FlyingTypers Logo
FlyingTypers Ad
   Vol. 14  No. 35
Friday April 24, 2015

Bill Boesch True Confessions

Bill Boesch True Confessions

     Quite a number of year’s ago, a time when Bill Boesch sat astride American Airlines Cargo, I entered the carrier’s first class lounge at Kennedy Airport one morning and spotted him at one end of the room, partially surrounded by a small group of cargo employees. His voice was low, but judging by his stern face and decisive gestures, I guessed him to be in lecture or censure mode. Boesch glanced in my direction, got up quickly, walked across the room to clasp my hand and murmur a greeting, and just as abruptly return to his group without saying another word.
     I mention this random incident to underscore his strict attention to every minor detail. He was too involved to make much of my coincidental appearance, but it was vital to him not to ignore the formality of touching base. In his long drive for success and recognition in the world air freight industry, Boesch, now 71, held strictly to a philosophy of hard work and pressing the borders of growth.
Boesch Code     What are the seeds that make a successful air freight executive? Boesch displayed no hesitancy in declaring “that person needs to start out at the bottom and work their way up.” He explained that it was possible to start in “a low-level management area” or hefting cargo (as he himself did). It was like borrowing a leaf from the military where officers start as second lieutenant or ensign and, based on success in a variety of assignments, fulfill their aspirations. Characterizing the U.S. military as “one of the most successful industries in the world,” he stressed no one started out as a general or admiral.
     Boesch was wholeheartedly in favor of the airlines drawing a valuable lesson from the nation’s military and “stop putting people at the top of cargo organizations without going through the ranks.”
     How do U.S. air freight executives measure up against their overseas counterparts? Boesch confessed to having “mixed feelings” about the question put to him. He pointed out that the U.S. no longer operates all-cargo schedule service “so the top U.S. cargo executives are now within the integrators”—that is, FedEx and UPS. Continuing, Boesch stated:
     “Many foreign airlines operate all-cargo schedule service and therefore have a broader field of responsibility than the cargo heads of the U.S. passenger airlines. But on the other hand, dealing only with passenger aircraft bellies is a science, and those U.S. executives have a harder job in formulating strategies where they have belly capacity to fill. Therefore, U.S. and foreign cargo heads have different fields of expertise and both are strong.”
     In the end, however, he went on to say, when you train the light on the integrators, the U.S. charter all-cargo carriers, and the huge capacity offered by the cargo heads at the three big U.S. passenger carriers, “the edge must go to the U.S. as an overall advantage.”
     What were the inner thoughts of Bill Boesch concerning the air freight forwarder and air cargo agent?      In his view they were “trying,” but they lacked an adequate strategic level. He blamed them for allowing the integrators to capture “much of their market.” Referring to his time at American Airlines, he sought to “rally them to jointly come up with ways with the airlines to protect this market, but all they were interested in was to play airlines against each other to get the lowest rates.”
     Boesch posed several questions: “Exactly what is their present strategy for their role in the industry? What are their goals, and are they achieving them?” Calling attention to changes in the industry and the promise of more changes to come, he asked: “What will change, and how will they continue to add value is the major question they should be tackling.”

Boesch and the Sheiks
Bill leveraged what he learned in air cargo and growing up on the streets of New York City while in Iraq and Afghanistan, often times risking his life out in the countryside negotiating with Sheikhs and others to build better supply routes. The result kept U.S. soldiers safe while building local employment. And as this picture underscores, the cargo was delivered as booked.

Boesch meeting with elders

     As a youth in New York’s Jamaica area, living in a fifth-floor walk-up apartment, this lofty perch enabled William Raphael Boesch to spend hours watching the graceful movements of landing and departing aircraft at nearby Idlewild Airport. It is a miscue to assume that this was the source of inspiration to devote his life to air transportation. Mentally, young Bill was already on his way to satisfy family hopes of his turning out to be a medical doctor or a figure in one of the sciences. In the end, those professions were to find talent elsewhere. A couple of college degrees—a BS and a Masters—were effective sparkplugs. (Still on the way to completing his education, he was able to enjoy a thrill to patronize the Golden Door restaurant located in the tower of the airport.)

Bill Boesch

     Boesch was a late teenager and student when his family made the leap from Jamaica to Baldwin, New York. For the young man the gnawing necessity of adequate “spending money” spurred the need to find a summer job. It is tempting to believe that this was the point at which his choice career took its first, still indefinite, turn.
     As fate would have it, his next-door neighbor was Peter George, a stalwart of Emery Air Freight, serving as its executive vice president – operations. George had worked under John Emery Sr. when he managed the wartime Pacific logistics operations from Hawaii. Another member of that team was George’s friend, John Mahoney, who went onto join Capital Airlines and soon thereafter a new all-cargo carrier, Seaboard + Western Airlines. So the question of a summer job for Boesch hung on whether he preferred to work for an air freight forwarding company or an airline. Boesch had no trouble choosing the latter. Now, relaxing as he related the experience with a distant look in his eyes, Boesch said:
     “Little did I know that I would eventually hold high management positions at both companies, and that the summer job would shape the rest of my life.”
     It was George Hegel who held that “life has a value only when it has something as its object.” In Boesch’s case, his drive toward the “object” started from a routine that progressively included warehouse worker, pallet builder, aircraft loader, weight and balance agent, customer service agent, New York City sales representative, Detroit manager, customer service manager, and finally, vice president – sales.

Bill Boesch and General Johns   Bill Boesch pictured with Four Star General of the United States Air Force Raymond E. Johns Jr., who served as Commander, Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, USA.
   General Johns said: “Bill did the hard, dirty, dangerous work necessary to establish effective relationships with tribal leaders and then devised a working transportation system that reliably supplied distant outposts. The most compelling point, in my view, is that Bill quietly did all this while saving taxpayer dollars and the lives of U.S. service members.”

     The continuity of upward movement at Seaboard came to an end when he agreed to head the Flying Tiger Line’s European sales. But following a brief stay, Boesch crossed over to the forwarding sector when he joined Emery Air Freight as vice president – international sales. In two consecutive promotions he assumed positions as senior vice president – sales and marketing, and executive vice president. Then came associations with Pan American World Airlines as vice president – cargo, followed by senior vice president – passenger and cargo sales and marketing. Boesch’s name flashed at American Airlines, where he was named vice president – cargo, then in quick succession president and then chairman of the cargo division and he wound up in direct activity with air carriers as U.S. head of DHL Global Mail.
     In service for the United States government, Boesch was a consultant on hostile activities, member of the Gore Commission, head of the C-17 commercial study, as well as the Iraq transportation and Afghanistan Transport Network Logistics Operations—and others.
     In the series of interviews, a standard request of the interviewer is to name three individuals who had an impact on his career.
     Boesch agreed wholeheartedly to cooperate—too wholeheartedly it turned out.
      Starting with his Dad, William J. Boesch (“My teacher and role model”) and uncle, Dr. Ern D’Angelo (“Taught me how to read people.”) then went on to Peter George (“Got me into the industry and taught me how to be professional and honest and quality as an important factor.”); John H. Mahoney (“One of the smartest I have known”); Fred Smith (A dream will come true if you work hard at it); Blaise Durante (strategy); Mike Wynne (How to deal politically in a hostile environment); Ray John (patient leadership); Julius Maldutis (dealing in the financial world).

Maldutis, Emery, George, Mahoney and Fred Smith

     In general, how does cargo security stack up in the industry these days? Has it achieved a fully acceptable level? Boesch took exception to the phrase “fully acceptable,” asserting that it “depends on your definition” of the phrase, a complex undertaking. Pleading permission to “ramble on,” he said:
     “It was in the Seventies after an IATA meeting in Geneva where we were briefed on security. I went to Frankfurt on my way back, and called on a few top German forwarders. I told them that security was coming, and they looked at me as if I was nuts. Security did come, and there was a drive to put draconian security on the cargo moving on passenger flights. I argued that all cargo flying should have the same level of security, as a forwarder can use either freighters or passenger bellies.”
     Boesch went on to note that the airlines are united in adopting a stern approach to assure “customers, crew, and aircraft are protected from attack.” It took some time for the carriers to halt using security as a competitive advantage “and I commend the industry for this effort.”
Bill Boesch, Matt Buckley and Southwest Team

Bill Boesch at Air Cargo 2014 with Matt Buckley, Vice President, Cargo & Charter, Southwest Airlines Cargo (second from left) and his team.

    Have the advancing years—say, the last quarter-century—produced a change in airline corporate attitude toward air freight’s contributions and react to its needs? Twenty-five years ago, Boesch observed, the air cargo business was at a point where it was emerging from its infancy and proceeding to its middle age: “Jet speed, jumbojet freighters, large volumes moving at lower cost in jumbojet passenger. Flight belly space, quality management systems, large container IT systems, bar coding, etc.…” These, he said, resulted in air cargo’s entry to big business, “Responsible for a large part (estimated 40 percent) of global trade revenue. Add to the foregoing the industry’s greater sophistication had the reality of management’s greater degree of sensitivity to the cargo sector’s contributions.
     As a veteran air cargo executive, could he put a finger on the airports he regarded as most efficient? Boesch’s initial response was to indicate it was an “honor” that used to go to JFK, ORD, LHR, CDE, FRA, and TYD, “with JFK in the lead.” No more. Credit the changes to the integrators and the “Orient, Middle East, and South American booms” for the changes. At the top today is Memphis, trailed by Incheon, Ted Stevens, Dubai, and Louisville. As Boesch viewed the current situation, “Air cargo has grown from moving primarily emergency traffic to a supply chain logistics tool carrying a large part of the revenue of world trade.
     On the subject of the status of paperless air freight, Boesch offered the following comment:
     “This has been going on for years. We had Project 2000, 2010. IATA needs to take the lead here, and not the carriers, as it needs global acceptance. Back then it was hard. Today it is not.”
     The record shows that more than a dribble of air shippers have returned to surface transport.
     Briefly, why? Boesch’s response: “Cost, quality, faster ships, new ways of protecting perishable goods at sea, improved ground logistics at each end, improved ports.”
     Boesch was asked to take a hard look into the future, and did he detect any signs of potential difficulties for the air freight industry. Boesch’s terse answer was a flat “yes.” He bore down hard on the fact that 76 percent of the Fortune 500 companies have vanished because they failed to change. He predicted that modern technology will create new opportunities, and it will be those firms that respond positively will achieve success. On the other hand, he suggested, a company’s current success and profits may “hold it back.” He asked this intriguing question: “Would Flying Tigers have accepted the large losses and/or huge expense to transform itself into Federal Express?” Boesch described change as a “number one difficulty.” As to himself, “I have always lived by the code that you change or you die.”
     When the talk drifted to the highs and lows in the marketplace, Boesch said: “Unlike the passenger air industry, it is impossible for a cargo carrier to create a demand in a weak market. Also, cargo is monodirectional, so one leg is usually a challenge. Opportunities are in lowering costs, improving quality, and developing new logistic transportation vehicles.”
     Does the helicopter have a possible role to play in commercial air freight? So far as he could see, the answer was no. He cited the high cost of operation and the “fixed physics of helicopter flight—speed, altitude, range.”

Robin Boesch, Shari Cohen and Bill Boesch Shari Cohen and Bill Boesch
Bill Boesch, former President of American Airlines Cargo, was elected into the TIACA Hall of Fame. Here he is pictured with life partner Shari (L) and daughter Heather (R) at the TIACA Awards dinner, and in Orlando at Air Cargo 2014 where Bill keynoted the conference.

     Rounding out the interview, he suggested that IATA needs to be “more forceful” and cease “acting like politicians.” He readily acknowledged the difficulty “when you need unanimous agreement and all carriers get the same vote.”
     For Bill Boesch, the road to the upper levels of the industry has been a twisted and event-laden one. It took a summer job with a cargo airline during his school years to divert him from a career with a stethoscope or bacteria-reading microscope. This wisdom of his youthful choice is highlighted by his induction into TIACA’s Hall of Fame.
Richard Malkin

Richard Malkin

If You Missed Any Of The Previous 3 Issues Of FlyingTypers
Access complete issue by clicking on issue icon or
Access specific articles by clicking on article title

Vol 14 No. 32
New Landmark Address For Air Shippers

Taking Delta On The Road
Echoes 1975-2015
Intermodal Gets High Marks
Chuckles For April 17, 2015
India Postman Rings Twice

Vol. 14 No. 33
Customer Country
I Told You So
Ray Ray On Relationships
Heating Up The Cool Chain
Superman Returns
Chuckles For April 20, 2015
Echoes 1975-2015, 1999