AS THE CENTRE of world trade continues to shift from west to east, new opportunities are emerging for those who want to move the world. The logistics industry, whose business is the organisation and movement of supplies and services, is changing at a dazzling speed. No longer considered blue collar, it draws professionals from many backgrounds: information technology, law, engineering, sales and marketing, insurance and, of course, logistics. One computer programmer who graduated back in 1981 had no idea he would one day be working in logistics. 'I was very excited about my future as a programmer. Everything about the field was new, and I saw a bright future ahead of me,' said Roland Wong, senior marketing and sales director, DHL Danzas Air & Ocean. He landed his first job in a local software development firm and, for the next 14 years, worked as a computer programmer, assistant manager and then assistant general manager for the same corporate group. Logistics became a family matter in 1991 when his company offered to arrange immigration to Canada for his wife and children. With the handover of Hong Kong to China just six years away and Hong Kong's future uncertain, the offer was irresistible, even if it meant the family would have to live apart for a number of years while Mr Wong continued working in Hong Kong. However, his wide range of skills and experiences would soon lead him down another road. In 1995, after relocating to Canada, he was offered a new job in Hong Kong. Though not thrilled about another move, he and his family returned to Asia within the year, and Mr Wong made his first formal step into the logistics industry, joining UPS as a business development director of sales and marketing for Hong Kong to the international market. Mr Wong's sudden appearance at UPS as a director, never having worked in the company or the business before, was quite startling to some of the staff. 'The transportation business is very traditional. People expect promotions to come from within the company,' said Mr Wong. By industry standards, he was clearly an outsider. Before the late 1990s, when the term 'logistics' became fashionable, the business was simply referred to as transport and shipping. Those entering the field needed little formal education. Drivers, warehouse workers and office staff typically worked their way up to senior positions after decades of loyalty. Though loyalty remains an essential quality, logistics companies now require people with more specialised skills. Employees also need to be flexible and willing to learn because change is the norm. Several aspects of Mr Wong's 14 years in the IT industry helped him succeed in his present job. For example, he had learned a systematic and analytical approach to management, and to be service-oriented. In 2001, Mr Wong was promoted to the position of area director for southern China and spent two years living in Guangzhou. Not one to miss an opportunity, he spent time exploring the local market. He was determined to learn about the culture, customs and rules of China. He also started developing connections with the local university, lecturing and sharing his knowledge of logistics with students. Surrounding him in the region were production lines that had relocated from Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Europe and the US, each turning raw materials from abroad into manufactured goods destined for overseas. Nowadays, to save money, some foreign companies source raw materials from China, manufacture goods in the country and then ship them abroad. In this way they eliminate one costly step in the process, but they create a challenge for the airlines in the process: what are they supposed to do with the planes they empty abroad and then need to fly back to China or Hong Kong? It is a classic logistical problem that involves many players. All of Mr Wong's work experience in Hong Kong and southern China prepared him to take on challenges facing the industry in his current position at DHL Danzas. He said competition from the north would threaten Hong Kong's position as a transport leader if China started relaxing restrictions on Shanghai as a trade port. However, he and others in the logistics business are not waiting to be overtaken. As the current gateway between the east and west, Hong Kong is working with southern China in an alliance to strengthen their key position. For now, the Pearl River Delta (PRD) has distinct advantages over Shanghai. First, Yantian in Shenzhen and Kwai Chung in Hong Kong are both beautiful ports with the advantage of being very deep, so container ships can move in and out of the harbour with ease. Second, Shenzhen has ample land to build warehouses for container breakdown, unloading of cargo, assembly and distribution. Finally, Hong Kong has a sophisticated airline infrastructure with frequent flights, flexible landing rights and numerous airlines for cargo. What the PRD must address in the coming years, said Mr Wong, were accessibility concerns and customs matters. It can take more than half a day to drive goods by lorry from southern China to Hong Kong. This is an unacceptable transit time. Governments and industry players are considering plans to build a cargo bypass and a bridge that would create an efficient loop between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. If the two customs stops can be consolidated into one, time spent opening vehicles and checking cargo will be reduced significantly. In this business, having the ability to network means much more than attending cocktail parties after work. Those in logistics must understand the supply chain concept, not just transport. These days, companies with already-squeezed budgets shop around for logistics consultants who have the expertise to create sophisticated cost-savings models for them. If Mr Wong has it his way, the industry will draw people from a variety of professional backgrounds and with a range of experience to contribute to a dynamic industry that has shaped his path for the past decade. Directions along the way Mr Wong's diverse career path has put him in a unique position to offer advice to those changing industries or careers. He recommends you: Accept challenges As an entry-level computer programmer, Mr Wong worked 12 to 15 hours a day without overtime compensation. He was happy to take on more challenges to demonstrate his abilities to his superiors. Develop yourself He accepted new assignments to different business units such as system design, technical services, and marketing and sales, which helped develop him into a well-rounded manager. Be flexible He applied for international assignments in Thailand, China, Singapore and Canada so as to widen his horizons.