In the middle of adversity lies opportunity. While most supply chain logistics providers are fretting about lorries grinding to a standstill outside ports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Tudor International Freight managing director David Johnson has his attention fixed on a different form of transport.“With congestion at Dover and who knows what else, I expect European air freight to pick up,” he explains.
“At the moment, there’s very little freight going into Europe by air.”
It appears Johnson has stolen a march over his competitors. With Tudor based just a couple of miles away from Leeds Bradford airport, he takes pride in the fact that air freight makes up 70% of his company’s business. Come 29 March, it may put the firm in a very advantageous position.
Johnson has been involved in the supply chain and logistics sector his entire working life, having joined multinational forwarding company Panalpina on leaving school at 17. One of his most notable achievements was to help set up Leeds-based Economy Freight Services – where he served as a director – before starting Tudor in 1991.
Fast-forward 28 years and the company, which operates mainly in the US, Australia and Asia, boasts a turnover of more than £10m a year. It also remains family-owned – Johnson’s son Andrew, who joined five years ago, is one of the co-directors.
“We feel we’re very proficient and efficient in what we are doing – we don’t hang around and knock a few pounds off just for the sake of a possible delay,” he adds. “We aim to get products on the fastest and best route.”
For Johnson and Tudor, a countrywide shift back to air freight would hark back to the company’s early days, before the movement of goods out of the UK was made increasingly simple by changes to border controls and the arrival of the Channel Tunnel. For most, the costs involved in sending goods by a plane couldn’t be justified by the time saved.
“Going back 20 years, we used to regularly air freight goods into Europe, but because there aren’t strict border controls, trucks can drive straight onto the Continent. They can deliver to Italy in two days just by driving straight through France and Germany without any hold-ups.”
But with the food and drink supply chain threatened by border controls and tariffs, Johnson believes circumstances could soon change. As uncertainty prevails in the run-up to the Brexit deadline, he feels business will need to “roll with the punches”.
“I suspect we are going to get some kind of deal, but it’s still difficult to be certain about that,” he says. “Surely, though, the Government must be concerned about the potential congestion at the borders?
“But I expect there will be some reasonable outcome. We’ll just have to see what’s dealt to us. From Tudor’s point of view at least, we’ll be prepared.”
Johnson is at least positive about the Government’s recent pledge to spend £30bn on English road improvements. Earmarked for strategically important routes such as motorways, the investment will be used for building, upgrades and easing congestion.
“Although this point has not been widely made, the sums apportioned for roads can be viewed as part of the Government’s efforts to get businesses and the infrastructure on which they depend in the best possible shape for post-EU trading,” he says.
Of course, the UK’s future relationship with the EU isn’t the only concern for a worldwide logistics firm such as Tudor. With a client base that sends products such as bacon and pork to Japan and fish to Hong Kong, the company must also pay careful attention to the regulations that govern whether goods can even make it out of the country.
“Every day is a challenge,” Johnson explains. “There are so many regulations and they don’t just concern the UK. We have to be aware of each different country’s trade rules and keep up with the changes.”
Devil in the detail
Even the smallest inconsistency on an export notice could stop a shipment in its tracks, Johnson warns. Goods bound for China, for example, may require a stamp from the Chinese embassy before they can be sent, while a consignment on its way to the Middle East could be held up at customs for something as minor as cost being reported in the wrong currency.
With the potential hurdles of international regulation barring entry for some exporters, Johnson stresses the importance of good communication between logistics providers and their international counterparts to make for the smoothest possible movement of goods.
He suggests having proactive staff is key, as any delay in communication of a problem in the supply chain could translate to fresh food rotting at customs checkpoints.
“You have to have staff on hand every minute of the day so you can get answers the same day wherever you are in the world,” he explains. “The demands of different people around the world mean you can’t just focus on the UK; you have to look at what’s happening elsewhere.”
The key, according to Johnson, is to have a personalised experience for each of the company’s international clients. For him, it’s not good enough for a business to have a blanket system that applies all around the world – adaptability is the name of the game.
“Just because a system works for a client in the UK doesn’t mean it will be suitable for their Chinese counterpart”, Johnson explains. This, he feels, is the failing of some of the larger logistics conglomerates.
“Going forwards, we are always looking at new services and making our operations faster,” Johnson predicts. “I see us expanding and moving to a new office in Manchester.”
Uniquely positioned to benefit from the potential turmoil at the main seaports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and with a diverse customer base that stretches across the globe, Tudor appears to be looking at clear skies ahead.
Job title: Managing director, Tudor International Freight
Domestics: Married for 32 years with two children. Eldest son is a director in the company and daughter is a singer on cruise ships.
CV: Founded Tudor International Freight in 1991 after serving 19 years as a director for Economy Freight Services. He has worked in the supply chain and logistics sector since he was 17 years old, starting at Panalpina straight out of school.
Away from work: Once a keen sportsman, Johnson now relegates himself to watching his favourite teams play and is a big football fan. “My local team is Leeds United, but I do like my sport in general.” He also loves to travel.