Most people in air cargo transportation
know Lionel van der Walt for the time he served as President of Cargo
Network Services (CNS).
A short term perhaps, but it was Lionel
who came to CNS as an agent of change and delivered a much-needed shot
in the arm that favorably impacted the pioneering global organization
dedicated to advancing the airline/forwarder partnership.
But what you might not know about Lionel,
who remains on the leading edge of change in air cargo serving as CEO
of PayCargo, is that Lionel began his transportation career at South African
Nice Guys Finish First
The thing about Lionel is that he is a genuine
He listens well, is not fearful of tough
decisions and stands up for what is right. Most endearing is that he is
somebody who is always available to lend a helping hand.
I thought when he departed from CNS that
we had lost a great industry leader but Lionel gently suggested successor
Mike White, who as it turned out joined Lionel and Tony Calabrese as the
greatest to serve as Presidents of that organization during the past 30
Now as 2021 dawns, we asked Lionel to share
his thoughts in the light of the unprecedented sorrow and challenge of
the COVID-19 global pandemic.
At this point let’s face it, it is
a new world for all of us.
We are all in toward bringing inspirational
leaders in transportation logistics to the fore.
Here Lionel joins Jan
Krems, who we featured on January 8 in the first of this series. Lionel
takes the gloves off, whilst providing some moving thoughts, and a well-reasoned
roadmap to tomorrow.
Jan is revolutionizing cargo at United Airlines,
and Lionel van der Walt is a leading edge of building a payment system
that will lift our global industry forever. It turns out both are dealing
with the same every day challenges as most everyone else.
Somebody once said nice guys finish last.
Lionel is counterpoint to this rough and
He is always a reasoned and considerate
thinker, dreamer and doer.
There is life well lived, that is quite
evident in his calm and eminently decent demeanor. There is a quick smile
and always attractive air about Lionel.
So pull up a chair and share some thoughts
here with Lionel as we climb onboard for 2021.
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
recently had the opportunity to have dinner with Ken Nieze, who was recently
appointed VP of Sales West Coast, here in Coral Gables, Florida. This
was our first dinner together since he joined PayCargo and I really enjoyed
the opportunity to connect in person and enjoy a good meal despite the
formalities of adhering to COVID protocols. This is what I miss most since
the start of the crises: face-to-face interaction with colleagues, clients
2020 will certainly be remembered as the
year that air cargo came to the rescue, both in terms of generating much
needed revenues for the airlines at a time when passenger travel was almost
non-existent, and for the key role it played in distributing PPE, and
now the vaccine.
are the lessons of 2020, what have you learned?
a personal note, I am amazed at how resilient and adaptable my daughters
are. Despite many changes and challenges such as working from home, limited
contact with others, limited outside entertainment opportunities etc.,
they have adjusted well and make me proud! My youngest daughter, a senior
in high school, achieved straight A grades across all subjects and has
been accepted into Honors Society despite all these challenges, always
with a smile and happy disposition. How can I then complain with such
Life is fragile and passes us by at the
speed of light. I have learnt not to take my family for granted and to
ensure that I make time to be present and enjoy activities together with
them. It is the small things in life that ultimately matter most. COVID
has certainly changed my perspective towards appreciating my loved ones.
I have a newfound respect for people working
from home. My experience has been that working from home means longer
hours. Maybe it is just because I really enjoy my work and getting things
done, but I found myself starting earlier, taking fewer breaks, shorter
lunches and ending later. Curious as to how others experienced the impact
of working from home? My assumption is that I am not alone in this.
FT: How did
2020 change your business life? What is your greatest regret of this time?
with many others, I ended up working from home in Clayton, North Carolina
for an extended period of time. This was a bittersweet experience, as
I have never before spent so much time at home with no regular travel.
My office is in Coral Gables, Florida, so my usual week starts with a
trip to Miami on Sundays and then back home again to Raleigh on Thursdays.
And then you add on all the domestic and international business trips.
Staying at home for such an extended period was truly a system shock for
As mentioned previously, what I miss most
is face-to-face interactions, be it with my team, industry colleagues
or clients. Zoom and other communication platforms are great, but it is
not the same and I feel we lose a lot of value when you are not in the
same room and do not have the opportunity to cultivate deeper meaningful
relationships as done prior to COVID when getting together during meetings,
at conferences, dinners etc.
is the price tag of success?
me this has been not being able to spend as much time with my family,
especially when my daughters were younger, as I feel I should have done.
There is only so much time in the day and I found myself focused on an
industry that I love and passionately devoted my time to work at the cost
of not giving them as much attention as I would have liked to. I have
no regrets though, as this amazing industry has afforded me the opportunity
to develop an incredible career and through that the ability to provide
my family with a once-in-a-lifetime international experience, quality
of life, and many other opportunities that would not have been possible
without all that hard work.
in your work routine do you plan to do differently in 2021?
On January 10th I started my weekly commute to Miami again. Love being
in the office and having face time with the team. And once it is safe
to do so, add additional domestic and international trips to meet with
industry colleagues and customers. And my family and I are looking forward
to an international vacation again; our planned 2020 trip to Scotland
was cancelled due to COVID. Looking forward to that trip, hopefully soon.
FT: Do you
see accelerated benefit to IT as the result of the 2020 experience?
One lesson learnt in 2020 is that those companies that had the foresight
to invest in new technology and digital transformation were well positioned
to respond to the challenges that COVID posed across the supply chain.
Those that were not so fortunate ended up having to scramble to implement
technology and processes that enabled them to continue doing business
in the new era of remote and contactless work practices; not an easy objective
when solution providers were drowned with similar requests from many others
who were in the same boat. Additionally, if these businesses were lucky
enough to implement the technology to respond to COVID, it probably came
at a higher cost than those that had the foresight to already start the
process of transforming their businesses prior to the pandemic.
COVID has certainly accelerated digital
transformation across the logistics supply chain and with the current
momentum, I predict that this trend will continue. However, one question
that remains uncertain is as to how long the air cargo industry will maintain
its “hero” status and the business priority it has gained
the past year. My fear is that once passenger travel picks up, much of
the attention at airlines and airports will refocus again on passenger
related priorities. However, that does not appear to be the case in the
near foreseeable future if you go by what IATA and other associations
are predicting. I am sure that everyone in the industry is praying for
that day to come sooner than later, but in the meantime, we have a silver
lining around this cloud of doom, and that is the accelerated transformation
of our industry. We should use this opportunity to get as much done as
is possible while we have this bright light shining on our industry and
the attention of governments, industry leaders and company board of directors.
there be less or more emphasis on trade shows and group gatherings ahead?
business has always been built on relationships; this is a people-focused
industry filled with passionate individuals. As such, I would wager that,
like me, many are looking forward to the day that things get back to normal
and we can once again attend trade shows and group gatherings. You can
count on me to be there as things normalize. However, I think we need
to be responsible and face the very tangible risks that COVID poses and
ensure that it is safe to do so before rushing out to meet up again. We
owe our loved ones, our teams and our industry colleagues the respect
and consideration they deserve to ensure that we are not placing anyone
at risk before doing so.
Zoom become the new normal when you want to generate attention, hold meetings,
build contact via social network?
my opinion, Zoom and other online communication platforms are going to
play a big part in our daily lives in 2021 and the foreseeable future,
however, I have no doubt that face-to-face interactions will ultimately
prevail once we have COVID behind us. As an eternal optimist I am hopeful
that we will see some sense of normality by the end of the year but am
certain that 2021 is going to be another challenging year for many. So
yes, Zoom will continue to be the new normal for now.
you work from office as before or have we, like Caesar, crossed the Rubicon
and from now on now our way of doing business will be different?
in answer above, I am already travelling weekly and back working at the
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 PayCargo? Thanks.
and arrogance are two of the most dangerous traits both in business and
in our personal lives. I never take anything for granted, be it good health,
friends, family, success, income etc. and constantly remind myself that
today’s success and good fortune are not guaranteed tomorrow. This
drives me to always try and be as humble as possible, irrespective of
the situation and to constantly be on the lookout for opportunities that
will stretch me beyond my comfort zone and enable me to achieve personal
My message to our service partners is that
in 2021, we are aiming to further cement ourselves as the leading global
logistics online payment platform of choice, and to continue growing our
3,000+ Vendor and 19,000+ Payer network to the benefit of all participants.
We are committed to serve all Payers and Vendors across the entire value
chain and provide each of them with best-in-class, efficient online payment
services that are cost efficient and offer transparency, security, and
an exceptional user experience. And finally, we thank each one of them
for their continued support, without which our success would not be possible.