You are the founder of SM Spedition. Where did you gain the experience in the TSL branch and were you not afraid of starting your own business?
When I was starting this company, I had no previous experience with international forwarding. My career did begin in the transport business, but it was completly unrelated to forwarding and the responsibilities I have today.
Sm Spedition is in active in the transport business. Could you tell us something about the core activities of the company?
To keep it short – SM Spedition currently has large experience in the TSL business which is why we have focused on international forwarding, but also on transport itself by using our own fleet of trucks. By using years-long contracts on the market we gain transport orders for shipping goods which we then transport with our trucks or the trucks of our own subcontractors while coordinating the transports so that the end result is a route of at least 5-6 thousand kilometers.
There is a large number of small forwarding companies operating in Poland. Some say that it ruins the market. How would you comment on this trend?
If these are local companies – then I am all for it. I have personally helped a friend to start his own company and advised on how to manage it in the first phases of operating. The knowledge that each company like that is giving someone employment and provides taxes to the country should be reason enough to inspire support it. What I don’t agree with are situations such as an employee leaving and building his own company based on the Clients gained under the logo of SM, with the tools, data and market potential provided by me. I clasify that as a criminal act and fully condemn it. The country must keep developing nevertheless, so it is a good thing that people keep opening new companies.
Sm Spedition had it’s 5th birthday recently. How did it all begin?
The beginning was difficult. We have officially started in 2011, on September the 1st. It was not until September 21st when I got my license that allowed me to formally start operating in the TSL business. Sadly, in 2012 when I already had my first three employees, our company has fallen victim to a scam by one of polish companies which cost us 350 000 pln – at that time an unimaginable amount of money for me.
That was a difficult time for me – personally and professionally. I have drawn conclusions from these events and now I know that any crisis, if you can endure it, will make you stronger and will help the company endure any further trouble. There is sunshine after each storm and new opportunities may arise – I have hired new employees, and by the end of the year I had more than a dozen people working with me. I have then set some goals for myself and have started working towards them as hard as possible.
How would you evaluate that time – after a major personal crisis and almost going bankrupt?
Yes, let’s not be afraid to use that word. I went bankrupt, it was a difficult time – it was a success that we even survived at all. Not only did we keep our spot in the market, but have also opened new offices and hired new employees. The company lasted, developed and it was all thanks to the fact that we have started extensive training programmes for all our employees. In this time of dynamic changes in the laws, when new limitations in transport were introduced – such as the minimum wage laws, our employees were always fully competent and had the best qualifications. We always provided help for our Clients and the carriers who begun to work with us during that time, still work with us currently.
You set maintaining the highest level and effciency of offered services while keeping a steady corelation between the development of your own company and all of its subcontractors as your main main goal. What were the grounds for setting this strategy and what actions help to achieve the key goals?
High financial performance does not only come from recieving good contracts from regular and new clients, but also from our carriers and subcontractors, who will carry out a large part of the work in our name. We try our best to plan the transport routes so that they are appealing for the carriers in terms of the finances and destinations. Proper flow of information between the client, the forwarder and the carrier is crucial, as well as planning and coordination.
I have spoken about human comunication in more detail during the last TRANSPORT MANAGER meeting in Wroclaw on 08/09/2016 along with our colleagues from Timo Com. All of the mentioned elements are completed thanks to having a team of experienced forwarders and an IT system that can handle all the transport orders, invoices etc which is a tool that greatly enhances our work quality.
Have you decided to develop by training your staff? Or did you take over experienced people from rival companies?
Since the beginning of our business we knew that we wanted to invest in people and human resources. Up until now, 99% of our team is composed of people who had no prior experience in transport, logistics or forwarding. I have always focused on young people, with no experience. At first I showed them how to do the job myself, but currently I have employees who carry out professional trainings. Young people are characterized by being very dynamic, charismatic, they know foreign languages and lack certain bad habits they could have otherwise picked up in rival companies. Naturally, I mean no offence to these companies, but I have to admit that so far such an approach has worked great for us.
Are you not worried about hostile takeovers of your employees by the market? How do you retain and take care of your employees?
Keeping the employees highly motivated is our number one priority. That is on of the topics I have covered during my 15 minutes in front of an almost 300 people audience during the TRANSPORT MANAGER meeting in Wroclaw. I’m well aware that our rivals often stoop to black PR or attempt to take over our forwarders. On day one after starting this business I have sworn to myself that I will always be on time with my payments to the people I employ. This is why my employees earn good money, 95% of them are employed on full time job contracts and the monthly payments are mostly paid early. I never wait unneccesarily long with paying my staff their hard-earned money. We also take care of providing ways for our employees to develop their carreers and maintain a healthy workplace atmosphere. Twice a year we organize integration meetings for our employees in all three of our officess in Ostrow, Jarocin and Lodz and during the Christmas time I organize a big party for all employees and their significant other, guests from the TSL business and verious figures from our city. In 2015 we recieved best wishes from the president of our city – Mrs Beata Klimek in person. We also offer social packages to our employees such as Multisport cards and group health insurance. It’s also important for us that each of the offices is well located in each of the cities. It doesn’t matter if it’s Jarocin, Lodz or Ostrow – all offices provide an easy commute for all employees and monitored parking spaces for their cars.
How large is staff rotation at SM Spedition?
Last year we were able to maintain it on a level below 3%. We do our best to provide conditions good enough for anyone to find a place for themselves in the company. We see to it that our staff does not feel „burnt out” professionally and that they don’t spend their private time for work related activities. The key element for this is to make sure the work is done effectively during business hours, and not the number of hours actually spent in the office. Young people find that very important and appreciate being able to work like that. Of course I would be lying if I told you that every person who came for a job interview with us works here to this day. Some people decided after working at our office for a couple of days that this just isn’t for them. However, most of these people moved on to work in different businesses – TSL just was not their thing.
What do you do to encourage new drivers to work for SM?
First of all we pay them good money for their hard work. We also provide them with the possibility to choose how they wish to be employed by us. Our drivers can choose themselves whether they want to be employed on a b2b contract while running their own one man company, sign a regular work contract with a set salary or get paid based on a daily wage or by the kilometers they drive. It is all down to the driver’s preference, we enforce nothing in this regard. We have also recently hired a driver from Belarus, and I am just as happy with the work he does as I am with the guys from Poland. Other than that I try to make sure their workplace is as comfortable as possible – they trucks they drive are as new as possible with well designed sleeping spaces, refridgerators, sat-nav, CB radio etc. These drivers cover a large workload each day so they must feel comfortable at their place of work.
The conditions in which a TSL business has to finction are constantly changing. Can a polish carrier overcome these changes?
The biggest issue is not connected to the money we pay to our drivers, but with various market formalities and administration. We are forced to keep an eye on the international TSL market and understand the changes in laws in each country where our trucks drive. The French even added the requirement of having a representative in their country who is in possession of all the documents regarding the work contracts and wages of all drivers who come to France!
What would you identify as the biggest threat for SM?
Even though things are good now, I keep thinking what would happen if at some point, for some reason the EU would stop existing, or if Schengen stopped existing? For some time now we watch as Germany or France do everything they can to weaken the position of polish transport companies in Europe. French and german companies can’t withstand the pressure of polish competition, so they do whatever they can to make our lives harder and working in their countries more difficult. Regular
Does SM Spedition contain foreign or polish capital?
The growth of SM has been possible always only due to polish capital, which I have personally invested in this business. I am definitely not considering selling the company or getting a business partner
A SWOT analysis of SM Spedition – strong and weak points and the opportunities and dangers. Which points of each of these groups do you consider to be of key importance?
As for the strong points: a business offer directed at carriers and great clients – companies that are well-established, and as for the weak points then I must sadly admit that it would be the lack of proper funds to construct our own high storage warehouse, which is a personal dream of mine. As for the opportunities that I see for my company – a high capacity for increasing profits and a big threat would be the fact that we have no control over the fluctuation of euro exchange rates.
How does the competition in your business look? Would you recognize any factors that make SM stand out in the TSL market?
The main value of a transport company is the database of transport orders and clients gained. The better the orders and bigger the contracts, the better financial goal we reach at the end of each month. This is why we focus on signing long-term contracts with big partners for whom we carry out the transports.
We invest in employee training programmes, thanks to which our forwarders are able to meet the growing expectations of our Clients. All employees can see that our company is expanding, which I believe is nothing but added value for them – they have a sense of stability.
Seeing the way the market is developing – does being a forwarding company instead of transport-only make it easier or more complicated for companies such as yours?
That’s hard to describe briefly. The business I run, which is a forwarding company is developing very rapidly and it is up to us (the whole company) to adapt to new conditions and Client expectations. I can definitely tell you that the costs of running a forwarding company are much higher than running a transport only company, at least in my company with back-office processes such as administration, accounting, and sadly the lately popular vindication – companies dealing with execution of overdue payments from invoices, tax regulations and tax office restrictions. For example we were forced to hire an outside company to monitor and get for us all overdue payments. These costs would be unneccessary if only companies in Poland and Europe would meet their payment deadlines.
Before we finish – is there anything you would like to add from yourself?
I would like to use the words that I have used to end my TRANSPORT MANAGER meeting in Wroclaw when talking about the success I have achieved.
Steve Jobs once talked about being persistent and Bill Gates advised to learn from our failures. The words of these two were always with me while I was working on builing our brand and success.
Big thanks for a great interview and precise questions about the TSL business.