As International Forwarding Ltd (IFL) celebrates turning 30 this month we are pleased to have Roy Baker in the interview seat. Roy was IFL’s original managing director and one of the two founding directors still with the company today.
He was there in 1989 when IFL started freight forwarding with just a single truck and three staff. Today the company has 60 staff, almost £10 million turnover, and 20 trucks in its fleet. It handles around 8,000 consignments a month on a worldwide basis. IFL is also a Platinum member of the Palletways network.
Although Roy now works part time he continues to serve as a director and has become IFL’s honorary ‘Brexit Secretary’ helping customers understand the trading changes ahead. We asked him about his 30 years with IFL, the biggest challenges, and how he sees the future for IFL as an independent freight forwarder in a world of global operators.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how it feels looking back on 30 years with International Forwarding Ltd (IFL)…
I have only ever had three jobs: 15 years with the railways, 15 years with a multinational freight forwarder and now 30 years with IFL. During the 1980s I felt that there was a niche for an independent forwarder specifically serving the needs of Midlands companies and this remains the core focus of the company today. There were just three of us at the start and multitasking was very much the name of the game.
What was IFL like when you started?
Many things were very different. For example, landline phones and the telex were the main means of communication. Our financial systems had to allow for customers who wanted to pay in cash. Our drivers needed a union card to access local container freight depots and even some customer’s premises.
Apart from general freight forwarding our initial niche market was France and our reputation for quality service quickly enabled IFL to attract freight partners in other European countries. Within two years we were awarded a contract by a major airline to manage their UK express traffic in the Midlands and further afield. This was followed by a similar contract with a multinational German parcels operator.
As well as developing a comprehensive European groupage network the company established links with UK overnight pallet networks which culminated in IFL’s appointment in 2002 as a member of Palletways, the UK’s number one overnight pallet system – and IFL now has Platinum status.
Have there been many changes over the 30 years?
There are three I would particularly highlight:
- Technology – this has revolutionised both the freight business and human communication. Most communication is now instant whereas 30 years ago even ‘snail mail’ was quick.
- Supply chain logistics – this has been driven by the culture of ‘just in time’ manufacture and delivery. Thirty years ago warehouse premises to hold stock were often the most important element of a manufacturer’s physical asset inventory. Nowadays many manufacturers take for granted that trucks in transit to them with ‘just in time stock’ obviate the need for significant warehouse space.
- Micro management in the freight business – by this I mean the need to satisfy a customer that the company complies with health and safety, environmental, sub-contractor controls, data protection and so on, plus, of course, door-to-door consignment tracking at every stage of the transit. Years ago there was none of this.
What is the secret of IFL’s success?
That’s easy to answer. The support of the main shareholders coupled with the staff. The company is fortunate to have people highly experienced in the fields of freight forwarding, transport and accounting, led by Rob Pike, the current managing director, and the rest of the board.
What is it like to work at IFL and what is IFL’s unique selling point?
Although I am only part time these days I still look forward to coming to the office. One of my mentors many years ago described the freight business as “a constantly changing kaleidoscope of challenges” and this is just as true today. There is a team spirit and camaraderie at IFL which I am proud both to have helped create and to still be a part of that team. Freight transport remains a people business and this is, without doubt, IFL’s unique selling point.
What has been the highlight of your career with IFL?
Again that’s easy to answer – the day in 2010 we were awarded HMRC Authorised Economic Operator status (see our accreditations page). At the time very few forwarders in the UK had achieved AEO status and those that had were mainly the multinationals. I could not have foreseen, however, how relevant and important it would become in the current Brexit scenario. You do need a bit of luck sometimes in the freight business.
You work part time now – what is your main work role and what keeps you busy outside of work?
I spend most of my time dealing with legal, customs and insurance issues, which can be time-consuming; my objective is to free up the other directors to concentrate on developing the business. I also still have customer contacts particularly in Europe and I use these to open up new business opportunities for IFL.
Outside work I can now enjoy more quality time with my wife. Also since early childhood I have always had a passion for trains and both heritage railways and the modern rail network remain as my main hobby interest.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for IFL in the next 10 years? What does the future hold for IFL as an independent operator?
The immediate challenge is Brexit and all I can say is that you will see from the company’s website that IFL is well placed to deal with all the likely scenarios (also see our Brexit guide for customers).
Looking further ahead environmental issues and advances in technology will continue to impact the freight business but I have every confidence that the board will take them in their stride.
There is now a trend for the multinationals to merge with themselves through takeovers and buy-outs leaving even more scope for a well established independent forwarder and transport company like IFL to maintain and increase its market share.
What will life be like for UK freight forwarders post Brexit? Which services do you think will be most in demand?
In one word: ‘exciting’. We are already seeing a strong upsurge in the demand for warehousing and whatever form Brexit takes there will definitely be new opportunities for the company’s customs clearance facilities.
Will Brexit happen?
I have no idea more than anyone else. But I am confident that IFL will be able to deal with whatever scenario happens as the outcome.
Any final advice from your 30 years in the freight business?
Never forget that in the freight business ‘cash is king’. Your business model may show healthy profits but if a business runs out of cash you can lose control of its destiny.
Look after and develop your staff and don’t be afraid to push them beyond their existing capability limits – you may be pleasantly surprised.
Finally continue to research and invest in technology. I learned at an early stage that the freight business is very much about ‘buying and selling invoices’. That’s still true today and technology is the key to doing it more effectively and profitably.
HOW CAN IFL HELP YOUR BUSINESS?
To talk to IFL about your business, and how we can help with your freight forwarding and logistics needs, please get in touch. We’re also here for fast, flexible and competitive quotes – just call or email and we’ll get back to you within 15 minutes (within office hours) with a rate for the job. Easy!
2019 images (CC): Pete Ashton