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Leading lights – June 2015

Sebastiaan Scholte was born in 1970 in Groningen, the Netherlands. After studying Economics and Business Administration at Rotterdam College, he began his cargo aviation career in 1997 working in Mexico City for Aeromexpress, the cargo division of Aeromexico and Mexicana.

From 1998 he was based in Madrid as vice president Europe, where he oversaw European cargo operations. During this period he also represented Aeromexpress in various working groups for SkyTeam, helping to develop the alliance’s economies of scale. Based in Mexico City from 2000, he was promoted to vice president sales, Mexico and Central America, where he initiated new freighter operations and coordinated an alliance with a major Mexican courier.


In 2002, Scholte joined Cargolux Airlines in São Paulo as regional manager, South and Central America. After a successful restructuring process, he became Cargolux’s regional business development manager, Spain and Portugal, in 2004. He then initiated Cargolux’s Portugal operations and completed a Global Executive MBA at the IESE Business School.


Between 2006 and 2010, Scholte was head of marketing and special projects at Cargolux’s headquarters in Luxembourg. In this function he led and coordinated various strategic projects, marketing analysis and commercial communication.


In April 2010, he became Chief executive officer of Jan de Rijk Logistics (JDR) based in Roosendaal in the Netherlands. In May 2012, he was appointed chairman of the Cool Chain Association and in 2013 he also joined the board of TIACA.


What is your earliest aviation memory?

I remember flying as a boy on Martinair from the Netherlands to Spain in the 1970s. I especially recall the sausage-breads they served back then.


What attracted you to the freight industry?

The global aspect of it. Air cargo is both a leading economic indicator and a dynamic industry. Near sourcing, outsourcing, oil prices, currency fluctuations, weather, politics, macroeconomics, wars – they all have a direct impact on the air cargo supply chain. Basically, whatever you read in today’s newspaper will have some kind of impact on air cargo.


What I love about my current job at JDR is that we deal with different industries: airlines, shippers, forwarders and so on. By interacting with so many shippers from different industries, every day I not only learn about the logistics side but also gain more in-depth knowledge about how certain industries and companies work, like pharmaceuticals, tobacco or high-tech. There is never a dull moment.


Would you choose the same industry again if you were starting out now?

Absolutely, for all of the reasons I have given above. However, with relatively low margins, we cannot afford to be complacent. A day where something goes wrong is often difficult to recover from later on; you always have to be on top of things.


What drives you?

I like new challenges, to improve the status quo – the only certainty we have is uncertainty. Everything is changing quickly, and it’s great if you can be part of this. I don’t like routine and sometimes we have to take difficult decisions, but when you see that they yield results you know it has been worth it. So I guess I’m quite results-driven as well.


What have been your proudest moments?

At JDR we have been through many different phases. It was like being thrown into water. Just after the crisis we had to keep our head above the surface in order not to drown (restructuring, cutting costs, improving sales). Once we had mastered that we started to define where we wanted to swim (strategy), and now we are improving our swimming style so we can swim more efficiently (process improvements). It has been a great experience to be able to go through these different stages with a company. I’m really proud to be at pre-crisis levels of profitability again, with an agile organisation that is motivated and enthusiastic.


And your greatest disappointments?

In general: people who pretend to be something other than what they actually are, who promise things that they will not deliver, can be a great disappointment.


What significant changes have you seen in the industry since you joined?

To be honest, I’ve seen too little change in the air cargo industry. The competition is not always from within the industry. Look at the digital camera and Kodak, the music industry and Apple, hotels and AirBnB, or taxis and Uber. Maybe the competition in logistics will now also come from companies like Uber, which through their extensive network could take packages as well. Or Amazon, which will offer third-party logistics.


In all fairness, in an industry like ours, which is heavily regulated and faced with different customs regimes in many countries, it is not always easy to change.


At JDR we are trying to move up the supply chain by integrating more services. For example, we recently took over the home care deliveries of Baxter to patients at home. The more we move up the supply chain, the less exposed we are to supply and demand cycles in this quite commoditised industry. Some of the Chinese airlines, for example, have started their own web portals where consumers can buy products. In this way, they are controlling the whole chain. 


Even though personal relations still matter, I have seen a more ‘spreadsheet’ mentality in the last 15 years.


What frustrates you about this industry?

Simply put – the lack of change.


Which companies – either in freight or not – do you admire, and why?

Uber, Apple, AirBnB – they are changing entire industries. Also Inditex, which are a ‘heavy user’ of air cargo. It is a company that continues to grow and has the fantastic ability to quickly take products from design to the shops. Obviously, logistics is a core process for this, therefore it is a value creator instead of a cost centre. 


What do you think the air cargo industry needs to focus on at the moment?

More transparency and visibility. I think this is what the shipper wants, not necessarily reducing the total transit time by 48 hours.


What are the challenges particular to the market?

There are many challenges. We are more focused on imports by air, so the devaluation of the Euro has had its effect. There is more bureaucracy in Europe driven by nationalistic interests in certain countries. The constant pressure on yields will force us to diversify and become more agile and efficient.


How do you think the industry will change – are there any changes that are inevitable?

We need to be flexible and agile as an organisation in order to cope with any changes. Like Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but the most adaptable.”


Why did you join the board of TIACA?

TIACA is a superb organisation that represents the entire industry. It is great to be part of it. Hopefully I will be able to contribute to its goals to improve industry cooperation, promote innovation, share knowledge, enhance quality and efficiency, and promote education.


Do you think the industry is well served by its technology companies?

Certainly! Technology is way ahead of what can actually be achieved. It is governments, processes and companies benefiting from a lack of visibility that’s impeding progress.


Can the air cargo industry ever truly compete with or beat the integrators?

Yes and no. I truly believe that we should act more like the integrators where we can have a seamless supply chain. Although we all interact – forwarders, airlines, handlers, truckers and shippers – we do not have contractual relationships. The airlines have a contract with the forwarder, the RFS supplier and the GHA, but there is no contract between the RFS supplier and the GHA, even though they both interact a lot. The whole supply chain is not always transparent, whereas with the integrator it is.


On the other hand, the integrators are very good at delivering packages, but when it comes to bigger shipments our industry handles it better.


What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

To listen carefully. When I was young I always thought that a good sales person was someone who is able to talk very well (and a lot). In my first job interview I was asked to sell Mexico, since I’d done an internship there. I asked if I should talk about tourism or business; when they said tourism I went on to talk about beaches, the colonial past, cities, etc. The interviewer stopped me there and said he was only interested in beaches and I had lost his attention when I started talking about other things (though I still got the job). Listening and asking the right questions is crucial, and actually, it’s not always difficult since most people love to talk.


When are you happiest?

When I’m with my kids, and when I’m doing watersports like windsurfing and wakeboarding.


What keeps you awake at night?

Occasionally I wake up and start thinking about work, and then I have to write some ideas down.


What would you like this year to bring?

Plenty of growth! After some difficult years after the crisis, it would be great to have some years with solid growth.

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