Overcoming a Tough Economy Despite the Odds

Where is the industry right now/ what are the challenges?
The industry has been struggling with low growth globally for the past couple of years. The low economic growth of most global economies compared to that experienced historically, impacted trade volumes in general. The international trade wars have an indirect impact globally and on the local industry. In South Africa, the low economic growth rate, political uncertainty and volatility of the currency, are just some of the challenges the industry is facing currently.

How is a company like BIL overcoming them?
Our focus is on improving our customer service levels to our existing client base to protect the business we have. We launched Project Thrill earlier as one of the initiatives to ensure that our staff is constantly focussing on delivering exceptional service. We explore opportunities within the customer base we have to extend our service offering and value-added services. Despite the challenges the industry is facing, we have invested in new facilities, equipment, and technologies to ensure we remain current and ready for future growth. We continue to invest in our people, and ongoing training and development are taking place through our Academy and programs through some external service providers.

What is the significance, to the broader business, of your name change/ new strategic partnership?
When we considered a new name for our company, we looked at our future strategic intent and the incorporation of “International” into our trading name is part of our future strategy to, in the future explore opportunities outside the borders of South Africa. In considering the preferred partner for the future, we considered several criteria like culture fit, entrepreneurial, knowledge of and presence in South Africa, and aligned to our future strategy. Our new partner EMO ticked all the blocks, and we are confident that the partnership will work well into the future to the benefit of both organizations and our customers.

What can logistics companies do to navigate rapid change and an increasingly difficult local economy?
Remain focussed on customers’ needs and requirements, keep an eye on industry and market trends and align the business accordingly.

Why is it necessary for companies to continually stay abreast of trends, market developments and challenges – what are the implications for its stakeholders?

There are so many variables that impact the industry that it can be very costly and detrimental not to stay abreast of the trends, developments and challenges. Besides the impact of technology, AI and big data, locally we have to consider the implementation of the new customs acts by SARS, the situation in the ports, the challenges with the burning of trucks on the roads, security of cargo, and ongoing local and international regulatory requirements.

With BIL forming a new partnership, how can similar companies find the right partner and build scale/ what steps do you need to follow?
In selecting a long-term strategic partner, a company needs to decide what is important to them in a future partner. We found identifying the criteria upfront, assisted us in deciding a shortlist of possible partners and ultimately, the final selection.

Where do you see the industry going in the next 6-12 months?
We do not foresee improvement for the next 6-12 months, and the industry will only see growth again once we have more political, policy certainty and we can address the high unemployment rate. If infrastructure investment commences and the economy starts growing above the current levels, we will be able to see the positive impact on the industry. Globally and possibly locally, we do foresee that there will be more consolidation in the industry, and the DSV/Panalpina deal is not the last to impact the industry.

How do you feel is the greatest advantage a woman has in the business world where our male counterparts normally are the majority?
Women can see the big picture while also paying attention to the details. This ability enables them to identify possible obstacles and opportunities not always visible when just focussing on the big picture. Women also can organize and manage many tasks at the same time.

How do you feel is the greatest disadvantage a woman has in the business world where men outnumber woman business leaders?
It depends on the individual woman and the company or environment that she finds herself in as well as the support structure she has. Successful women can juggle their family responsibilities and succeed in business in the right company or environment. Within our organization, there are several examples where women excel in their areas of responsibility, where they also have to take care of their families.

Does chivalry still play a part in business what would you say and if yes why?
Again it depends on the company or the circumstances where a woman finds herself. In general, I never feel that I get special treatment just because I am a woman, and my colleagues and business associates treat me as an equal. Although we are self-critical about South Africa and what does not work, we can salute the government for the drive to increase the number of women in government and business. When you travel the world, especially in our industry, it is evident that we are far more progressive where it comes to women in senior management positions in general.

Do you think that a female entrepreneur is able to hold their own in business and why?
There is no reason why female entrepreneurs cannot hold their own in business. There are so many examples of successful female entrepreneurs that are role models for other women. The only thing that holds women back is the women themselves, or possibly their circumstances and lack of support.

What would say is the greatest business lesson you have learned?
Success demands commitment, dedication, perseverance, and risk moving out of your comfort zone all the time.

What makes you stand out in business and make people take notice of you?
I have always been a generalist and have a wide range of interest fields while ensuring that I specialize in my area of control. In my years of studies, I have always included subjects that did not necessarily relate to my job but complimented it. I also read widely to keep up to date with industry trends and other topics that impact the industry directly or indirectly. This allows me to contribute meaningfully in not just my area of control, but also other areas outside of it.

Written by Maria Du Preez of Bidvest International Logistics Pty Ltd