Welcome to our new ‘Unlocking Leadership’ series, where we tap into the wisdom of some of the most inspiring founders, leaders and business minds of today. Explore insider stories, strategies and insights, as we unlock the secrets of successful leadership.

Mike Harrison is an experienced Senior Executive in the shipping and logistics industry, where he’s worked for over 30 years — living and working abroad for many of them. Mike’s worked with major shipping companies including United States Lines, Hapag Lloyd, CMA-CGM, CP Ships, and Beluga shipping, and has run several freight forwarding companies.

His career has taken him to nearly every country of the world, enabling him to build up an enviable network, as well as a strong understanding of different cultures and ways of doing business. As Managing Director of Trans Global Logistics UK, Mike has transformed the company into a globally-recognised organisation, and built empowered, successful teams.

Here, he shares his insights on the logistics industry at large, the challenges around sustainability for small businesses, and the huge value of apprenticeship schemes for the next generation.

What is the biggest challenge facing the logistics industry today?

The shipping industry is a temperature gauge to the economics of the world. It’s cause and effect; what happens today around the world will affect the consumer tomorrow. Currently, challenges exist around ‘pinch points’ throughout the world, which can hold up the shipping of raw materials and commodities, as they become blocked or slowed. 

This impacts cost and time; two essential parts of today’s society and our supply chains. Currently, there are issues in the Panama Canal (due to low water levels) and the Red Sea, due to military activity. This has already created challenges with container supply, costs associated with waiting or adapting routes, and shipping lines taking advantage in order to increase profits.

How are you navigating this challenge, as an organisation?

We have to take a very close look at resources and P&L. As a company, we focus on our niche markets which to some extent are less vulnerable to price and availability issues. However, we also see the advent of the Chinese shipping giants coming into the market, especially with new vehicle imports, which will again have some effect on the market. Fundamentally, I manoeuvre the company focus in order to take advantage of the challenges.

What major events, trends or innovations affecting the logistics industry have had the most impact on Trans Global Logistics UK?

As the shipping industry moves towards sustainability and emissions control, it’s important that we as a business remain aware of the changes which our customers require in this field, and try to offer solutions – this is probably the single most important change to affect the shipping industry, as we move to a zero emissions target. There is however a tendency to ‘greenwash’, and at the moment there’s no positive line between being able to take action without that potential for greenwashing.

Companies are at a crossroads; they need to drive continuous growth and profitability at the same time as being sustainable. For small businesses, this becomes a costly exercise which unfortunately can lead to the small freight companies offering a less sustainable solution. It’s a real challenge.

We’ve seen an inevitable move towards EVs in the market. One questions if this is something sustainable or a trend that will be overtaken with other technology, namely Hydrogen Cell or clean fuels. At the moment, there are huge volumes of EVs coming in from China, undercutting the market in the EU and UK.

One of the most challenging of changes is finding people with experience, or willing to gain experience in our industry. The industry — and country — needs to better promote the apprenticeship programs to encourage more young people to engage with companies in shipping and logistics; companies that will target them for future management, and train them in specific areas for which they will be renumerated as they move forward.

Many university graduates who perhaps don’t have a clear direction for their work life can take advantage of these schemes — especially if they’ve studied more diverse subjects.

Remote working is right at the top of the list when it comes to the expectations of many young people. I fear this detracts from the team-building which is very relevant in a customer service driven business. I would like to see more engagement by schools and colleges with business, so that school leavers have a better idea of the workplace through apprentice schemes. Then of course there’s the largest challenge —to get younger people to speak, rather than message!

What do you envision to be the next key trend or ‘game-changer’ within the industry?

Given the current geopolitics, it’s very difficult to conclude what direction the future may hold, particularly looking at the UK. With electioneering likely to be going out of control, I think perhaps the fundamentals will get lost. Here in the UK, we need some basic fundamentals in place — especially after Brexit — such as trade agreements with the largest trading blocks; a fundamental realignment in the UK for productivity, transport, and port strategy. 

Our industry somewhat thrives on uncertainty (check the Red Sea), so I believe that there will be little certainty over the next 5 years and beyond. As an organisation we need to navigate these uncertainties and be resilient, grow the organisation in such a way that it can be resilient across many markets and take advantage of growth areas.

What principles guide your leadership during periods of rapid change or uncertainty?

My aim is to create an organisation that is resilient to change, which has its fundamental strengths in its main verticals but can broaden its approach and grow into other areas of the supply chain.

We have a very multicultural workplace, especially as we deal with many (if not most) areas around the world. Nowadays, people want to feel empowered by their workplace, and feel they are part of a growing company, this can surpass the need for high salaries. It’s necessary to understand each area of the business, and have people that run each division take ownership so they’re an integral part of the team, and can feel that inclusion. My job is to orchestrate the team in the right direction. 

To measure success and impact, beyond the financials, I look at the longevity of the workforce and train people for what I need them to do now and into the future. This means you have a multifunctional workforce able to cope with the changes required to manoeuvre the business through challenges. More training = successful teams.

What’s your advice to someone starting a career in logistics? 

Be resilient, never look back, and always move with wide eyes to the next challenge that life throws at you! Remain flexible, and take opportunities.

What has been a personal career highlight? 

There are too many to mention! I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to run a shipping line based in Hong Kong, and also to do the shipping for U2’s Lemon Tour… to name just a couple.

What are some of your favourite aspects of working in this industry?

Working in the freight and shipping industry gives you so many opportunities to travel and live abroad. You get to work within many different countries and cultures, which gives one an open mind.

What’s a favourite motto that you draw on?

Be motivated to go anywhere – and do anything; it’s all within your grasp. And of course: “Making what seems impossible – possible.” [the Trans Global Logistics tagline].

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Explore ITN Business’ upcoming programme: ‘Transforming Logistics’

The logistics sector is the backbone to industry and plays a critical role in ensuring smooth business operations, which in turn supports the growth of the economy. The logistics and supply chain sector has seen many challenges in recent years from the pandemic, rising fuel and transportation costs, as well as ongoing labour shortages. As customer demand rises alongside the adoption of more sustainable practices and advancements in technology and innovation, the sector continues to adapt.​

Transforming Logistics: Precision and Purpose’ will feature organisations at the core of the logistics and supply chain sector and show how they are adapting and rising to the challenges the sector is facing and looking to encourage the next generation.

Case study-led stories will demonstrate support going on in the sector, how organisations are innovating and using technology to generate value and feature organisations who are supporting in finding efficient and sustainable ways to deliver goods in crowded urban environments. ​Featuring interviews with thought leaders from BIFA, the British International Freight Association, Logistics UK and CILT, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the UK.

There are commercial opportunities for leading organisations to be featured in the programme and spearhead their own news item. If your organisation wants to share what you stand for and be part of this important conversation about logistics, please contact ITN Business’ Programming Directors Michael Holt and Tamsin Luck.