Women winning recognition for freight forwarding prowess

By Keith Norbury

“Technology” is the best word to describe how freight forwarding has changed over the years, says Kim Gallacher, ocean freight manager for Montréal-based Delmar International Inc. “When I started, there was no Internet,” said Ms. Gallacher who has been in the business for over a quarter century, the last eight years with Delmar. “We typed bills of lading or manifests by hand on typewriters with carbon paper. If you made a mistake at the last minute, you’d have to do it all over again.”

She would look forward to the arrival of Canadian Sailings magazine on her desk because it was then the only way to check the shipping schedules. “There were no online schedules,” Ms. Gallacher said.

Making an overseas phone call was also much more difficult than it is today, and “Telex machines were one of our main sources of communication with our overseas offices,” Ms. Gallacher said.

Award honours female leaders

In recognition of her role as a female leader in the industry, Ms. Gallacher received CIFFA’s inaugural Donna Letterio Leadership Award in 2015. The award is named for CIFFA’s first and still only female President, who died from bladder cancer in 2013 near the end of her two-year term. Ms. Gallacher described winning the award as a “career-making moment.” She is also proud to have known Ms. Letterio from having met her at industry functions and training sessions over the years. “She was a mentor,” Ms. Gallacher said, noting that Ms. Letterio rose from the ranks of the industry to become CEO of DHL Global Forwarding (Canada) Inc. “Like all of us, she learned through CIFFA courses and working in the business, in the trenches,” Ms. Gallacher said.

Fast forward to 2018, and “Delmar is on the forefront of going paperless,” she said. That includes being fully engaged and automated with the Canadian Border Services Agency’s eManifest system.

Anticipated impacts

On the horizon is the anticipated introduction of blockchain technology, which Ms. Gallacher has been reading up on. “It’s not a simple thing and not to be taken lightly,” Ms. Gallacher said. Based on her research to date, Ms. Gallacher said blockchain “has the potential to greatly increase transaction efficiencies between international parties.” However, she said, it’s too early to know what benefits and risks the technology poses for her industry. “The key is balancing the benefit and the risk and finding out what works,” Ms. Gallacher said. “Maybe what works for one company doesn’t work for another. Or there could be an industry standard that’s formed. I think it’s really too early in the conversation to be speculating.”

Also expected to have an impact on the industry in the not-so-distant future are autonomous vehicles, the expanded reach of Amazon, and the potential for Uber- or Airbnb-type disruptions. Ms. Gallacher expresses confidence that those upstarts won’t make freight forwarding obsolete, however. “I have a biased opinion, and I think that our group of freight forwarders is highly professional and highly knowledgeable and highly connected globally,” Ms. Gallacher said. “So, again, my biased opinion is I would find it hard to believe that somebody could just jump in here and do that.”

Different approaches

What she does anticipate is for more young people and women to jump into the profession. As someone who supervises a team of more than a dozen workers of various ages, she said “it’s all true” that millennials and baby boomers require different approaches in the workplace. The increasing numbers of women, meanwhile, “is a wonderful thing,” she said. “Twenty years ago in the industry, women were far outnumbered by men, and that’s just not the case today,” she said. Looking ahead, Ms. Gallacher expects to see even more women in her profession. Ideally, she would like those numbers to reflect the general population. “For example, if women are 55 per cent in the world there should be 55 per cent women in your company,” Ms. Gallacher said.

She would also like to serve on CIFFA’s Board one day. She already contributes to the association’s advocacy efforts by serving on its National Seafreight Committee and on the CBSA’s Working Group Subcommittee.

Back in Canada

The most recent winner of the Donna Letterio Leadership Award, Lucia Pinheiro, said she was “honoured and humbled” to receive the award this April. When Ms. Pinheiro returned to Canada in 2013 after about 15 years abroad, she heard a lot about Ms. Letterio’s contributions to the industry. Ms. Pinheiro has been country manager and President of Damco Canada since April 2013. This February she added “area CEO for the U.S. West Coast” to her title. In Canada, she oversees about 60 employees at Damco’s freight forwarding, logistics and customs operations. Including its distribution division, Damco has 150 employees across Canada. Internationally, the company employs more than 10,000 people in more than 100 countries. Damco is part of A.P. Moller – Maersk.

It was with Maersk Sealand Canada that Ms. Pinheiro got her start in the business as an account coordinator. Then her career took her to exotic locales such as Singapore and Dubai, where she discovered that women lead many of the management teams.

“Coming back to Canada, I became very aware of the fact that I was in the minority,” she said, although she has already noticed improvements in the number of women in the industry. Ms. Pinheiro has also happily noticed improvements in formal education in the industry. “Twenty years ago when I came out of school, there were no programs for logistics or international transportation,” she said.

Happy career choice

Ms. Pinheiro graduated with a business degree from the University of Western Ontario in 1997, with an eye toward a banking career. At the time, she was also working with her family’s janitorial business in London, Ont., when Maersk recruited her. “I’m super super happy that I chose transportation. It’s taken me all over the world,” said Ms. Pinheiro, whose familial roots are on the Azores Island of Faial and who is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, French, and English.

Looking ahead, she predicts massive disruptions coming in her industry. “And it’s not from who you would traditionally say would be a competitor,” Ms. Pinheiro said. “It’s technology companies. It’s data. It’s big data. It’s blockchain. Since the beginning of time, our industry has been one that’s extremely fragmented, extremely manual, paper-based, (and) very, very traditional when it comes to the various steps and parties involved in international freight and international logistics.” She cited the example of eManifest, which the Canada Border Services Agency has been working to roll out since before her return to Canada “and we still don’t have it off the ground,” she said.

99.99 per cent paperless

Her company, however, has made eManifest a priority and is now “99.99 per cent” of the way to being paperless. “I feel pretty good that our team has delivered all the milestones that we need to deliver,” Ms. Pinheiro said. “But we’re also at the mercy of the Canadian government.”

When it comes to blockchain, Damco’s parent company is at the forefront, having recently forged a joint venture with IBM. Ms. Pinheiro wasn’t at liberty to discuss the timeline for blockchain’s implementation, though. “But I can tell you that we’re very excited about it.” Among the exciting promises of blockchain is that it will enable seamless tracking of cargo shipments. “You will be able to track immediately where a container is in the process, and what documentation is linked to it,” Ms. Pinheiro explained. “You won’t have to send 80 emails to 100 different parties to track it down.”

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