- AI investments, industry trends, and progress toward greener supply chains
- How personal relationships continue to drive growth in logistics
- The value of S&P’s annual maritime event, TPM
- Peter’s journey with the Journal of Commerce and lessons learned in his role
Peter has been reporting on supply chains for nearly 30 years. Prior to his role as the Vice President of S&P Global, he served as a shipping and international trade reporter, bureau chief, assistant managing editor, and editor in chief of the Journal of Commerce newspaper. Peter is also the Founder and a chairman of the TPM conference, the world's largest container shipping event founded in 2001. Peter continues to write as a columnist for The Journal of Commerce and JOC.com covering a range of international logistics topics.
Brian Glick 00:03
Welcome to supply chain connections. I'm Brian Glick, founder and CEO of Chain.io. One of the really great things that I've had the opportunity to do as part of recording these podcasts is talk to people who come at this industry from a lot of different angles. And this episode is particularly interesting. And I would say special to me because we're going to talk to somebody who genuinely is considered a luminary in the industry and someone who really sits at the center of so many activities, especially on the international trade side. So yes, we're going to be talking to Peter Tirschwell, who is the vice president of S&P Global. Really that explains nothing. But as the leader of the JOC, the Journal of Commerce, and the TPM event really is directly tapped into the pulse of the International Trade community. So this is a rare honor, and I hope you enjoy the episode.
Brian Glick 01:10
Peter, welcome to the show.
Peter Tirschwell 01:11
Hey, Brian, how are you? Happy to be with you
Brian Glick 01:14
I'm good. Thank you so much for doing this. I think I'm excited to hear a little bit about your history, since you get to spend so much time asking other people about theirs. So why don't you tell us a little bit about how you got into the industry. And once you do? Well,
Peter Tirschwell 01:30
it's now actually not a short story. Because I've been doing this for now. 30 plus years. But I grew up in New York City, I went to college. But main, I got a little bit of a knack for journalism when I was there. And when I moved back home to New York, I did my MBA, thinking that I was going to go and follow my father and my uncle into the financial world. And then I dipped my toe in the water and decided that I didn't want to have any part of that world that wasn't really for me. And so my MBA ended up, like converted into a journalism degree, essentially, like the reason why the rationale for my completing my MBA was to go into business journalism. So I finished that. And then I was hoping to find a job in New York City with a business daily and stumbled literally out of by chance on the Journal of Commerce, which was still a daily broadsheet newspaper published out of the World Trade Centre, was the old maritime newspaper of New York City, there were a bunch of old men with their green eyeshades tapping out the Shipping News. And as soon as I walked into that newsroom, I said, this is exactly what I'm looking for. And I even thought at that point, that that's probably where I'm going to spend my entire career, which is kind of been what has happened. So that's sort of how I ended up there.
Brian Glick 02:57
So you like me, you've wandered in to the industry, not really giving a damn about the industry itself. And I wandered in because there was a job plugging in computers at a customs broker, and I said, Oh, you're gonna pay me money to play with computers. And that sounds like fun. And sounds like you had a similar entrance. But I would assume some time over the last 30 had developed interest in the industry itself. So kind of how did that evolve? How did you find the passion about this
Peter Tirschwell 03:27
space? Well, you know, partly, it was just absorbing the culture of the Journal of Commerce, because the editorial team, the reporters, the editors, the ownership, really, were very committed to the idea that international trade is good. It's a good thing. It creates audit jobs, it makes countries dependent on each other. So trade is good. And anything that inhibits trade is bad. And so that's where the Journal of Commerce found a lot of its news, and was sort of the rationale for why it would report a story. So if tariffs went up, that's bad if there was a longshore labour strike that delays cargo and, you know, creates problems for companies trying to do importing and exporting. That's bad. And so it didn't take me long to pick up on the notion of trade disruption in any of the many, many forms that it takes as being newsworthy and interesting. So one of the very, very first stories that I cover, there was a very small ocean carrier sort of a startup ocean carrier was called bc s l. Lost in the annals of history, but they were running maybe two ships between Eastern Mediterranean Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and the US east coast. And the company fell on hard times and went bankrupt. But the captain knew this and he stopped his ship and drop an anchor outside of the pool. out of New York and wouldn't come into the port, because he thought that he and his crew would be at the back of the line for having creditors be paid. That, you know, the bunker suppliers, the port suppliers, the marine terminal operator, everybody would get paid before they would. And so he refused to come into the port and sat there for two or three weeks and not moving. And I thought that was really many, many different levels of complexity there. Lots of different angles, human angle, trade angle, financial angle, maritime angle, and you know, it wasn't long, Brian, before I was truly hooked at
Brian Glick 05:39
one of the things I like to tell my team is, if you see what looks like 1000 foot deep hole in this industry, under it are 1000 other 1000 foot deep holes of complexity, that everything is just nested complexity.
Peter Tirschwell 05:53
I agree to completely agree with that.
Brian Glick 05:56
So one of the things that's changed in those 30 years is, I
Peter Tirschwell 06:00
guess, the relationship that Joc has with the industry and kind of the expansion since you know, in the last 1015 years of lots and lots more voices commentating on the industry, you know, but one of the things and we've had Eric Johnson on the show as well, kind of talking about this a little bit, explain to me the difference between journalism that you pay for, and people who just talk about things? Well, and I think that getting people to pay for written editorial content, which we do successfully. So we have a growing circulation base, and we have very, very high renewal rates, and is every story that you write gonna be, you know, some attention grabbing headline, no, it's not a lot of stories are pretty run in the mill just reporting on things that are happening that may or may not be particularly exciting. But what is most important is trust, that reader is going to know that you've properly reported a story, that you've reported it from multiple angles, that you don't have an axe to grind, you're not favouring one side or the other. And, most importantly, that you are not putting in including sort of surreptitious plugs for your advertisers. And I'm not suggesting that other media do that. I'm not saying that in any way. But what creates a subscription business is trust. And they have to believe that you're truly doing your homework, and that you're making the extra call, and that you're building relationships with important people who have valuable things to say. And if you do that, over a long period of time, years, decades, just keep doing what you're doing, you will develop hopefully a, you know a reputation that if somebody reads what you write, they can hang their hat on that it's going to be true, it's going to be accurate, it's going to be fair, and that and the decisions can be based on that. So that's really what I focus on more than anything else. And my role is how do you build trust with the market?
Brian Glick 08:14
So you said relationships and trust and it reminded me that that was actually the theme of TPM last year, where it was relationships matter why TPM is a lot of work, alright, and for those who don't know, that's the Trans Pacific maritime show, which the JOC puts on every year and Long Beach, you are a TPM to some people. Why do it? Why does that exist? To be honest with you,
Peter Tirschwell 08:38
it came down to the fact that me and Bill Mangal Liuzzo, and Chris Brooks and a whole bunch of other of our editorial team back in the year 2000, when the daily newspaper could no longer be economically printed, was losing money, we couldn't print and distribute a daily newspaper the way the company had done going back to the 1820s. And that didn't matter as much to us as our ability to continue to do what we were doing. None of us wanted to go into PR, none of us wanted to be on the unemployment line, none of us wanted to recovering the pharmaceutical industry or, you know, or some other arcade other than shipping, we wanted to cover shipping, and hopefully do that for the rest of our careers. So that meant that we had to come up with alternative revenue, basically, because the newspaper was gone. All we had was a website, and a lot of our traditional sources of revenue had disappeared. So we said to ourselves, why don't we just invite our sources on stage with us in front of a live audience and hit them with the hard questions the way we normally do over the phone? And we're not events people, we're not events, people then we're not events, people now, we really didn't know what we were doing. You could argue that we still don't know what we're doing. But we're bringing that level of integrity of information. into a live event, and 24 years later, I mean, the event is, you know, is what it is, there was no grand plan to have TPM become what it is today? How
Brian Glick 10:09
does it feel, to have it be what it is today,
Peter Tirschwell 10:13
it feels great because it's an endorsement of the core values of our business. Because I don't believe that buyers in any market, no matter what the market is, you know that, in this case, it's bcos. It's, you know, retailers, industrial companies, consumer products, the whole nine yards, bcos are the buyers in this market, and they will not come to an event, no matter what it is, if they're paying a registration fee, only to be sold to buy speakers, because then it's not like, the product isn't the information, you know, they're the product for the sponsors or for the advertisers. And that's going to be a massive turnoff. And so only if the buyers in the market feel that they're getting genuine value, genuine information, value genuine networking value, will they show up to an event like TPM. And so therefore, I go back to the original premise, which is all we're going to do is put what we think are best effort to put legitimate information up on stage and build a programme around the principles of legitimate information. And so to the extent that that is well received and perceived as valuable by the market, I'm very, very happy with that
Brian Glick 11:24
in the digital transformation space, and the kind of digital forwarding and digital this digital that and I own a software company, and I've certainly got, you know, my opinions on the whole thing. But that seems to have sucked a lot of the air out of the room, you know, not just that events, but just in general, right? It's all transformation. It's all tech all the time, there's so much of it. How much of that do you think is real, how much of that gets you excited for the future and how much of it is just training.
Peter Tirschwell 11:55
Very little of it gets me excited, to be honest with you, because the amount of money that was ploughed into logistics, technology, I mean, there are definitely companies out there, yours is one of them, where you found a very, very specific niche, you're able to do something very specific and create value for customers around that. But this sort of big picture transformational play, you know, redefining the industry, disrupting the industry, reordering the industry through the creation of new types of players in the market, that disintermediate others, that was all hype. And the industry to me is is just no different from the way it has been for a long time. The theme you mentioned of TPM last year, relationships matter. It's because they do. Why is it that there's so many 1000s and 1000s of freight forwarders out there? Well, they're out there, and they haven't been rolled up into, you know, into massive conglomerates. I mean, of course there's consolidation in the freight forwarding industry but but there's a lot of small and midsize freight forwarders out there. And the reason why they continue to exist is because they have loyal customers. And why are customers loyal to freight forwarders? Well, because freight forwarders have delivered for customers, many, many times they bailed them out, the container had to get on the ship, the pallet had to get on the plane, I desperately need this thing. And I have to have it at this place. And at this time and freight forwarders have a way of delivering for their customers. They don't do it by digitising their operations, they do it by knowing the people they need to know in order to be able to help their customers. I always come back to that. And I've been writing you know a bit recently about Flexport. Because one of the things that I've perceived about Flexport is that they've actually come around to acknowledge this fact that people are going to be at the core of you can digitise around people, you can maybe make people more efficient through digital tools and maybe even through AI. But at the core, it's going to be people that make the difference for your customers in the ways that count. So
Brian Glick 13:56
what do you see that you wish people were fixing in this industry? I mean, because I'm assuming year in and year out? You write a lot of things, right? Like, man, I sent that same thing last year. And I can't believe I have to write this again. So like what things are you just like, how can we haven't fixed this unless 30 years? Well, I
Peter Tirschwell 14:14
think certain things are not gonna get fixed. I mean, yes, one of the things that we're writing about a lot of things now that we were writing about pre pandemic, the market is very similar in a lot of different ways. weight increases low profitability, you know, the whole nine yards, overcapacity all that is very similar to the way it was and probably is going to continue. Not necessarily. It's going to continue on a cyclical basis like this for a long, long time. Certain things that I would really like to be able to report a developing story that is not different from the past is decarbonisation, because to the extent that we're reporting the same story on decarbonisation, it means that we're not getting anywhere. And if we're not getting anywhere, then the planet is getting hotter and potentially, the damage to our planet and to future life on Earth is irreversible. And you know, I'm not a climate, extremist or anything like that. But the fact is, is that we have to make progress. And it's really, really hard. And I am actually encouraged about the fact that we are not writing the same story that we would have written even a year ago in regard to climate change in the maritime industry. So that's encouraging there. And I certainly hope that as time goes on, that that story does continue to evolve. Because if it evolves, it'll mean that the industry is addressing its share of responsibility for climate change.
Brian Glick 15:38
I don't want to go too far down this rabbit hole. But I was looking at the JSC website, before we got on the phone, just to kind of get myself oriented for the call. And I saw two headlines, one, not going to call out the companies, but $100 million dollar investment in AI. And the other was bcos, don't want to pay for carbon offsets. And I'm like, There's $100 million going over here, which I know is a drop in the bucket and global trade, but and then nobody wants to pay for carbon, but will pay for AI. And it seems weird to me. Well,
Peter Tirschwell 16:13
you actually got to talk about two different parties here, because the people paying for AI are the ocean carriers, or one ocean carrier in particular, that, like all the other ocean carriers, experienced a windfall of profits, the likes of which they had never come close to experiencing in the past, and are they're sitting on huge piles of cash and need to deploy capital because they're sitting on a lot of money, and it needs to be put to work in one way or another. That's ocean carriers, the bcos are truly not interested in, we're able at the moment to pay for decarbonisation. And so the two are not mutually exclusive. I think, Brian, that's
Brian Glick 16:52
fair. What do you think the percentages of the things that you hear that you actually write about? Like how much more insight do you have in your role as to what's going on in the industry than what makes it to the written word?
Peter Tirschwell 17:05
Well, to be honest with you, what I am hoping to do in a few years time is hand over the reins of the business. Because in addition to being a working journalist, alongside the JOC, team, I lead the business commercially. And I want nothing more than to go back to writing full time. So there's a lot of things that I come across that I don't have the time to write. Now I pass along a lot of tips, a lot of ideas, a lot of thoughts and data to my team members who are going to pick up on some of those. But yeah, I mean, if I had more bandwidth, I would be writing more, there's no question about it. What's
Brian Glick 17:42
your favorite part of your day?
Peter Tirschwell 17:44
Brian Glick 17:46
Simple answer [laughter].
Peter Tirschwell 17:47
Writing, I have to file a column every two weeks. And so reporting and writing my column is by far my favorite thing to do. But I like to do everything, I don't mind engaging in the commercial stuff, I don't mind engaging in all the investments, we're making the systems work the workflow, you know, keeping the team focused strategically. I like all that stuff, because I know that where it's leading is in the direction of continued viability, because the business is performing well. s&p is very happy with our business, we've been part of s&p Global now for more than a year and a half. They like the traction and the credibility that we have in our market, earned, of course, over a long period of time focusing on trust and quality content, all those things. So I like all that because it's heading us in the right direction. And it's going to mean that I can continue to have a job hopefully, as long as you know, I want and willing and able and interested in continuing to write about this industry. But that's certainly my favourite thing to do.
Brian Glick 18:44
It's funny, they have this kind of adage with programmers who get into the business side, and I'm one of them, where they say eventually they're going to take away your keyboard. So you can't code anymore. And I still code, right? I'm not allowed to code the core stuff anymore, but they can't stop me from doing it on the weekends. Yeah, same kind of passion.
Peter Tirschwell 19:02
I get it. Yeah, it's hard to find a middle ground. I mean, you got into the business to do the core work. And then you move on and become more senior and take on management responsibilities. But the reason why you got into it hasn't changed at all. So how do you find balance? I mean, I think that's what a lot of more senior people in any industry try to do, in one way or another, and some probably succeed better than others. Cool. So
Brian Glick 19:27
what's coming up next for you JOC? What are you guys excited about?
Peter Tirschwell 19:32
Well, I'll tell you, you know, I relocated to Singapore about four months ago. So I'm leading the business from here. I can't tell you how exciting it is to be closer to the origin side of the business and get to know a whole new cast of characters out here. And to begin to get to know the industry in multiple other countries. So I've traveled to Korea, I've traveled to Hong Kong. I was in Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago. I have plans to be in Taipei. A and to be in Australia and Vietnam. So we have a view that there's a global market for what we do. So the idea to be out here and actually seeing how true that is, and, you know, trying to take that idea forward is pretty exciting. We're very much in the middle of TPM. We're truly excited about TPM. This year, we've got a great programme in the works, really strong registration. So we're gonna have another really, really big event, we're expanding into the downstairs area of the Long Beach Convention Centre. So we're going to build out a whole new Grand Ballroom because it was, you know, almost a firetrap last year, in terms of how full it was, I was in the back of the room. So I agree. Yeah, it was really tight. So we're not gonna have to worry about that problem anymore.
Brian Glick 20:42
Awesome. Well, that sounds great. And I've got about a million more questions about the industry that I want to ask you. But I'll save them. I'll corner you at the bar at TPM. Sounds good? And we can do all of that then. So yeah, thank you so much for being on excellent wine,
Peter Tirschwell 20:54
a real pleasure to be with you.
Brian Glick 20:56
Brian Glick 21:00
Thanks again to Peter, that was so much fun, and really a privilege to be able to take some of his valuable time to talk to all of us. So, again, just if you haven't read the JOC, make sure to check the link in the show notes. And if you have the opportunity to go to TPM, be sure that you do if cost or opportunity or your blocker especially if you're early in your career or have an underrepresented background. Please reach out to me because there are organizations that provide scholarships and other assistance for people who really want to grow in the industry and want to attend TPM to be able to network with what is really the cream of the crop when it comes to the international ocean freight business. So hope you enjoyed the episode. As always make sure to check out that Chain.io and LinkedIn as well as the blog and I will speak with you next time.