For Australian company Logistics Bureau, the Asian experience has been one of success through education. Greg Bush writes:

Introducing supply chain and logistics management consultancy to the businesses in developing Asia has been an exciting and at times frustrating exercise for Logistics Bureau (Asia) Managing Director Colin Airdrie.

The expatriate Englishman linked with the Australian company two years ago to head up its Asian operations, which are headquartered in Bangkok.

Colin AirdrieAirdrie arrived in Thailand 12 years ago as a consultant for Inchcape, before moving to Shanghai with the company. He later formed his own consultancy before joining the Logistics Bureau.

For Airdrie, Bangkok is the ideal base for the Logistics Bureau’s Asian operations, with many South East Asian cities only two hours away by air while the major Chinese centres are an hour further.

His Asian experiences are many and varied, from negotiating the old Silk Road west from Xian to Lanzhou for a Chinese retail company, to organising warehousing in rural areas of Thailand.

While he maintains the fresh enthusiasm from his first day in the region during 1996, he’s had to learn to accept the idiosyncrasies of the Asian way.

“I came out here bright-eyed and bushy tailed thinking, ‘oh, we can change this, we can change that’, but then you suddenly are brought back to earth because there’s no point changing that if this element, which is much more difficult to change, isn’t working either,” he says.

“You’ll read articles in the business magazines how a company’s doing this with their supply chain and that sort of thing, but at ground zero that means absolutely damn all. You get talk of supply chain development and information flow, but they forget that until they invent the transporter beam from Star Trek, we’re going to physically have to move it. It’s no use putting information down the track in 10 milliseconds if it takes two weeks to do a truck trip because it all depends if the driver wants to drive that day.”

Airdrie says another hurdle has been that, for many companies in Thailand and China, the idea of hiring consultants is completely foreign. For others the experiences with previous consultants have been filled with the horror of mounting expenses. To combat this mindset, Airdrie says the Logistics Bureau holds regular meetings with customers at each gateway point of the project, hence offering the opportunity of feedback and transparency.

“So when it comes to the final report, there are no surprises. They know what it is already, because they’ve taken part in it,” Airdrie explains.

“What we try and say is — and it happens quite frequently during the course of the project — if we see something that’s not right, we’ll tell them there and then. They may find they’ve paid for the project before they’ve finished it because they’ve made savings on that, particularly on a networking project. “So that’s our approach, and I think that’s the approach that people support.”

Airdrie points to the success the company has had with Thai businesses such as fashion and homemaker organisation Jaspal. For frozen food specialist CP Foods, Logistics Bureau was commissioned to produce a large-scale strategic network study to merge the logistics organisations of the company’s 16 individual business units into a single organisation.

Logistics Bureau’s Asian growth in recent years is such that, as well as having offices in Bangkok and Singapore, the opening of a base in India is under serious consideration. According to Airdrie, 90 percent of the company’s success comes from return business or referrals from previous clients. Other ongoing benefits arrive through constant inquiries received directly and regular interactive workshops and training courses held in Bangkok.

“But you can’t live on that, you’ve got to create new work,” he continues. “I want to develop the company and I want to employ more practical Thai people to take part and develop them as logistics consultants. The great thing about the Logistics Bureau, and this is why I’m very happy about being with it, is that we’ve got 40-plus consultants, who may not be in Asia, but they’re on the end of a telephone line or on the end of the internet and you can get them up here to be part of a project. With the Logistics Bureau, you know everyone who’s in it has got skills and expertise, as well as good general concept of it. It’s like a large family.”