be long and it is not unusual to work 24 hours non-stop just to complete an implementation," he says. "However, the results of that are hugely satisfying, especially when you secure new business, learn something new and have the chance to meet people from different walks of life every single day."
There are many openings available for logistics professionals in China and those trained in Hong Kong are considered to have a strong competitive edge. They are regarded as having a good understanding of western management practices, while being able to adapt more easily to the work environment and prevailing culture on the mainland.
Currently, China needs recruits for warehouse management, transport operations and freight forwarding. While entry-level positions in Shenzhen, for instance, pay 30 to 40 per cent less than similar posts in Hong Kong, there is virtually no differential in salaries for management-level positions.