The past few years have been transformative for CEVA Logistics, as changes top to bottom have benefited the company in multiple ways. The formula they have found for success is due in part to the leaders at the helm that have guided the company through rough waters to where they are today. LM recently sat down with Mr. Bruno Plantaz, CEVA Logistics Managing Director of the Mekong Cluster & Thailand, to get a deeper look into the formula that has spurred CEVA’s Mekong Cluster to exceptional growth during his tenure.
Mr. Plantaz isn’t a newcomer to the region and his experiences in the Mekong region are what first brought him to logistics. “I’m originally from France and came to the logistics field by chance after I already achieved my PhD in finance,” said Mr. Plantaz. “After finishing school, I went to Russia to perfect my speaking of the Russian language. I found a job with an NGO in Cambodia and began doing logistics there and fell in love with it.”
Mr. Plantaz has a long and storied history with the current CEO of CEVA Logistics, Mr. Xavier Urbain, as he was one of the deciding factors that made him come to CEVA Logistics originally. Mr. Plantaz has worked with Mr. Urbain for many years and describes him as a great leader, manager, and mentor. “I’ve been working for over 25 years in the industry and 19 years with Xavier. Knowing him, I took the challenge and potential risk to move; I was really looking for a change and for something more entrepreneurial. I knew from my discussions with Xavier that we could drive change and make things happen, but this experience has exceeded my expectations. I as originally asked if I wanted to work in China, but my heart was set on coming back to where it all started for me, in Southeast Asia.”
Raising the Sails
As a keen sailor in his spare time, it’s no surprise Mr. Plantaz has become the captain at the helm in Thailand. Since his appointment two years ago, time has flown by and the changes made to CEVA have been enormous. and Mr. Plantaz has seen first-hand the number of developments that have occurred. Around the time of his appointment, structural changes began happening at CEVA. A Mekong cluster was formed with the Thailand office at the heart of it. This growing region was enticing for Mr. Plantaz as he saw the potential here. He has grown along with the business at CEVA and has braved the storm to get the business to where it is today.
“The first KPI I looked at when I arrived was the retention rate of our staff. I feel that it’s a very important metric for any logistics company. Over these two years we’ve dropped the turnover rate year-on-year, and as a result we are attracting more qualified people who are looking to work for us. Our aim is to double the size of the business in the region, which although challenging, we’re on track to do. We’re looking to not only develop Thailand, but the cluster as a whole. For instance, our Vietnam operation originally started off small but has grown enormously, from 40 to 1,500 people working there now, and our aim is to be a top 3 logistics provider in Vietnam. In parallel we are also focusing on significant projects in Myanmar and Laos which will increase our cluster footprint and raise the visibility of CEVA in the region.”
A Different Approach
Mr. Plantaz wanted to take the company in a direction where they could be nimble and quick-thinking to respond to customer needs. To accomplish this, a linear structure has been set up as the basis to improving this speed to customer approach. Many other companies in the industry are set up in a more traditional hierarchical structure where many signatures are required to get even the smallest request approved. This approach has its benefits, but it does not support the nimble or flexible initiative with a structure like that. As Mr. Plantaz said, “we strive for a leaner structure. We manage over 5,000 people with a hierarchical structure of only four layers deep, so it doesn’t take long to get the approvals we need. This lean structure allows us to make quick decisions. Logistics is really all about finding the solution to your customers’ challenges, so having the ability to be decisive and prompt in our responses helps to differentiate our service.”
“I love my job and I hope that shows. Customers see can see the engagement and drive; but it’s not a one man show though. All decisions are made with the advice and input of my team.”
“Our track record of success is proven and this means that in turn, we have earned the full trust of the Executive Board. I enjoy learning languages and I’m currently learning Thai. It really helps me to connect more with employees, get a deeper understanding of this country, and the region as whole. In conjunction with CEVA’s global focus, we’ve given diversity a priority here. The balance of westerners and Thai’s is proportionate to the delivery of our growth and achievements.”
A Regional View
The advent of the ASEAN community has given rise to a number of logistics providers already seeing the raising of borders as a boom for the cross border transportation industry. CEVA too has already established its foothold into this service by putting their money where their mouth is and investing in the equipment to make them a leader in the cross-border industry. Mr. Plantaz said, “Integration between countries takes time, but we’re on the right path. The traditional transportation approach fails when it comes to cross-border, as this is really a network business of push and pull and your success is linked to how good your relationships and connectivity is between countries and borders. Mekong region countries are very business oriented and commercial relationships will eventually develop and supersede nationalistic interests. We believe integration will come from cross border activity, it’s really the glue that will tighten the relationship between these countries. Thailand is the right place to center our operation in the area with its advantageous geographical location and the established infrastructure. Thailand and the region as a whole has been growing leaps and bounds and this looks likely to continue with the interest & need of cross-border activity.”
Wind at CEVA’s Back
Another area where CEVA is thinking differently is the type of business they place importance on. Many might only go for the largest clients, but Mr. Plantaz sees the value in working with SMEs. This presents different customer challenges, but the margins are almost always higher. As the business is more transactional, the sales force needs to be active and engaged to ensure continued retention and growth.
“We are lucky we have good traction with customers, but I know our competitors are also working hard as well,” said Mr. Plantaz. “Our sales department isn’t just sitting here entering CRM data all day, they are required to be out there interacting with customers. These visits breed customer intimacy and loyalty. If you’re proactive and come back to customers with good solutions for their business, then the customer has less reason to change service providers.”
The sales force that Mr. Plantaz speaks about was curated and selected especially for their ability to get out to businesses and interact with customers. Mr. Plantaz sees every day the smiling faces he works with and this pushes him to do better by them and the business as a whole.
“At the end of the day when people come to work, you want to find it interesting, like working with the people around you, and the environment you work in. I think you can see by the changes we’ve made and the growth performance as well as a number of factual indicators showing us that we’re sailing in the right direction. This has all been possible because of the people we’ve assembled within the business. We’ve embraced the new operating model and then redesigned the team and the company together, and now I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us in the not too distant future!”