In this episode, Christian van Eeden, VP of Transformation Architecture at Hellmann Worldwide Logistics, joins Host Brian Glick, CEO of Chain.io, to discuss:
- The importance of collaboration in the supply chain industry
- Empowering growth and stability through tech
- Maintaining efficient operations in a distributed environment
- Change management in the logistics industry
- What forwarders should be investing in right now
Christian has worked in the supply chain industry for 20 years and is focused on creating fully digital offerings for customers and moving the existing freight processes towards a more collaborative environment through technology.
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Christian van Eeden 00:04
I do think what came out of especially out of COVID and the pandemic and the lockdown was that collaboration aspect, I really feel like we are still not collaborating as much as we should be. I lean more into the international business so the air freight and sea freight kind of side of things. And really there, I still see where we have an international shipment and, you know, ordinance or not talking to each other. And destination is kind of trying to screw over the guy on the other side, and hiding money and all these kind of things. And the collaboration I feel like that's holding us back so much.
Brian Glick 00:45
Welcome to supply chain connections. I'm Brian Glick, CEO and founder chain IO. On this episode, we have the honor of talking to Christian Van Eaton of Helmand worldwide logistics, one of the largest freight forwarders in the world. Christian has some incredible insights through his journey through the industry on how we bring this all together and make technology and operations actually work together. So without further ado, let's get to the episode.
Brian Glick 01:16
Hey, Christian, thanks so much for being on the show. Thanks for having me, Ryan. So why don't we start with a little bit introduction of yourself, maybe how you got into the industry and kind of what your journey has been?
Christian van Eeden 01:27
Thanks. Yeah. Hi, everyone. Cristian van Eden. I worked for Helmand worldwide logistics as the VP for transformation architecture, based in beautiful British Columbia on the west coast of Canada. And I spent the last kind of 20 years now in logistics, and in the log tech industry came from the software side, so doing web application development, and so forth, and was hired early on by dB. Schenker as a logistics company to write them some software and kind of got sucked into the industry. From there, I had the privilege of working for like their large branch here in Vancouver at the time and got exposed to all manners of logistics all the way from ocean freight and air freight and warehousing and customs brokerage in our tried to help people who are struggling with their Excel sheets, to make them a little bit more efficient using some technology, but it's been struggling ever since.
Brian Glick 02:22
So it sounds like you and I, both are some of the few people who sort of fell into this industry, as opposed to being born into it. So kind of what got you hooked? You know, what made you say, I'm gonna start identifying with this industry and not just with computers?
Christian van Eeden 02:38
Yeah, I think that the problems were interesting, right? I think by nature, always, you know, being that it tech kid, right, helping people out, you know, with their computers, and all these kinds of things. And when you came into this kind of industry, I mean, there was a lot of basic things that you can help with, right? It's just optimizing. So like we struggled today and supporting people to do more with less, right. And the problems were, at least in where they had the opportunity was of an international scale, right. So you come out of university, you get your fresh faced, and you're wondering to solve the world's problems with all these kinds of higher morals that you learn there sometimes. And you see the struggles of everyday people trying to kind of communicate, trying to share information, trying to just get their jobs done, right. And for me, there was always another problem to be solved, really. And that kind of got me hooked. And I must say, on the other side of the coin, there was also willingness to invest in logistics companies in general will have done okay, it's been a core part of our society, right? moving goods has been around forever. And there was always money to invest. I worked for a couple other companies sort of like as during my school days, and those kinds of things, and money was always an issue, right? You wanted to do big things, but the companies can invest in that. And logistics has always been a growing industry where the willingness to invest and make things better has been kind of part of the DNA of most companies. And I've really enjoyed that investment. So
Brian Glick 04:11
that's interesting that you say that, because if I think back to 2018 2019, kind of going into the pandemic, there was this, you know, kind of attitude of, we need all of these startups and all of these tech companies, because everything's so backwards. And, you know, like, nobody has made any progress. And I've always kind of I know, there's a lot of people inside the industry bristled against that characterization. So it's kind of fun to hear you say that you stayed because of investment because of this kind of moving forward, kind of what's your thoughts on you know, do we make progress? Are we you know, how do we do as a group?
Christian van Eeden 04:49
I think, as I kind of moved up in these companies, right, and had a larger scale view to that. It's always that and then any big company like balancing act, right? You could You think it was, people see it from different perspectives. On a small scale, whenever you were dealing at a branch or at a country or even at a regional level, you were given enough flexibility to kind of find your own way and find solutions. Because by the nature of our industry, every country is slightly different, right? different customs, different transport modes, etc. And everybody has to kind of do that. But on a global scale, I do agree with the statement in 2018, people became with margins becoming thinner and thinner. And this fear of commoditization, there was definitely at a, you know, when I went in and talk to, you know, the CEOs, and no head of products have, you know, hundreds of people they feared putting more money into it, because they're like, No, listen, where our margins are so thin, we really have to squeeze everything out of it. Right. So I could see that how some people saw it one way or the other way, but for me, I would say there's been generally, if you could come up with a good solution, that people were willing to invest in that and kind of make inroads.
Brian Glick 06:01
So what do you think some of the big challenges are, where should the next set of investments be kind of what's on your radar has kind of the big challenges that we should be attacking?
Christian van Eeden 06:14
At one, you know, you would love to be more kind of more future facing right, we're really coming in, I do think what came out of especially out of COVID, and the pandemic and the lockdown was that collaboration aspect, I really feel like we are still not collaborating as much as we should be. I lean more into the international business, so the air freight and sea freight kind of side of things. And really there, I still see where we have an international shipment and, you know, ordinance or not talking to each other. And destination is kind of trying to screw over the guy on the other side, and hiding money and all these kinds of things. And the collaboration, I feel like that's holding us back so much. We try again and again, to put that into our products. Right. I know you in from Chennai, iOS side, you know, that was one of your announcements lately is how can we collaborate better in a platform. And that's still where I think people have a lot of fear within our industry. And if we can get better at that, and really make some of those communications and stuff a bit stream more straightforward. And trusting we can really change a lot I think, in our industry. How much
Brian Glick 07:23
of that, do you think is a lack of tools? And how much do you think is really just either culture or men, I get a little edgy here with, you know, I personally think a lot of it comes down to the way that we compensate people. Right, and that if your bonuses are local, your thinking is local, you know, but how much do you think? Do we lack the tools to collaborate? Or do we lack the ability to implement the tools to collaborate?
Christian van Eeden 07:48
Yeah, I think it's cultural. And I would like to think that also that the next generation of kids coming up, like through the industry is going to change that a little bit, right is more globalization, more, you know, you knowing what's going on, on the other side of the world being sort of sensitive to what's happening on the other side of the world as well. So those kind of societal changes, I think, are driving some of this, the tools of, I think, in the last 1015 years have always been there, right? Like, you know, all the way back to the days of, you know, MSN Messenger and using Skype to call your parents on the other side of the world, right? These things have been around, they're obviously more embedded now. Right? I think that collaboration, the Office suites, the Google suites and stuff that are now bringing that together in such a collaborative and easy to use fashion. Those are really breaking down the barriers, and not only within the companies. Right? So I work for Hellman is about 10,000 people, right? Not even within a big organizations, but that organization to the outside world, right? We're creating groups and shared spaces to collaborate between customers, and us, and ourselves and providers, and etc, etc, then, those collaborative spaces have really opened up the ability to kind of, I don't have to make a phone call, I don't have to wait for an email, I just send them a quick message. And off they go. And even on your phones, right, you have your personal WhatsApp list of people that you talk to right and that use that a lot of times more than, you know, trying to send somebody an email if you need a quick response.
Brian Glick 09:23
That's how I get a hold of you when I need you. So yes, I agree. I agree entirely. There's the shadow networks, right, that exist outside of these tools. So let's talk about Hellman a little bit and kind of why don't you explain what your role is? Because I don't think it's a role that necessarily exist in every company.
Christian van Eeden 09:42
Yeah, I came up with an illustration this week, and maybe I shared here to see how well it resonates. I see Hellman and a lot of you know, others kind of medium sized forwarders that I've interacted with, you know, as a set of kind of like a neighborhood each have like these different houses that are set up You know, and they function well as a house and in the neighborhood, they're loosely coupled together, right. And that's kind of how the company is set up. But what we are really my role as a product phone transformation perspective, is taking that and really turning it into a city. Right. And the cities has, by nature, a much different architectural structure, right, you have common pipes and electricity and commodities that run through a city, you are using a scale in order to optimize your flow between for whether it's traffic or people or, you know, goods that are flowing through that city. So that structure that you need to put in place to be able to operate on scale. And you see the successful foresters, you know, the canes and the shakers of the world where they've been able to leverage these scales of economy to try and kind of get bigger and be able to operate all of their shipments and goods in an efficient manner. So that's my role to try and bring a little bit of that into this small forwarder kind of life. So you're going to mayor, city planner, that there we go, there we go. I got engineering in the title there somewhere, right.
Brian Glick 11:17
Kind of in that, that's a big mandate, kind of within that, what technologies are you excited about? What things do you think are going to make your city unique? Well,
Christian van Eeden 11:30
as kind of maybe It already sounds a bit antiquated. But I think, really, for the logistics business the cloud has, and for our company sizes, the cloud has been a big part of that. They've been late to the game, you know, startups and stuff like yourself, and other things have been on there for now a while, right, and these clouds, but I think this, I call it kind of the second wave of the cloud, right? Because the first one was there, right? People who jumped on it, there was some drawbacks. People needed a lot of thickness and the technologies in the last 10 years have matured so much that it's now really the no brainer option, right. But our companies being the size that they are in adopting that in a large scale, that is really what is driving this forward, and every project and kind of initiative that we are working on, and centering it around that and seeing what the new capabilities are better than opened up by being in the cloud, right. So whether it's collaboration, as we already touched upon, when it's new capabilities, whether there's integrations, data platforms, you know, being able to use new SAS tools and integrating them easily. It's really a game changer to how we can operate and lowering that it barrier for the rest of the organization. Because at the end of the day, we are not an IT company. We are a logistics company. And we should worry more about how best to serve our customers and manage their freight rather than okay, what software tools and what it capabilities we have.
Brian Glick 12:56
So, if you had 10 times the budget, if you could do anything, right, or 100 times the budget, or a million times the budget, kind of what problem would you love to go fix? What would be the big thing you would dream about fixing? Or creating?
Christian van Eeden 13:15
Yeah, I still like I kind of took, you know, you sort of posed that question to me, and I was thinking about it. Right? And, I mean, I've taken me a bit more from an investment perspective, like, Where would if I if I was the CEO, or something, where would I invest money right into the company in order to grow it and I still feel like, really this consulting sell, that we can do for our customers is still the best place where you have, you have really good people, and you can go in and support a customer on a very deep level, you gain so much insight, you gain so much connection to that customer that you really moving the needle inside of your company. Right. And, I mean, I tried to do this during the pandemic, as you guys know, like from like more of a consulting sell, you know, it wasn't the best time to do it, because the people didn't have money to invest. But I still believe that I've seen so much, you know, these are really the customers from a logistics perspective that are moving your needle, right when you're working for the Walmarts. Let's say I use that kind of like as, you know, an example of the world who have really complicated supply chains, and those again, those problems that you can solve inside of those things. And I look towards, you know, colleagues and friends and stuff that work for the, you know, the BCGs the Capgemini is of the world and McKinsey's of the world, right. Those companies are doing pretty well these days, right? And because they are able to connect with customers and customers see that need of having that expertise and I would love to be able to do that on a larger scale from an industry specific perspective rather than this generic like okay, I'm gonna go just hire a project manager, but really get a freight managed solution that I can implement as a customer.
Brian Glick 14:57
What keeps you in this industry would you know You and I both been doing this a little while now. And I'll tell you my answer afterwards. But kind of what keeps you getting up in the morning and showing up for work?
Christian van Eeden 15:10
Yeah, I think, you know, like any job, I think it's like I would say, on a personal level, it's definitely the people, right, finding a good group of people, I've moved around a little bit right to that also find a challenge, and one of solve problems. And that's kind of the first set of it. And the second set is that the problems are not very easy to solve, right? Being in this industry for 20 years, the problems I'm solving today are not so different than the problems I was trying to solve 20 years ago, right. And that just shows you that, you know, you sometimes wonder, compared to the people who are in research and universities and stuff, and they work on problems for 20 years before they write their, you know, paper on it. And I feel like we're similar to that we are in this world where, you know, of course, privileged as well to try and solve and they solve these issues in different ways. Try out different ways of things, seeing the environment being different, and seeing if we can solve it with that. Yeah, and continuing, you know, to see if it's a better solution on the horizon. Right?
Brian Glick 16:10
It's funny, my answer that I've given that question is almost identical, you know, I kind of got into this industry, like, just found a random job fixing computers, similar situation and said, I'm gonna do this for three months, and then I'll find something more interesting to do. And that was 1999. I am working on finding something more interesting to do it. The moment I do, I'm out. So 24 years of searching for something more interesting. So what do you think is kind of the hard part about the change management and the kind of managing a company in an organization through transformation, right, which is your mandate,
Christian van Eeden 16:52
I think step one is always kind of, to bring people on board, I have that S curve on my desk, right? of, you know, as you roll out something and people get excited. And then they hit this peak, and then it's downhill for quite a few months, if not years, and then you get the people out of the trench, and slowly build that up. And I try to always remember that it's one of those things where, as any change management, when people we talk about, you know, hard things in life that you need to change or lifestyles that you need to change, right? It's the journey, right? And remembering that people have to go through that journey in order to get to the other side, there's no quick fix, right? They go through the different stages. So for me, that's the important part is that to realize that, there's going to be good days, and there's going to be bad days, regardless of the things and you get through them at the end. Right? I tried to be very open about that, right? And to be very understanding when people have struggles and they bring those to you. I mean, these days, a lot of people put a lot of hours into logistics, especially over the last two years, right? Meaning that you bring a lot of personal things, you know, it's going crappy in your life situation, you know, you bring those things to work. And I think being sensitive to that is a huge part of the change management. Right? Okay, you know, it's holiday season is coming up, you know, I'm not going to try and roll something out the week before Chinese New Year. In the Asia region, that's just not, you know, and I think that for change management, when you can adapt your change that you require of the organization or in the project, to kind of the life situation that's going on, you're a much higher rate of success, because you're leaning into people's natural tendencies, right, and not trying to flow, you know, go up against the river, right, as they say, and trying to force things on people, and you're kind of meeting them where they're at. And then change becomes much easier, because usually people you know, you're always trying to implement change for the positive and you have your reasons. And those will line up with other people, as you meet them where they know what you're trying to do.
Brian Glick 18:55
Is that something that working inside of a forwarder, trying to implement technology, we have a chain IO, we have customers who have sort of people in roles similar to yours. And then we have customers where they don't really have project management or kind of strategic change management, and they leave it up to the software vendor to try to make the change. Do you think that it's necessary to drive that change management from inside? Or is it something that you think a project manager or an implementation team from a software company can bring to the table?
Christian van Eeden 19:31
I think it's depends on the commitment from the software company, you need the role regardless, right? I see a lot of times I forget what it's called that at Chenal. But no customer success is sort of the general title in the industry. And if you want that, to really be the case, it's a time commitment. And that person for the period of the rollout really becomes more part of your customer in this case is you know, and the logistics companies part rather than your company, right and they're speaking for them and They're fighting for bugs in the software or changes or all this kind of stuff. And that's really what makes it successful. So I think as long as the role and the person playing that role is there, regardless of where it comes from, right, that's what's required in order to make it a success. We argue about this a lot of times internally, especially at Hellman, we're kind of very progressive at the moment, it's right, we're trying to push out a lot of pieces of different software. But we've, you know, we've learned this lesson the hard way, where if you don't have the right sponsor, if you don't have this kind of role on board inside of the project, doesn't matter how good your software is, you know, how easy to use, how explicit the value is, from what it brings, it's still super difficult, right, of not having that buy in from that local person they have. So the role I think, is there can software vendors play the role? Yes, but I don't know always of software vendors are willing to make the investment to put a person in for the time it requires for that role to be executed successfully.
Brian Glick 20:57
And I will say that as a heavy lift, I think especially for software companies that maybe don't have people who have lived the life at the desk level. And you know, it's sometimes a little bit hard for some software companies that I've seen going more back to my time as a CIO inside of free company than in my time at Chennai, oh, but where if they don't have that, they haven't done it, right, they haven't had a shipment stuck at a port, they haven't had a customer calling and saying, you know, I'm gonna reject this shipment, if it shows up a day late, and I don't care about your problems, I don't care that it was on the ever given, you know, not my problem. It's hard. Sometimes I think for software companies to hire employees, you can develop that empathy, you know, where that empathy has to extend outside of the project plan and outside of the spreadsheet that or the Microsoft Project, Gantt chart, right into it, okay, but this is the real world that's living around this thing. And this is what we're asking this person to do. And sort of all of the other things that that person, you know, sitting in an office in Kuala Lumpur is being asked to do today. So, I think it's a big challenge.
Christian van Eeden 22:03
Yeah, I do feel like where we've had a bit more success at Helm. And we, as our teams evolve, and we're using newer technologies, right, we try to go through this agile journey as well, right, where, you know, some of these principles and things are trying are stated, right. And I think these larger teams that we try to form with out sort of that set role definition, right, like you're a software developer, and you're the vendor, and you're the business guy, and things and more make a team, that the end of this team of these 510 individuals, we have this outcome, and let's work together as a team, in order to reach that outcome. And it doesn't really matter, maybe one day, I have to do a little bit more manual work, or maybe I have to do some testing, or maybe I have to write up the PowerPoint to present it to management. And all of those things kind of flow a bit more naturally. And it's really like a unit that we say like we succeed as a unit, and we fail as a unit, those kind of that mentality of being able to singularly focus on delivering it has been a big part, I think of the successful projects that we've run, and you can bring in a software bank, and then it becomes more natural for a software vendor to be part of that, you know, group and team to deliver those things.
Brian Glick 23:14
So what's it like trying to do that from your house on the west coast in North America? For a company that's based, literally halfway around the world in Germany? How does that change the job?
Christian van Eeden 23:27
involves some early mornings, that's for sure. Yeah. So I think I'm a little bit, let's say, blessed, because I have given the experience in order to do this for a longer time in my life, right? I've worked for German or European based companies for the last 10 plus years. And, you know, it comes a bit more naturally, to do these things, right, to reach people where they're at right to be available a little bit more than I probably should be, right? If people are in sitting in Singapore, they can message me in the evening. And if people are sitting in Germany, they can message me in the mornings, right? And that's where I'm at, in order to reach out but I know that to make that successful, I, you know, I can give him the flexibility in order to live that world, right, back and forth. And you have to kind of have that mentality, if you want to be successful inside of these larger organizations that are you have to sit on a plane for half your life, right? That's the two options that you have right to be there in person by things but I try to always, you know, be there I try to, you know, deliver, I try to show the benefits of being time shifted, right. So, you know, taking self initiative and, you know, showing someone is like, well, you dropped something on my desk, you know, Wallah. The next morning, you come back into the office, you have a PowerPoint, or you have like, you know, a piece of text or you have like a reply to that email, right. So, I think keeping the flow going, you know, even in a distributed environment, because, and luckily, the pandemic has now taught companies that hybrid work is here to stay, right. I think people you know, and your company I know is sort of built on that as well. All this, you need to find the right working modes and the right kind of people who are willing to do that, right? I have my one colleague sitting texting me while he's waiting for his kids to fall asleep sitting out that side of their door right on what's happened is like, Don't phone me, you have to text me, because otherwise the kids are gonna wake up, right? So you kind of you find these different ways of working. And if the company is flexible, and you find the right group of people, you can really make it success. I think
Brian Glick 25:25
it's funny, many people asked me more from the tech side, you know, other companies that are not in our space, about this whole remote work thing in this, you know, hybrid environments and all of this during as we went through the pandemic, and it really made me take a step back, because coming up through a customs broker and freight forwarder, you know, I think we had, when I first started at the first one, maybe we had, let's say, 400 employees, but we also had 15 offices, right in the US to the average, you know, and if you figure a quarter of the employees were at headquarters, every other office was 10 people, 15 people yet a little bit bigger in JFK, a little bit bigger in LA, you know, but you'd have four people in Columbus, you'd have, you know, four people in a district, you still had to sort of have a physical location at every port. So it was always remote. Right? Like, even if you were in the office, the team wasn't right. And you were solving a problem, you know, for Seattle today or unsteady, you know, and then going through and getting acquired and, you know, suddenly having an IT staff that was Singapore, London, Philly, Nashville, and LA. Right. Okay, well, what does being in the office even mean, at that point? There were days where I spoke to no one who was in the building with me. So I think it almost comes to that. It's like a hard question for us. Because just in this business, it's just always been remote to some effect. As we move things from point to point. I get to wrap us up here a little bit. If somebody's coming into the industry today. And you were gonna give them a piece of advice about systems or change management, or any of the things we've talked about kind of what's a piece of advice you'd give somebody that you wish someone had given you?
Christian van Eeden 27:11
I think the extent of what, like how deep the tunnel goes, right? I think you see this fallacy that the tech companies who came in with very little logistics expertise kind of came into right. And a lot of even the vendors have like release software and stuff, right? They come in, and they do something very simple. And then they get so many responses. Well, what this exception and that exception, right. And I think that it's not to scare people, right? It's just that to understand where your desires lay, right? And giving that a clear advice to say like, Listen, this is a complicated topic, right? And this is complicated problems. And there's many permutations to this, right? And you can't just boil it down to the people who say the 8020 rule, well, you know, the 20% of the exceptions, right, that 20% is the wind of what drives most of the business. Right? So it's understanding the whole thing is is very important. And you need to love to do that. Right? I always love organizing, I love going in and trying to find these different things and trying to kind of harmonize and challenging people. Okay, just an exception. But I think that has to be there. If you don't like those kinds of problems where there isn't easy, straightforward answers that you can just solve and push forward. I think people get I've seen at least in my past, I get frustrated by the industry, right? They're like, why I can't stand it the you know, they always deliver something, and then they'll always like 10 questions ever. And there's always changes and, you know, why do they keep on asking for new features, when you know, I've just delivered something. And if you don't enjoy that, then it's a tough business, right? But if you embrace it, and you find out exactly, you know, either hold on to those moments where, you know, you finally delivered something and one of the sea freight or air freight managers come back to you and say, like, oh, this feature that you just did, that allowed me to save the company, so many hundreds of 1000s of dollars, because we were able to see the incident coming at us or we were able to shift cargo or we were able to get notified. Those are the moments in that complexity that you hold on to that drive you forward.
Brian Glick 29:14
I think that's an awesome place for us to wrap up. So thank you so much for being on it's been been really fascinating. And I know we've got some some white papers and some other things that we're working on together with Helmand, so it'll make sure we get all of those out as well. And, again, thank you so much for being here.
Christian van Eeden 29:33
Yeah, thank you, Brian. Thank you for having me. And yeah, good luck out there for everybody who's living the dream of working in logistics and happy to chat to anybody you know if to reach out to me on LinkedIn or so and there'll be links will be in the in the chat I'm sure. So thank you very much, everyone.
Brian Glick 29:51
Absolutely. Well. Thank you. Thank you so much to Christian for such an awesome and it's cyfle episode, be sure to tune in on the next episode we'll be talking to Dave Broering from NFI is the president of the integrated logistics team. Dave has a really really thorough insight on the combination of how we make all of the day to day operations in freight and logistics work together with technology at a level that's I would say beyond almost everyone you'll hear speak in the industry. So make sure to tune in for that episode.