Member Interview: International Forwarding Services, South Africa

IFN members are highly competent and professional, with a wealth of knowledge and industry experience to share.

With that in mind, we interviewed some of our members to ask for their views on the industry today, the benefits of networking, and their comments on the Pandemic. In July, we spoke to Ron Thomson, Managing Director at International Forwarding Services, South Africa.

How did you start out in Freight Forwarding? 

"Without other qualifications there is not much else an ex Custom Officer can do but go into Customs clearing, and as an extension thereof, freight forwarding. So, after 11 years in customs, I secured a position at a company called Ciba Geigy. At the time it was the biggest chemical company in the world. I ran the in house imports and exports department in Rhodesia. After fours years learning the trade from a commercial company point of view I left to join a local clearing and forwarding company. I ended up as Branch Manager of a Forwarding and Confirming company.

On leaving Zimbabwe after independence in 1982 my family and I emigrated to South Africa. In South Africa I again joined a commercial company, this time as their export manager. I oversaw the export of approximately 700 containers a year of non-ferrous products. This gave me a good insight into the South African market and after 3 years when I thought I was ready, I joined a large clearing and forwarding company as their Servicing Manager. I had a team of 5 people and we were responsible for keeping a large portfolio of clients happy.

We had left Zimbabwe with nothing. In addition, the pension which I had been building for 20 years vanished so I had to hustle to make a living and to get ahead. As a result, I moved to three other companies, including MSC, each time bettering my position, my knowledge and my future prospects.

Finally in 2002 I decided to go on my own and with the assistance of a good friend in the UK we opened International Forwarding Services, which is now a successful enterprise."
Can you give us your thoughts on the logistics industry today and how things have changed due to the Pandemic? 

"The logistics industry today is far more onerous than it used to be. Covid-19 has made it worse. All over the world there are millions of containers and tons of cargo stuck in storage putting almost unmanageable pressure on the system and running up massive costs. Through no fault of their own, importers are being hammered with costs which may even put them out of business. The shipping lines are part of the problem. They are insisting in charging demurrage other fees far in excess of their costs."
What are the main challenges facing independent forwarders?

"Costs, cashflows and multinationals encroaching on their business."
How relevant is networking in today’s forwarding industry?

"Very! In our experience, group get-togethers have resulted in IFS making many friends world-wide. It is also of great assistance to be able to pick up a phone and talk to a person you know fairly well and what he or she looks like."

How do you see the future for independent forwarders?

"Because of the above challenges many will go to the wall. However, in my opinion all is not doom and gloom. Independents have a place in our industry. There is no doubt that many of them offer a better and a more personal service, which the big/multinationals do not give. In our business we sometimes have to deal with the big boys and we see first-hand what poor service is all about. Furthermore there are many smaller, or niche, companies which have experienced this poor service and will gladly give their business to someone who shows real interest in them. Perseverance is key. Keep in touch with your clients and, if possible, keep knocking on doors."
International Forwarding Services was established in 2001 and provides freight and distribution services to or from anywhere in the world. Their experienced staff offer global expertise and efficiency, with a focus on competent customer service, personal attention and good communication. 

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