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A Logistics Man with Asia at Heart

A Logistics Man with Asia at Heart



Interview with Mr Alfred Hofmann


To say that Mr Alfred Hofmann has had a long and varied career in the freight forwarding industry is an understatement. With a professional experience spanning more than forty years in the supply chain and logistics sector, he rose up the ranks and took over the role of President for South Asia Pacific at Kuehne + Nagel, which includes the Indian Subcontinent and Oceania, along with other key South Asia countries, in 2013. After having served 30 years in the company, he retired at the end of December 2015.

“Well, I would call it semi-retiring since technically I am still supporting Kuehne + Nagel as an Executive Advisor. I am a consultant in a couple of defined projects, but I have more free time now. In fact, I am heading off for a vacation tomorrow,” explains Mr Hofmann during a one-on-one interview with Supply Chain Asia.

Mr Hofmann has not only been loyal to the industry and Kuehne + Nagel, he has also been devoted to Asia. First arriving in Asia on 13 January, 1972, he has worked in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore, among others.

“I have many wonderful and exciting memories of Asia. I would not change it for anything,” says Mr Hofmann.

In this interview, the former President for South Asia Pacific reminisces about his experience in the industry, as well as shares his opinions on the talent situation and the ultimate industry game-changer.

Voyage to the East

Starting his career as an air freight apprentice, Mr Hofmann soon moved into sea freight in his hometown of Frankfurt where he spent four years before arriving in Asia.

“My first experience in logistics was mainly in air freight import. Then, Europe was just starting to import from Asia. My first task was managing custom clearances. I found the work very interesting, even though then the only technology available was fax and telex. I also realised that I loved dealing with customers and helping them solve their problems,” shares Mr Hofmann.

When asked about one of his early memories of working in Asia, he brought up the clickety-clack noise of the abacus in Taiwan, since it was “before the popularity of electronic calculators”. It was also the dawn of container shipping in Hong Kong, but the factories were built so close to each other that they were not able to move their containers efficiently, which ended up jamming the streets. That was when container freight stations took off and companies opted to store their cargo at designated warehouses near the ports.

“I have fond memories of my early days working in Asia. It was all new and very interesting. I was learning the new ways of doing business. In Europe, there were few main ports, such as Hamburg, Bremen, Rotterdam and Southampton. In Asia, it was much more complex and dynamic. I think it still is,” says Mr Hofmann, who first joined Kuehne + Nagel as the Managing Director for Singapore and Malaysia.

Hail the Web

“I think the world is still adapting to the last biggest game-changer in the industry. The Internet has really revolutionised not only society, but the whole business world. It gives logistics companies the possibility to develop software, and improve information visibility of shipments on time much faster than ever before. This means that our customers do not just look at us to deliver freight shipment from Point A to Point B. But they also look at us to solve their supply chain challenges. That has been the biggest game-changer in supply chain so far, and I believe the Internet and digital technology will continue to heavily influence our business,” he explains.

Regardless of future technologies however, Mr Hofmann believes a certain traditional mode of transport will continue to exist even far into the future.

“As long as there is trade, there will be ships. Perhaps the ships will be smaller and much faster. But humans have been trading via sea thousands of years ago, and I am convinced we will continue to trade via sea thousands of years from today,” says Mr Hofmann.

Hall of Fame achievement

Before his retirement, Mr Hofmann was awarded the Hall of Fame at the recent Supply Chain Asia Awards 2015. This award recognises a professional with a distinguished career in the supply chain industry. Not only is the recipient of a high executive level, he is also highly recognised for excellent leadership skills.

“I was surprised when I was informed of my nomination. It was an honour to win this award after serving over 40 years in the industry. I think the industry needs this recognition. Without supply chain, which is the backbone of every business, nothing would work. Overall, I am pleased that we are valued by industry professionals and our customers,” says Mr. Hofmann, who will still be based in Singapore.

While he credits his achievement to Kuehne + Nagel, which he cites as adopting a culture of excellence and achievement among its staff, Mr Hofmann believes there is even more to be done to attract talent to the supply chain sector.

But this is up to the future generation. For now, Mr Hofmann is content to embrace his new semi-retirement life, and he looks forward to focus on his tennis games, travelling and spending more time with his family.