ago, in the saloon of a Las Vegas hotel where an air cargo industry convention
was being held, a lusty debate took on the proportions of a high-decibel
shouting match. The subject in shrill dispute: has the air cargo industry
achieved a solid state of maturity? The question rocked the barroom.
The peaked voices raged for perhaps an hour.
But then the inevitable thirst for liquid refreshment gradually, one by
one, had the effect of dampening the enthusiastic ventilation, with the
question about maturity unresolved, forgotten, left for another day.
Forgotten, but not for long. The question
vaulted back in my mind when I received the news of Jan Krems’ as
President of United Airlines Cargo and his team having reached the staggering
sum of 11 million Pfreighter shipments whilst achieving unexpected levels
of air cargo revenue for UAL during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It struck me at once that Krems’ international
crossover from Air France-KLM to the highest rung on the cargo ladder
at one of the United States’ greatest airlines was nothing short
of an act of industry maturity—a mirror of events in a globalized
Now as the world gathers at World Cargo
Symposium in Dublin, Ireland this week, Jan Krems stands shoulder to shoulder
amongst the top five most dynamic and results-driven cargo executives
in the world during the past decade.
This week Jan can only smile, as United
announced that it is going gears up, relaunching most of its fleet promising
most of its airplanes and all that needed belly-lift back into the air
during the next couple of months.
FT: What are you saying about priorities at United
Cargo right now?
have two main goals to get us through the pandemic—to provide unsurpassed
quality in our air cargo services and to stay close to our customers.
Early in the pandemic, when passengers travel levels dropped overnight,
we kept our planes flying filled with cargo around the world. Our customers
continued to support us through the most difficult time in our business,
and we were able to sustain operating because of their support. Although
the industry will likely continue to face limited capacity, we will support
our customers with quality service as they have shown their support for
lies ahead for United Cargo as 2021 winds down and you ready yourself
our cargo business unit has functioned uninterrupted and thrived during
the pandemic, we have been able to do more with less resources. However,
our priorities remain the same and there are a lot of things we are working
on over the next few months. As you know, we recently launched our new
website. Our eStrategy project is only getting started. We are going to
introduce new features and capabilities over the next months that will
allow us to remain the number one belly carrier. Customers will be able
to book their orders online and we will be entering new marketplaces—but
more on this to come.
would be a perfect day in your work experience and kindly list a couple
of those times in recent memory?
perfect day for me is to have a motivated group of employees working for
you on the projects that have a positive impact on the company. A perfect
day is to hear that United Airlines is on track and performing above expectations.
A perfect day is to see that the world is opening up again. A perfect
day is to do work that has a positive impact on the world—to ship
vaccines to the people who need it most—to hear that COVID cases
are going down—and to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Perfect
days are coming again.
have we learned from the pandemic?
learned that cargo is important to an airline—and to the world.
We have had to keep the global supply chain moving. As a company, we have
learned that we need to work together as different business groups to
get things done.
United Cargo would not be as successful
without the help from operations, scheduling, technology, and all the
other business groups we work with every day. What
we have all learned is that we are vulnerable, the world is vulnerable
and could grind to a standstill. We cannot take anything for granted.
We’ve learned that there are a lot more things that are more valuable
can air cargo do better that is easily within reach but perhaps overlooked?
one thing that we can all do better in air cargo is to work more effectively
together—to cooperate. When there is a problem that is affecting
the whole world, we need to work together to solve it. Take the vaccine
for example—we can transport the vaccine much faster if we have
cooperation between governments, companies, entities, airlines, countries,
etc. Cooperation between different air cargo companies are the links in
the chain and we can work better if we work together for a common goal.
FT: Why are
you passionate about what you do?
am passionate about people and I get to work with some truly amazing people.
I get to work with the amazing people from across the globe with different
cultures, viewpoints, and skills that they bring to the table. No day
is the same at United Cargo, and that excites me. If I come into work
and there are 50 tons available capacity on a flight, I know that I will
be able to fill it. I also like working for a company where my business
unit has its own profit and loss. I am able to take ownership and celebrate
the wins with my team and work on areas that need additional support.
FT: As leader
of United Cargo top air cargo in the world, what is the most surprising
thing have you have learned about yourself since 2019?
number one thing that I have learned in the last two years is that you
need to surround yourself with the right people. The right diversity,
the right skillsets, the right leadership . . . I have learned that there
are so many things that I cannot do, but if you have the right team, you
will get them done. You have to give people credit for the job that they
do, you have to give them the freedom to do the work, and you have to
let others shine around you. You can only get so far by yourself—but
if you have the right team around you, you will be unstoppable.
do you expect to be in fives years -as United Cargo, as an industry and
if possible to project yourself into this thought stream as well?
Cargo is primed to be the global leader in five years’ time. With
our digitization and eStrategy, we will be thriving in new markets. Our
technology, our fleet and our processes, forecasting, and planning will
be unrivaled. We will also be a cleaner, greener airline with our investments
in sustainable fuels and electric aircraft.
As an industry, I believe we will make more
progress in five years than we have in the last 15 years. The industry
will be more cost-effective, more technologically advanced, and more progressive.
But, we do need to make more progress in aligning governments, countries,
agencies and airlines across the globe. It’s an exciting time to
be in the air cargo industry.
Where will I be in five years? I will be
excited to see United Cargo to grow and thrive from a distance. Perhaps
I will be enjoying my life making wine in Spain. I hope to see United
Cargo continue to be the number one belly carrier in the world from Spain
behind a good glass of wine.