European Freight and Logistics Leaders Forum: We would be wrong not to be here

Interview with F&L Secretary General Philip Evans

Around 150 senior business leaders, experts and scientists from across Europe and across industries attended the conference of the European Freight and Logistics Leaders Forum (F&L) on 9 and 10 May in Hamburg. As an international non-profit association F&L brings together shippers and logistics service providers. Secretary General Philip Evans reveals why Hamburg and the KLU proved to be the perfect place and venue for the logistics network meeting.

Please introduce your organization to us. What are the characteristics of F&L as a logistics association?

Philip Evans: F&L is very much a diverse organization. It has got practitioners, manufacturers, logistic supply operations, technologists, academics, and public policy individuals. It is all about the ability to ask questions in a confidential form that perhaps you do not have a chance to ask normally back in your work place. So people come together in a friendly environment and they are challenged. They challenge themselves as well as the others. We seek to ask questions that are looking at issues and opportunities further ahead like possibly in five or ten years. 

How do you organize this vivid exchange?

Philip Evans: We do two conferences a year, usually in May and in November and this is our 25th anniversary. It has all started in 1994. We rotate around Europe looking to go to new countries and new locations. Doing so, we not only connect with our members but in addition we always get a new crop. Sometimes a new member is joining or there may be local people who want to participate. Around 60 per cent of our members come regularly though.

For this event, the conference took place in Hamburg for the very first time. Why did you choose Hamburg, and especially the KLU?

Philip Evans: Hamburg is reasonably unique because you have the infrastructure, you have the interest, you have the port, and you have got many German businesses. Also, Hamburg is very much a logistics technology hub that may work in combination with general German and European support. And then, coming to the KLU is perfect because you have a great atmosphere with the lecture theatres and the academics. The team at the KLU has come up with a lot of interesting new ideas and contacts for us. Some of the academics, like Alan McKinnon for example, have been associated with F&L for several years. And that means that we can combine all of the network that we know with new people and new ideas. It is about the combination of academic thought and research combined with real access and drive into commerce with logistics as a focus. We would be wrong not to be here. If you mix all that together, it makes Hamburg a great opportunity.

Taking a look at the participants list, which branches were present?

Philip Evans: Obviously with the port here, you naturally get a lot of the maritime interest. And the good thing about F&L is that we have a number of other ports as members who came here to participate. So the network takes the view “It is an opportunity for us to come.” That is one area. As the logistics field tends to get multimodal we had a lot of land-based transport coming, too. The maritime sector will be big anyway and rail and road is always going to be important across Europe. In terms of industries quite a number of chemical manufacturers participated like Dow Chemical or INEO. We also had some local players that have not been here before like Beiersdorf and Tchibo. 

On Friday, you did a speed-dating session. What kind of dream couple were you looking for?

Philip Evans: We invited our experienced attendees and members to meet with KLU PhD candidates and young logistics industry entrepreneurs saying, “I am developing this technological application, you should be interested in this and following us”. We wanted to combine the old with the new coming up with their ideas because again that feeds into this point about challenging. People having to rethink the way they operate rather than just doing the same thing again and again. This is crucial in times of constant and rapid change and volatility.

Managing uncertainty in the global supply chain was the title of the conference. Which challenges and questions do you see here?

Philip Evans:  Uncertainty is an umbrella issue. And if you talk to some of our shippers they will say, “I have got something going out to south East Asia and I do not know when it is arriving” and it is that type of uncertainty. The meeting was also about climate change issues or cost issues. Some of the participants said, okay we accept that cost is always important but we are shifting more to customer service. And I see another conflict. We are shifting stuff around the world, we have supply chains going across to China and yet the consumers say, “I want it today”. There is a conflict here, also with a view to climate change. And there are some more. When people do their next planning process with their management team they must consider: What options are there? That is why we talk.

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