once in a while, late night conversations turned to people we have known
over the years in the air cargo business.
Make no mistake about it: despite changes
felt in almost every quarter of the air cargo experience, this industry
is still all about people.
There have been a few people who have touched
almost every facet of air cargo, even impacting people in companies other
than their own.
But in all my 40-plus years in air cargo,
there is one individual who stands tallest as a dreamer and doer, and,
maybe even more importantly, as a great mentor in the air cargo industry;
that person is Jacques Ancher.
Although he has been out of the business
almost too long to remember, I still miss Jacques Ancher.
So you can imagine my thrill when The International
Air Cargo Association (TIACA) selected him in 2014 for a Lifetime Achievement
Jacques did in fact serve a lifetime in
transportation, and at the point he retired in 1999 he was executive vice-president
cargo at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
Path To Glory
Jacques was a visionary in the air cargo
He was promoted to chief Cargo Marketing
at KLM in 1997, taking over from Leo van Wijk, who was elevated to the
Board of KLM, where Pieter Bouw was CEO at that time.
It was very common in those days for companies
to split themselves up into business units, each with their own bottom
With a proper focus on the individual businesses,
a substantial improvement of profit could be expected. So KLM created
three Business Units, i.e. Passenger Business, Cargo, and Engineering
Jacques was appointed EVP Cargo.
Together with Boubby Grin, Jacques developed
a complete strategy, business, and implementation plan.
Cargo moved out of KLM's HQ into its own
Global Headquarters at Schiphol Airport, close to the Cargo Terminals.
Jacques created three major Cargo subdivisions
in the KLM Network.
He appointed three VPs with the task to
In Europe, the Cargo VP’s were Michel
Coumans together with Boet Kreiken; in Asia, Stan Wraight with Oliver
Evans; and in The Americas, Jan Meurer with Roel Schrijer.
Regional Managers were appointed where they
For example, in the Americas there was one
Regional Manager for Canada; in the USA five Managers; and in Latin America
one Regional Manager was appointed, with an office in Miami.
A lot of time was spent introducing the
new strategy, the business planning process, and implementation plan.
By 1995 the job was done and Jacques called
the VPs back to Amsterdam.
And from that time on, and still today,
KLM Cargo is managed centrally.
saw way beyond the horizon when it came to anything connected to transportation.
He viewed air cargo and the entire logistics
exercise in clear and precise terms at a time when others noticed little
more than a blur in the rearview mirror.
KLM operated a fleet of cargo-friendly combi-aircraft
across its vast international route system, offering main-deck capabilities
almost everywhere the airline flew.
The airline also formed a holding company
and acquired the most advanced air cargo facilities while it moved to
secure European road feeder companies.
KLM brought on ACMI lift as an originator
of that form of transportation and positioned itself as the undisputed
leader in several segments of air cargo, including live animal and perishables
The driving influence for much of this was
To be sure, KLM has always been a cargo
In fact, the chief executives of the carrier
have often also served as top cargo men at the airline before landing
behind the CEO’s desk.
Jacques Ancher brought focus, vision, and
excitement to his airline and air cargo as well.
Nearing the age of 101, Richard Malkin is
the unquestioned Dean of Air Cargo Journalists. He has covered the industry
non-stop since 1942,including first-hand reporting of The Berlin Airlift
Here Dick, who for many years edited the
KLM Cargovision Magazine, recalls Jacques:
“Jacques Ancher was an astute successor
to Pieter Bouw, quick to grasp and deal with the complexities of his responsibilities,”
Richard Malkin said in March 2014.
“He had a remarkable ability to reduce
difficult issues to common terms, and he sought to maintain a reasonable
balance among carrier, forwarder, and customer in a wildy competitive
“For me, as a proud member of TIACA’s
Hall Of Fame, I consider it a privilege and honor to welcome Jacques Ancher
to this institution. It was Shakespeare who said that nothing is good
without respect, and clearly Jacques’ election reflects
the respect and appreciation of a selfless career devoted to reaching
the targets and setting new goals for an industry intent on growth and
“As an air cargo executive, Jacques
early displayed the earmarks of authentic professionalism, quick to grasp
and effectively to deal with the myriad problems descending on sales,
operations and traffic. It was nothing less than an art to maintain KLM
Cargo’s high ranking in a global field of hard-line competitors.
Jacques’ performance as a cargo executive was underscored by his
adherence to a personal conviction that principle is basic to ultimate
success, not expedience
“Jacques Ancher belonged to air cargo’s
second generation—a period of refinement of operational methods,
more sophisticated equipment, streamlined airline relationships, and shifting
air-surface transportation competition. There was little doubt that significant
changes were taking place in cargo transportation as a whole. It was a
time when the sharp edge of professionalism was a prime need. Jacques’
instincts were those not only of a first rate air freight man but—importantly—of
a first rate businessman. The measure of Jacques Ancher’s career
were his signal contributions to enhanced commonality in the airline-customer
The aforementioned Pieter Bouw who at one
time sat above the KLM Cargo floor at JFK International Airport, and rose
during an illustrious career to the top officer position at KLM and continued
his own illustrious airline career is no less reserved in his unanimous
praise and affection for Jacques:
“Jacques build his own career path.
“Way back, after having been in Market
Research for some time, Jacques’ ambition was to get a position
abroad in the Field Organization of KLM.
“A well-desired position in South
Korea became available.
“Many of Jacques’ friends and
colleagues were highly interested in the job and Jacques started to spread
the rumor that he would be appointed.
“Much to the surprise of his many
friends in the marketing department, Jacques was indeed appointed.
“‘Of course they select the
best man available, but I was afraid they would have overlooked me.’
“It was the beginning of a splendid
career in KLM’s Sales and Marketing organization all over the world.
“He was one of the few in KLM taking
challenging positions in both businesses: Passengers and Cargo, saying
‘the one cannot do without the other.’
“During the late seventies Jacques
held the position of being responsible for Cargo Sales in Europe and Africa.
“At that time there was quite some
tension between airlines and the intermediaries: forwarders and consolidators.
“Jacques kept an effective balance
between direct market access and via intermediaries claiming ‘as
long as they provide me with profitable business it is not important whether
we like them or not, and it is better that they give their business to
us than to our competitors.’
“He often referred to the wooden sign
hanging in the KLM Cargo office:
Hug Your Forwarder Today?
“Jacques was always very practical
and action driven:
“When meetings took long and many
expressed their views in an extensive way to show their eloquence, Jacques
in the end asked:
“‘Mr. Chairman, what do we decide
and what are we going to do?’
“In all his management positions Jacques
focused on enabling his team members to develop themselves in doing an
excellent job as independently as possible.
“Developing people was, in Jacques
view, conditional to developing the cargo business.
“He expected the same approach from
“When taking the cargo job, two members
of the Management Board of KLM had an extensive experience in Cargo: Leo
van Wijk and myself.
“In the beginning we had a tendency
‘to know better’ than the man having the responsibility for
the Cargo business: Jacques.
“Jacques took us both apart and said,
‘Support my strategy, give me the tools, and I will run the Cargo
business effectively, so you both have more time available to do your
own job, which in my view is difficult enough.’
“The message was clear, well understood,
and accepted and from that moment on.
“Jacques developed the Cargo business
for KLM beyond any expectations,” Pieter Bouw concluded.
Meetings With The Press
We remember Jacques as an amazingly well
He enjoyed air cargo, thought of this business
as an art, and he celebrated KLM Cargo with a passion that eludes most
He also gave the reporter the best of all
Jacques was an engaged and engaging personality
who was always good copy.
He could sit for hours with a room full
of reporters in sessions of the world air cargo media at KLM Cargo headquarters.
In an era of quickie statements and sound
bites, when was the last time that happened anywhere?
really didn’t matter if the gatherings were about a product launch
or facility dedication, issues came out on the table and were confronted.
More often than not, what began as a media
event turned into a roundtable work session, a kind of “fetch up
some deep thoughts and let’s talk about them” encounter with
Eventually Jacques began placing his wristwatch
alongside his note pad at these gatherings because when the talk got going,
time, to Jacques, became a non-issue.
Today any tradeshow forum session would
do well to get some talk and action underway that matches the dynamics
of reality and substance that those KLM media sessions possessed during
the early 1990s.
Jacques also enjoyed life, friends, good
food, and wine.
Often when it came to entertaining, Jacques
Ancher would pull out all the stops.
Once after an all-day press session at cargo
headquarters in Amsterdam, Jacques hosted a dinner for about 100 members
of the media and others at Huis van Loon, a classic Dutch double-sized
Located at 672 on a narrow street and waterway
called the Keizersgracht in the old part of Amsterdam, the canal house
once belonged to one of Rembrandt’s pupils and today is restored
to its former elegance.
Dinner at small, candle-lit tables was intimate,
excellently prepared, and served with gaiety, élan, much laughter,
and good conversation, followed by a scripted, light-hearted presentation
that featured Jacques and members of the KLM Cargo team.
They just don’t do those kinds of
things around air cargo very much anymore.
But being Jacques Ancher went way beyond
the borders and confines of the airline he served.
Jacques also managed to be well respected
by some rather illustrious competitors as well.
A Major Competitor
This from Wilhelm Althen, who was serving
at the time as Chairman of the Lufthansa Cargo Group:
“I first met Jacques Ancher in 1990.
“Under his firm leadership, lasting
almost a decade, KLM Cargo grew into one of the largest and most advanced
air cargo carriers, operating the largest fleet of Combi aircraft as well
as a number of freighters.
“They were a formidable competitor,
and there is no doubt that KLM Cargo, like Lufthansa Cargo, shared the
thoughtful leadership of the air cargo industry of the time, introducing
new products and services and upgrading ground facilities.
“I am delighted that his contribution
has been recognized in the award of the Hall of Fame 2014, which is also
a tribute to the entire air cargo industry of that era.”
But perhaps the greatest recognition and
honor anyone can hope for is to hear appreciation from people that worked
with and for you.
The daily rub of that type of encounter
can bring out real feelings one way or another.
Here are some more selected responses from
some very important people in air cargo who want to speak up for Jacques.
Oliver Evans, Chief Cargo Officer at Swiss
and currently serving as Chairman of The International Air Cargo Association
(TIACA), recalls moving into air cargo (as mentioned earlier) as part
of Team Ancher.
was my great fortune that I entered the air cargo industry (in 1987, after
spending the first 10 years of my career in ocean freight) by joining
KLM Cargo, then under the leadership of Jacques Ancher.
“I spent 10 years on his team, and
my unreserved passion for our industry, and for what I do today, was undoubtedly
born in those vibrant days.
“Yes, our industry is the quintessence
of globalization; yes, it is exciting to be speaking to, and indeed meeting,
people from all over the world, from every industry we serve, each and
every working day, to have countless opportunities to travel and solve
“But leaders we can look up to, from
whom we learn, who inspire us, who stamp their personality and their ideas
on an entire team, such leaders truly make the difference.
“Jacques was unquestionably one such
“He involved the entire organization,
and indeed the customers, in finding and developing new ideas and new
“Jacques listened to, and coached,
not just his direct reports, but any young or ambitious executive who
wanted to contribute.
“Externally, he made the company into
one of the industry leaders, developing strongly and profitably, and unafraid
to express sometimes controversial views.
“Internally, he broke taboos, appointed
women and foreigners to key roles, embraced diversity.
“But above all he unleashed our potential,
and created energy, and trust.
“Jacques remains an inspiring friend
and colleague to this day,” Oliver Evans said.
Ancher Shaped The Value Proposition
Likewise, Michael Steen, Executive Vice
President and Chief Commercial Officer, Atlas Air, recalls his days at
KLM Cargo during the Jacques Ancher era:
Jacques changed the KLM Cargo organization structure in 1995, he engaged
the entire KLM Cargo global management group to partake in the shaping
of the value proposition and global organization structure which enabled
a strong team engagement and relatively smooth transition.
“Jacques challenged his team to strive
for the best, take in external influences in order to make the business
better, sharpen the focus, and strive for success.
“He was a true visionary and understood
better than most how a combination carrier could add value to the entire
supply chain, and he positioned KLM Cargo accordingly.
“His focus on attracting and developing
talent was exceptional—something which benefited the entire air
cargo industry as several executives moved on to take on new challenges
outside of KLM.
“The customer certainly came first
and Jacques himself was keen on meeting regularly with top customers.
“I agree wholeheartedly in what Pieter
Bouw said about Jacques wanting to ‘be left alone to manage his
“Jacques Ancher applied the same mantra
with his management team and we were all given great autonomy in managing
our respective areas.
“Of all the people I have known in
air cargo during my career, Jacques stands tall amongst the greatest of
them all,” Michael Steen declared.
“The years in KLM Cargo were the best
of my career,” said Jan Meurer, who served under Jacques and went
on to command the entire KLM USA effort before moving back to Netherlands
where he ended his career as Executive Vice President, Inflight Services
at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
who can speak at long length with great wisdom and passion about all things,
especially Jacques Ancher, shares some thoughts that build a powerful
image about his friend.
“Together with Jacques and colleagues
we managed to change the thinking and had the courage to step out of the
“Perhaps we were 20 years too early.
“Today it is an absolute must to introduce
Jacques Ancher's concepts if the traditional air cargo business wants
to survive!” Jan declared.
What Jan referred to as “20 years
too early” was the Ancher-inspired policy at KLM Cargo with respect
to competition and the KLM-Forwarder relationship.
The concept didn't go across very successfully,
and later KLM assigned a man to survey the extent of reactions against
But like many dreamers and doers who innovated
and pioneered, time proves the man.
Today many of the innovations for which
Jacques Ancher stuck his neck out more than two decades ago are common
My favorite Jacques Ancher encounter occurred
in 1995 while visiting KLM Cargo headquarters at Schiphol Airport.
I was in the VIP lav washing my hands, and
noticed Jacques standing next to me, doing the same thing.
For no particular reason, I began talking
about my desire to create an air cargo book series and how I had imagined
that KLM, with such a rich culture for cargo, would be an ideal start.
We talked in that small lavatory for 45
minutes; without interruption, we felt lost in time, and only exited after
we had shook hands, having decided to do the book.
Outside, a half dozen KLM’ers at HQ
were wondering whether they should break the door down.
I still remember the looks on those faces
as the top boss at KLM Cargo and the writer emerged from the executive
toilet after three quarters of an hour.
But that was Jacques.
No matter what else was going on, his thought
process was completely focused on what was at hand.
Like a great athlete, his concentration was total.
For my brief encounter, I discovered that
working for him was a real treat.
I researched the pictures, designed the
book and wrote the copy from a base inside the legendary, granite, art
nouveau 1902 American Hotel, located near Leidse Square in Amsterdam.
The place was a constant charge to the creative
I worked all day in my room overlooking
the canal and drank all night in the hotel pub – The Nightwatch
Bar – talking to the locals while imagining Hemingway barreling
through a side door, slugging down a frosty tall Heineken, and disappearing
into the night.
Late one Friday afternoon, while awaiting
a plane back to New York City, I was sitting in what I thought was an
empty office up at KLM Cargo HQ, looking over some design sheets for the
book (True Blue-The History of KLM Cargo, 1996) when a soft,
familiar voice outside called out a name.
It was Jacques looking for somebody.
I bid him come inside the room and entreated
his patience to show him some of the stuff in the book, looking and hoping
I read him the last page of the book, which
contained a picture of a small statue (pictured right) Jacques had commissioned
for the reception room downstairs by the elevator.
After describing the page and caption, he
Finally unable to stand it, I asked him
what he thought of the work and the last photo and caption, saying something
“You can suggest something else.”
He looked at me and said:
“I wouldn’t change anything.
“Your work is unique.
“You are an artist.”
I cannot describe the feeling at that moment
except to say that my desire to do books about the business I love was
touched four square and has been fueled ever since.
People that understand the human condition
and attempt to balance the big time business thing are rare; as mentioned
there are a few who can do it.
Imagine an air cargo facility, among the
most advanced in the world, which also contains art commissioned by the
airline or company, affording artists a palette to create original works
that are presented in places of pride inside working areas and waiting
During the Ancher era, the KLM air cargo
facility located in the City of Amsterdam—a city that nurtured Rembrandt
and Van Gogh, and brought their art to the world—displayed original
works created by unknown aspiring artists commissioned by KLM from destinations
the airline serves around the world.
A small thing? Not really. A sense of place,
and responsibility to that place, was always very Jacques Ancher.
Jacques also saw to it that KLM created
the first leading edge, avant-garde publication for air cargo when KLM
Cargovision, a magazine house organ, was completely reformed during
the mid-1990s into a monthly work of art itself.
thought when Jacques Ancher retired, he was too young to have left, and
that he would probably pop up somewhere later.
But apparently, Jacques Ancher really wanted
to study grandchildren and savor the wine of a life well lived.
He has repeatedly turned down interviews
and “where is he now?” type stories, preferring to stay at
home or out on the beach enjoying his family and life.
There is tremendous hope in the proposition
that there are among us, well-ordered lives that continue after air cargo.
Maybe I just have seen too many of my friends
retire, and then not live long enough after the yoke of a life-long career
Maybe it’s just selfish.
I’d hate to think that my background
as a historian has left me permanently kissing that past’s ass.
Still, I miss Jacques Ancher, and I’m
thrilled that after 15 years away from the industry he will stand up and
be counted with the greats in air cargo’s history.
He was not just another executive suit,
but rather a great leader, thinker, and patron of life who—for all
those reasons and more—landed among the royalty of the air cargo
To KLM and air cargo, Jacques Ancher was
and will always be the Dutch Master.