ABA: All in The Family

Breakbulk Magazine cover with eery head overlaid with lights, graphs, etc. "Technology's Heavy Load"By Alan M. Field 

When Breakbulk asked industry stalwart Albert Pegg to explain the strategy behind his new network for breakbulk and project cargo shippers, he said simplicity was the key.

“If solutions aren’t pretty straightforward and customer friendly, they won’t stand the test of time,” said Pegg, director of the Atlas Breakbulk Alliance.

With more than 45 years of shipping experience under his belt, Pegg firmly believes the focus of Atlas Breakbulk Alliance, or ABA, on providing network-specific bankable bills of lading makes it unique among project cargo forwarder networks. Before launching ABA, Pegg was a senior advisor for more than seven years to the Antwerp Port Authority as well as their breakbulk and project cargo business development manager. Before that he was the Antwerp-based managing director of West African liner agency, ASECO & Safmarine Belgium; and headed Safmarine MPV liner services. He has also been a board member of numerous shipping and logistics companies and umbrella organizations such as the Antwerp Shipping Federation, Seagha and Portilog.

Now in the network world, Pegg explained his role with ABA: “Although I am a freight forwarder, I will offer you a full-fledged ocean bill of lading, or B/L, for your project cargo or your breakbulk cargo. And if you need to go to the bank with this B/L, it is fully accepted. And it has the same kind of clauses as any other carrier. I see quite a lot of bills of lading from other non-vessel operators that are – if you look at the details – not the same as the ocean bill of lading.”

Pegg added: “The advantage of working with someone who has a network like ours is that it is a family-owned network – where a freight forwarder who is a member works with another freight forwarder who is a member on the other side of the ocean who is also family owned.” Pegg explained that, in the case of Atlas Breakbulk, when something goes wrong, “there is always a ‘pater familias’ – the head of the family – on one side who will find the head of the family on the other side, and tell him, ‘We’ve got to find a solution.’ The solution comes first, and afterwards we will sort it out. The difference is clear when they work with one another. They have been introduced to all the other members with annual meetings and interim meetings, which we will have now in Houston.”

Family Affair

Indeed, most of the 60-65 members in Atlas Breakbulk are family-owned. Although they serve more than 200 ports, some of those family-owned firms are quite large, such as Grupo Schandy in Uruguay and Orchid Shipping, part of the Parekh Group in India. As managing director, Pegg plays a key role in approving new members to ABA. “When I accept a member to our network, the one thing I look for is: what kind of values do those family-owned companies have? Most of the time, I see that they are pretty much the same: very much customer-oriented, very agile. They want to give the customer a good experience while working with them, because that kind of customer intimacy is one of the few things that set them apart from the big corporations.

“The way I vet [new members] has to do with the trust they can bring to the other members. The fact that they are knowledgeable; and have the necessary, unique selling points in their area. The local knowledge, the contacts; everything that you need to professionally handle a project. And on top of that, the financial strength.”

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Members of ABA access the site through a secure log-in and by the end of 2017, a secure customer relationship management system will connect all members. In practice, this will allow one member with a project sourcing from four or five different countries to make all arrangements, manage the sources, and assign a number to the project on the system. That information will then sit within a case number on ABA’s system.

Other services provided include FMC, Canada Border Protection, Japanese customs, and e-B/L. “We are acting as a kind of portal to provide the freight rates to the Federal Maritime Commission [in the U.S.], and the manifest to Customs. All that can be done through our website,” Pegg said.

A Different Market

Creating a new network for breakbulk and project cargo is not without its challenges, Pegg admitted, describing it as a “totally different ballgame” from containerized cargo. Added to which, the global financial crisis and the resulting decline in global commodity prices has forced companies to take a fresh look at how they’re doing their job.

“Look at all the layoffs that have taken place in Houston because of the [drop in the] price of oil and in gold and copper. Practically every kind of mining has been hit big time. Nowadays, a project will not bring you the return that you would have got when oil was at US$100 per barrel, and gold and copper were at their highs,” he said.

As a result, the operating environment is much more difficult and breakbulk operators need to be innovative: “You have to come up with the most effective way of getting cargo from A to B. Not only that, but prices for pre-carriage, storage and everything else are more cutthroat,” Pegg said. That’s why he believes his personalized touch will continue to expand the appeal of ABA. “I’ve been in the industry for 46 years. I’ve got a lot of friends in the industry. I use my network to make sure that a member that comes on board not only has the right details on paper, but can be trusted because when they say they’re going to pay on Tuesday, they’ll pay on Tuesday.”

All the profits of ABA will be reinvested in developing tools and programs that support the goals of the network’s members. “Our tools and programs are unique,” Pegg said in conclusion, “and our values and code of ethics are bullet-proof.”

International news correspondent Alan M. Field has reported on trade, logistics and related technologies from numerous countries in North America, Latin America and East Asia (Japan, Taiwan and Korea) over the past two decades.


Photo credit: Shutterstock


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