On the surface, freight forwarding looks straightforward: companies ship cargo from one region of the world to another. Upon closer scrutiny however, the picture is far more detailed.
"Hong Kong probably has the most freight forwarders of any city in the world," says Gabriele Benedetti, chief executive officer, JAS Forwarding (HK) Ltd. "We're a multinational with a Hong Kong branch, plus a corporate office and 13 offices in China. Part of our success results from defining services for this part of the world, taking into account local varieties when formulating strategies for the local market."
JAS was founded in Italy in 1978, and when Mr Benedetti arrived in Hong Kong 17 years ago, a mere 20 staff worked in the Hong Kong office. The primary business then involved importing Italian goods by air. The company has grown substantially since then, adding China offices to its expanding size and scope and now employing 609 staff.
Today, the company's Italian connections have remained strong. "Fashion is in our DNA," Mr Benedetti says. "We handle the top brands in Hong Kong." Prada is one example which recently began manufacturing certain pieces in China, helping boost revenue for JAS as it now exports these Prada items worldwide.
"Building and maintaining long-term relationships with our clients are a priority," reveals Mr Benedetti. He says that JAS differs from other freight forwarders in its service level and commitment. "We have a huge number of people in customer services who make an enormous contribution to our business by keeping in touch with our clients," he explains.
JAS also delivers customer service through its huge IT infrastructure, and offers far more than basic tracking and tracing of shipments. Mr Benedetti elaborates, "We have a sophisticated system called Orbis which enables our clients to monitor every move related to their shipments in real time."
Although JAS's corporate headquarters are in the US, teams are regional. Certain competitors choose to hire office managers from their home countries to oversee operations but JAS tends to have local branch managers in China. "Attempting to conduct business in this part of the world the American way will lead you nowhere," says Mr Benedetti.
From a career perspective, JAS human resources director Sarah Tang believes potential recruits can benefit from a career in freight forwarding by becoming experts in the industry. Hands-on experience at JAS helps staff understand supply chain management, gauge the competition, learn about different carriers, profit from greater market intelligence and become adept at pricing. Due to the company's high profile, Ms Tang notes that employees at JAS are extremely marketable and able to move on to other companies with ease.
JAS is currently looking to strengthen its team and according to Ms Tang, "We want people who can become industry experts," she says. "People can choose to start their career here in the corporate office for Hong Kong and China. Once they demonstrate their capability, moving to a managerial position in China is simple," adds Ms Tang. "Many of our customers are originally from Hong Kong but now based in China and they prefer to speak in Cantonese," she says.
In line with current human resources policies devised to attract and retain the most talented people in the industry, Ms Tang aims to revamp the human resources system at JAS. This more innovative approach will feature improved training programmes for junior staff, equipping them with skills including ways to handle dangerous cargo, logistics flows and understanding regulations.
In essence, joining JAS will mean joining a company set on expansion. "We expect to have more than 1,000 people employed in JAS 10 years from now," predicts Mr Benedetti. The growth will not be explosive however, as the company has no wish to lose its established identity. "We are not just a name, we are a brand and we have the human touch," Mr Benedetti concludes.