Jan Krems began his tenure five and a half years ago as President at United Airlines
Worldwide Cargo we wrote:
“Winston Churchill said of Franklin
Roosevelt that ‘meeting him was like uncorking your first bottle
of champagne,’ which is exactly what it felt like to us when we
sat down and talked to Jan Krems, President of United Cargo.”
Face-to-face, or on Zoom, take your pick,
Jan comes across as a very broad thinker and a brilliant air cargo mind.
But he also seems a very approachable guy who knows how to both motivate
people and thinking, and have some fun as well.
Right now United Cargo business is on fire
all over the world setting new records, having moved somewhere in the
neighborhood of 10,000 cargo only flights. Krems and his team have UA
Cargo out front and pulling away from every other U.S. flag combination
Nothing seems impossible, including maybe
even that long-held dream; every executive who has been borne into the
air cargo fabric of the world has on their bucket list, a vision of skies
full of freighters.
Krems is the dreamer and doer airline air
cargo executive of our age.
The rest of us can feel lucky when he walks
down the street and shares some thoughts with us.
Great Basic Training
Born in the Netherlands, Jan worked his
way into the air cargo industry starting at the bottom at KLM, rising
up the ladder to the point where, just prior to arrival in the Willis
Center, Chicago, home of United Airlines, he headed up the fortunes of
KLM/Air France Cargo USA, a $400+ million dollar business.
As top executive at United Cargo, which
pre-pandemic generated better than a billion dollars a year, Jan makes
no secret that he landed the job of a lifetime and is enjoying every moment
“I think cargo is very sexy,”
Jan says with a smile.
“Forwarders just make air cargo even
“But thinking about the three key
players in any shipment: the customer, the forwarder and the airline –
what’s immediately obvious is that we need each other!
As From Today January 11, 2021
Here is the latest, as Krems put down his
sword for an update as 2021 begins.
One thing is immediately apparent, Mr. Krems
keeps looking up in a COVID-19 era when there is no looking back. In a
sink or swim airline business throughout the pandemic, Krems’ United
Airlines Cargo has delivered a remarkable impact with a business plan
that seems to be clicking on all levels, propelling the Chicago-based
carrier into the position of one of the fastest growing air cargo resources.
When was the last time you had lunch somewhere with
a good friend or an important business colleague? What aside from COVID-19
do you think 2020 will be remembered for?
JK: I recently
had lunch in the Netherlands with one of my best friends who is quite
ill, and only has a few weeks to live. Despite the sad occasion, we had
a great lunch with his sons and my sons. It was a very good day and a
celebration of life.
The next day, I had lunch with my parents.
My father just turned 88 years old and he has had his up days and down
days. He was in good spirits, so we had a nice lunch and shared a beer
Aside from COVID-19, I think 2020 for me
will always remind me how vulnerable you can be as a human being—and
a population as whole. It just goes to show you that there are a lot of
other things more important than the rat race and making money. 2020 will
always remind me of the importance of friendship.
are the lessons of 2020, what have you learned?
JK: As I
had lunch with my friend and parents, it showed me how important it is
to spend more time with others. Make more time to talk and listen to each
other. We are not invincible, and something like a virus can derail us.
It gives us some reflection on who we are and what our purpose in life
How did 2020 change your business life? What is
your greatest regret of this time?
year, since I didn’t have to work out of the Chicago office, I spent
more time working from my house in Spain with Manon, my wife of 33 years.
I have never spent so much time with her in my life, but it has been a
great thing. We talked a lot, shared drinks together, enjoyed the great
weather—it tested our relationship, but spending this much time
together made our relationship stronger. Although it’s been great,
she is very happy to see me travel again.
My biggest regret was that I didn’t
live closer to my parents. I am lucky because I can fly from Spain to
Holland and see them, but it’s not the same as being close to them.
My mom has gotten really good at video conferencing and putting pictures
on WhatsApp—so I do get to see them virtually.
is the price tag of success?
JK: Of course,
you have to put in the hard work, and sometimes that may take you away
from the other joys in life.
I believe that in order to be successful,
you must work with others and give credit where credit is due. The only
way to achieve success is to be collaborative, yet give each other the
freedom, and recognize the people who got you where you are. And that
is the positive aspect of success.
in your work routine do you plan to do differently in 2021?
JK: I plan
to travel more. Once countries reopen, I want to travel to see my employees
and spend time with our customers. I believe that about 30 percent of
business is determined by the reputation of the company, their network,
the quality and capabilities.
The rest is people related—getting to know
your customer, understanding their needs and being able to provide solutions
to their business challenges. It is also about getting to know them on
a deeper level and sharing a drink. It’s by getting to know them
on a personal level that truly makes a difference.
FT: Do you
see accelerated benefit to IT as the result of the 2020 experience?
JK: The technology
that allows us to have virtual meetings and conversations is truly remarkable.
Imagine if this pandemic had hit 10-15 years ago. We would not have been
able to conduct business as well as we have these last nine months. It
doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction, but it allows me to feel
connected to my team.
there be less or more emphasis on trade shows and group gatherings ahead?
JK: I definitely
hope to have more group gatherings ahead. I think people are anxious and
are ready to have interactions with other, dance with each other, have
fun, conduct business, share food and drink, and just be with each other.
I also believe that United’s CEO Scott Kirby is correct when he
says that business travel will come back. I, for one, cannot wait to see
our employees and customers and attend conferences and trade shows again.
Zoom become the new normal when you want to generate attention, hold meetings
build contact via social network?
like Zoom and Microsoft Teams can really facilitate business interactions.
They have proven themselves to be beneficial, so they will not go away.
But these technologies will not replace the importance of face-to-face
interactions with customers and employees.
you work from office as before, or have we, like Caesar, crossed the Rubicon.
From now on, will our way of doing business be different?
our office reopens, I will spend time there every month. However, I also
plan to travel, the moment countries open up. As cargo people, we need
to know our customers and products. We also need to learn about the countries
and people that we transport cargo to—you can’t learn this
from sitting in the office.
you share your feelings about weakness, old age and luxury? As the page
turns on another year after one like no other, what do you want your service
partners to know about United Cargo?
JK: I have
no issues sharing my vulnerabilities, and wisdom—although I am not
that old. Yes, I just turned 60. Sometimes I feel like I am 40, other
times I feel that I am 80. But the wisdom that I can impart as a 60-year
old is that as I’ve said all along – you are not invincible
on your own, and you cannot take anything for granted. I had Corona and
survived. There are younger and more fit people who caught the virus have
died from it.
We need to take the days as they come, because
nothing is guaranteed in life. Spend time with your family and friends.
Having a good job and earning wealth is great—but meaningless if
you can’t share it.
As for what I would like to tell our service
partners—we cannot succeed without them. We need our service partners
now and in the future more than we ever have. We need to be open, honest
and sharing ideas. Over the last nine months, as a team, United Cargo
has had to change the way we do business. No longer are we in a siloed
way of thinking. All our business units worked together and we came up
with the best ideas. These ideas launched the cargo-only flights of which
we have had over 9,000 for the year.
We were also able to put together our best team
and plan for shipping the vaccine—and we became the first airline
to do so. Going forward, we would like to do the same with our customers
and service providers.
“We are stronger together,”
Jan Krems declared.