Interview with Michael Zankel
|Mr. Michael Zankel is Regional Director for the East Asia & Oceania region at Gebrüder Weiss since 2017. The Austrian, who is living in Hong Kong for more than 15 years, has 35 years of experience in the logistics business.|
1. You live for several years in Hong Kong; how did you experience the last two years and actual situation personally?
The situation presented political challenges from June 2019 until the end of the year, followed immediately by the outbreak of Covid19 a couple of months later. The population was very polarized after the protests and several Covid measures after that were influenced by distrust, including the vaccination recommendations. Hong Kong followed China with its zero-case policy, an approach that looked very good for a long time: no cases, no casualties. On the business side, the last two years were extremely difficult but equally successful. On the private side, travel and family visits were replaced by virtual encounters and I am now a specialist for all the wonderful hiking trails in Hong Kong.
2. Can you please give us a short overview of the actual Covid situation in China and Hong Kong?
We have a situation where Hong Kong ran full steam into an Omicron wave. It started with a few travels and now I would say a couple of millions had been infected, mostly without any serious damage. Just these days, Hong Kong decided a minor U-turn and admitted there must be a different way out. Quarantines were cut to one week, no more flight bans (from initially 9 countries, including the US and the UK), and a time plan for relaxing all local Covid measures over the next few months.
China is still the contrary, strict zero-case policy with recent lockdowns for far fewer cases compared to in smaller Hong Kong.
3. What are the immediate effects on the air and sea cargo flows?
The effects of the last two years on the entire supply chain are well known and have been abundantly documented. The latest situation has of course led to major disruptions in the locked-down cities, namely Shenzhen, Shanghai (partly locked down) and Qingdao. And this can be continued any time where there is another outbreak. People need to work from home, this does not always work smoothly, factories can’t deliver, bookings need to be cancelled, schedules partly adapted. The largest impact during the last weeks was the dramatic reduction of cross-border trucking between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Huge amounts of cargo got stuck in Guangdong, air cargo bookings were changed from Hong Kong to Shenzhen and Guangzhou, for a short period the rates from Hong Kong even dropped after a long time. Of course, not sustainably, as there was just not enough cargo coming over the border.
4. Are there alternative routings that still allow smooth transport from the affected regions?
During the last year, we have all been “solution managers” rather than pure freight forwarders. Every day we were facing new situations, and what looked like “going smooth” was connected with incredible efforts, overtime, and compassion behind the curtain. It became a common slogan to say, “every transport has become a project”. We tried fewer knowing ports, used small charter vessels, organized charters from alternative airports, created multi-modal transports through Singapore, also for Australia and New Zealand and so on. But to answer the question bluntly, there is no “remedy for all” in these times. Its daily research and creativity and speed win against systems and size.
5. What do you offer as Gebrüder Weiss in China in order to support your customers in these difficult times?
We offer what we are best in: being 100% available for our customers all day long and beyond, trying to find the best solutions for all of them, helping them make decisions, weighing pros and cons, keeping them not only informed on what is going on but also on what our professional staff expects in the coming weeks and months. Gebrüder Weiss does not conclude a file when we get the order, but when the customer is finally happy at the end. Things can go wrong until the last day, and it’s our job to be behind it and never lose contact with the customer and his goods. This mindset has definitely given us an advantage over pure “systems forwarders” over the last couple of years.
6. What kind of mid-term effects do you expect because of the present lockdowns?
Already mentioned above, single major disruptions in different ports/airports. Some can deviate others, others need new solutions.
7. Gebrüder Weiss has good coverage in the Aspac region, can you share your strategic goals for future developments in Asia?
We built up a lot in the last years after we separated from our former joint-venture partner. Most of our China offices go back to the old days when they were one of the first pioneers in 1992, but the latest four countries (South Korea, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand) were all opened during Covid19 in 2020, which was a sensational success story while others were downsizing or holding on tight to their assets. It was a very good decision, with 10 countries in the ASPAC region (total about 750 staff) we don’t only have a little company in the company (as the intra-Asia trade lane is still the fastest growing in the world), but also added a whole continent to our Air&Sea organisation that now has a network to serve our global customers sufficiently, and a lot of space to grown within the area.
The latter is also our strategy. We are new in some of these countries, there is so much more we can grow and achieve in all of these locations, become full logistics providers, extend our customer basis, and carry the GW USPs to all of them. There are a few countries where we still work with good agents and we appreciate this hybrid policy when our partners also invest in our mutual growth and work with us as the same family.
8. What suggestions do you have for your customers for the next few weeks?
Call Gebrüder Weiss and we as Solutions Manager will find a way for you 😊.
Gebrüder Weiss Holding AG, based in Lauterach, Austria, is a globally operative full-service logistics provider with about 8,000 employees at 180 company-owned locations. In the last fiscal year (2021), it posted annual sales of 2.5 billion euros. Its portfolio encompasses transport and logistics solutions, digital services, and supply chain management. The twin strengths of digital and physical competence enable Gebrüder Weiss to respond swiftly and flexibly to customers’ needs. The family-run organization – with a history going back more than half a millennium – has implemented a wide variety of environmental, economic, and social initiatives. Today, it is also considered a pioneer in sustainable business practices.