The Loop, Chicago, USA—Looking
at the global air cargo market and reaction to business in the
here and now from the inside amongst the people at United Cargo in 2019
plays in mind a bit like the famous opening paragraph of Charles Dickens'
novel, A Tale of Two Cities.
“It was the best of times, it
was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity …”.
We are on the 15th floor of The
Willis Tower in Chicago and it is all fast times at United Cargo headquarters.
Elsewhere there is a big meeting
going on with headquarters people and others from around the world discussing
what’s up and what lies ahead for United’s Cargo business.
Standing by for that meeting to
conclude, we are sitting comfortably at a coffee table as the heart of
a mega-giant air cargo enterprise beats all around us.
During those moments we are aware
that the future of United Cargo is here today on the half shell for all
to see in the faces and voices and vibes of this place. United Cargo today
feels like a body electric on a great adventure reorganizing, enhancing
and accelerating thinking.
Instead of holding its corporate
head in pain as a tough business year has continued, United made moves
that it hopes will guarantee continuance of its position as the undisputed
number one U.S. combination air cargo carrier.
Turns out that recent reorganization
also included a ground-up HQ staff move from another floor inside Willis.
The shift from the familiar to the new undoubtedly has had the net effect
of ramping up team spirit as everyone here, in some form or another, shares
a group experience as they continue their work in what amounts to an air
cargo sanctuary inside one of the tallest buildings in the world.
We talked to several key players
at United Cargo (who will be featured here later) to share some thoughts
as the final months of 2019 get underway.
Jan Krems Sexy Cargo
up is United Cargo President Jan Krems, who has energized this organization
by example since he landed the top spot in Chicago in summer 2014.
Sure, 2019 has been a tough year.
But tell Jan something he doesn’t already know.
“It’s a downturn, not
a recession,” Jan states.
“We just had a worldwide
meeting to discuss the recent ‘rational restructuring’ of
our cargo organization. The new alignment brings all the stakeholders
needed to evaluate and deliver on new customer opportunities in each region
together, making us much quicker-to-market.
“People are empowered at
United Cargo as never before – not only to get closer to our customers
but also to be much more entrepreneurial.”
We wonder if, five years on, Jan
still thinks cargo is sexy and his reply is immediate.
“With every beat of my heart,”
Just down the hall as a gentle
rain begins to fall outside, inside, the bright smile of Kate Harbin lights
up the room.
Kate carries an impressive resume,
including work for the U.S. State Department in Hong Kong before joining
United Cargo just over a year ago.
But her focus and sense of purpose
as Product Development Manager for United’s TempControl service
is most impressive.
“Cell and gene therapies
have changed everything – including our approach to the pharma and
health care market for us here at United,” Kate said.
“Every shipment using a smart
technology-equipped Savsu unit, or another of the high-performance systems
we carry, has a personal story connected to it: from life-saving personalized
medicines to organs for immediate transplant.
“These innovative units and
United’s vast network combine to bring life-saving therapies to
airport and cities beyond major markets worldwide,” Kate Harbin
for a Better Way
Meanwhile Adam Cooper, Senior Manager
of United Cargo Sales Strategy, states that his current role, where he
is tasked, among many other things, to do predictive analysis, “Allows
me to not just influence but actively impact the product we deliver to
“Working in the freight warehouse,
Operations Planning at headquarters, then leading a Sales Team and now
in Sales Strategy during my 12 years at UA has taught me to appreciate
the unique contributions of each group, and also to value each teammates’
So what drives the indefatigable
“I appreciate disruptors
because they challenge established thinking and methods. There’s
usually a better way out there, and we’re searching for it together.”
Making Tech Transparent
first met Lori Lively when she was teamed up Claudia Steinke from Lufthansa.
The two air cargo “sisters” were responsible for leaning in
together to guarantee that the much-vaunted cargo alliance between the
two super carriers actually worked.
They were a dedicated, powerful
force for good, a power that propelled the cargo joint venture, which
is now thriving.
Now Lori is in a new role as United’s
Senior Manager, Cargo Technology Products, and that translates into even
broader responsibility to ensure that every part of the operation has
the resources it needs to operate at peak efficiency.
“It’s all about speeding
up the process of enhancing and improving our technology, while providing
absolute transparency to teammates,” Lori said.
“An example of what we can
accomplish is the joint venture technology platform we developed with
Lufthansa Cargo that allows our customers to book and track their JV shipments
on both partner carriers systemwide.”
What Really Matters
Laura Petrusich has also recently
taken on a new role after 31 years with United, 28 of these in Cargo.
Laura is now Senior Manager responsible for Cargo Revenue Management throughout
the entire APAC Region.
success and reputation is based on a strong work ethic combined with unvarying
integrity and honesty, but face to face she says simply:
“It’s all about building
“As the #1 U.S. carrier to
China, United has felt the impact of trade wars and tariffs, and we needed
to make adjustments as some manufacturing shifted to other countries in
Asia,” Laura said.
“So we immediately went to
work expanding our routings with interline partners.
“The business is constantly
changing and competition is always fierce, and my long experience has
taught me never to forget how important our partners are.
“The most powerful thing
you can do, with partners, customers or co-workers, is to connect with
them face-to-face and assure them that you understand their challenges.
“No matter how much technology
advances, or whether the market is booming or struggling, the cargo business
is still all about people,” Laura insists.
Satisfaction: The Last Laugh
Buckwalter, United’s Manager of Cargo Claims, can tell you that
she has never encountered a customer demand she has immediately dismissed.
She can also, during a conversation,
break into an easy laugh, eyes sparkling, as Courtney considers what part
of the dialogue in her daily life might fit into her other passion as
a stand-up comedienne.
She admits the job demands keeping
her eyes on the prize, while walking a kind of tightrope dealing with
people looking for a refund, but sometimes much more than that: validation,
a willing listener and satisfaction.
“You cannot be emotional
and take the job home.
“It’s a delicate dance,
you have to be super creative.
“The idea is not to burn
bridges, and to find a solution both parties can agree on,” Courtney
Off hours Courtney is a featured
player in an all-female stand-up comedy group that appears regularly in
various night spots throughout Chicagoland.
“After some days around here,
comedy is the best therapy,” Courtney laughed.
The United Cargo team at the June 2019 Air Cargo Europe in Munich.
The Last Waltz
“We are all part of something
special,” Adam Cooper said.
“Jan Krems’ personality
and positivity has created a halo effect that allows everyone at United
Cargo to speak their minds and make the decisions they believe will best
serve the team and the business.”