Logistics of putting 'million-piece jigsaw puzzle' together

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 March, 2011, 12:00am
 

Essentially, logistics involves moving goods from point A to B using any mode of transportation. But there is much more behind big logistics companies, such as UPS, than a man delivering a parcel at our door.

Courier service is still the core business of UPS, but now that the world is such a global platform the company also does ocean and air freight, domestic transportation, contract logistics and warehousing. Young Post meets Steve McMichael, vice-president of ocean freight services for UPS in Asia Pacific, and learns what it takes to operate major logistics.

Requirements

To work in logistics, you need to enjoy solving problems and communicating with others. 'My job's like solving a million-piece [jigsaw] puzzle, but not by myself though - with the help of a team,' McMichael says.

A good test to see if logistics is something for you is to take a walk in your local supermarket. Look at what's on the shelves and where it's coming from. If you start wondering how those items got there, how long they took, and what it took for them to arrive, you're on the right track.

A logistics company has a wide range of departments, from finance to marketing, operations, human resources, industrial engineering, and pricing analysis.

All these departments require different skills. But McMichael says that, most of all, workers need to be able to focus on projects and enjoy subjects such as geography, geopolitics, economics, and creating and reading maps to understand where places relate to others.

McMichael says mathematics and good communication skills are very useful in his work. Mathematics helps him deal with the financial aspects, forecasts and profitability; and communications helps him deal with all the different people, languages and cultures.

Qualifications

Most universities offer general logistics degrees, such as the University of Hong Kong's logistics engineering and supply chain management bachelor's degree.

McMichael's degree in communications has proved very useful in his work, he says. An engineering degree can also prove helpful. After you graduate and learn the basics of the industry, it's a good idea to sign up for an international business management and logistics course or master's degree to specialise in the department you enjoy most, such as Hong Kong Polytechnic University's master of science/postgraduate diploma in international shipping and transport logistics. Languages are always an advantage because you will have to communicate with many different people.

Work prospects

Entry level positions at a big logistics company include industrial engineers, who measure performances and improve the logistics, operations officers, who directly deal with clients and process important documents, and sales officers, who introduce the wide range of services to the clients.

McMichael says starting with an internship or an entry level position is a good thing. It allows you to learn the practical side of the job and how the business works. McMichael remembers that he asked a lot of questions in his first job, and it's that curiosity and interest has helped him to climb the career ladder.

Long-term prospects

After his first experience working at UPS, McMichael went on to work in the logistics department at Polo Ralph Lauren, Target and Kmart. Other major shops that offer interesting job opportunities are hi-tech companies such as Intel, Dell and Apple. After 12 years working for shops, McMichael rejoined UPS. He says he loves his job because he has built a network of friends all over the world.

Average pay

This month's Gemini guide to Hong Kong market salaries says a sales co-ordinator or costumer service officer earns HK$12,000 to HK$20,000. A more experienced inventory supervisor or supply chain officer earns from HK$15,000 to HK$25,000. Distribution and operations managers and senior sales executives can earn up to HK$35,000. Regional and international managers can earn twice that amount.

A day at work

On the morning of the interview, McMichael had a phone meeting with a big American firm. The firm wanted to know about developments in the Chinese economy since the Lunar New Year, and what sort of strategy to pursue in the months ahead.

McMichael also had to negotiate the annual contracts with ocean carriers. In the afternoon he was analysing financial results and making sure that each of his departments was going to meet its goals.

Work demands in a global economy can be 24/7, McMichael says, which is exciting because logistics companies are in the middle of it all. How well logistics companies fare is a good indicator of the world's economy.

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