For a small island nation, Singapore has built a formidable reputation as one of Asia’s premier shopping centers. DB Schenker, a company with a 149-year history acquired by German Railways in 1931, recognized Singapore’s strategic and commercial importance when it established a subsidiary there in 1970.
DB Schenker Singapore has since grown to cover a full range of logistics and supply chain management services. The inauguration of its Singapore logistics center in 1996 paved the way for several Schenker distribution centers. In 2007, the company acquired BAX Global to consolidate and expand its cross-border services to provide multi-model product offerings to its customers.
Catherine Soo joined DB Schenker Singapore in 2016 as Vice President of Contract Logistics after a successful career at Volkswagen that took her across the globe. During this time she was dealing with buying, selling, marketing and supply chain tasks, but her special logistics talents brought her to the attention of DB Schenker, who invited her to assume its current role. “Having worked in Germany, China and UK, I have a good network, knowledge and perspective of different cultures. From sourcing strategies to delivering raw materials and finally getting to customers in a timely manner, I can see that the supply chain plays a critical role, ”she explains.
“The rise in skills is very important. This allows us to remain agile and relevant.
Catherine’s role at Schenker perfectly complements her shipper experience, which has focused on customer priorities and transparent execution. “I have 1,300 employees who operate the largest contract logistics footprint in Singapore; we are an industry leader. It’s a huge responsibility to take on, and I’m very proud to be supported by such a great team, ”she said. “While I have gained tremendous experience from my previous international roles, nothing beats the satisfaction of taking direct responsibility in a national role, where the impact of my decisions can be instantly felt and measured. “
In 2020, DB Schenker opened its flagship logistics site, Red Lion, in the free zone of Airport Logistics Park Singapore. At a cost of 101 million euros (US $ 119 million), it was the largest investment the company has ever made in the world, integrating state-of-the-art automation, robots and autonomous vehicles into one complex of 50,000 square meters and seven floors. Integrated with contract logistics, its on-site air freight operations offer reduced delivery times and more efficient logistics processes to customers from its strategic location, just two minutes from the airport terminal.
The goal of Red Lion, which was built on the last available land in the free trade zone, is to maximize efficiency through the integration of freight and contract logistics services to Schenker customers. This integration offers significant time savings and scalability, and gives its supply chain additional resilience. “Red Lion has a lot of automation to improve productivity and business stability,” Catherine shares. “We integrate eight different types of automation into our internal IT systems to synchronize various workflows. This requires complex development, interfaces and extensive testing to ensure seamless integration between different operating systems.
Red Lion went live in May of last year, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but DB Schenker has moved ahead as planned. Catherine admits it was extremely difficult, especially with a small staff. “We are nonetheless happy that the launch was a success,” she said. “We decided to persevere and refused to go back on our launch date, which involved extensive planning and stakeholders in 15 countries. Our suppliers, who worked with us on the automation go live, were subject to government movement control orders, social distancing checks, and more. But I’m happy that not only did the Red Lion go live, we got 100% uptime. I am proud of the accomplishment and the tenacity of the team despite the unforeseen challenges.
The pandemic put additional pressure on DB Schenker’s business in Singapore, but Catherine believes the logistics industry was going to change anyway; the pandemic has simply highlighted the places where it could and should adapt.
“Our business requirements are sure to change, and COVID-19 has accelerated that change. Shorter delivery times and proximity to the market are becoming increasingly important, ”she emphasizes. “Some countries and brands have suffered because they have focused heavily on a centralized supply chain, and I envision that more regional or national hubs will be established to be closer to the market, and greater diversification of the supply chain to minimize transportation and supply disruption. Manufacturing will shift some tasks to service providers like us, and the ability to handle lightweight manufacturing will bring changes to conventional value-added services. “
DB Schenker is active in 2,100 locations around the world and employs over 74,000 people in its operations.
Logistics is a male dominated industry, which never confused Catherine, but the increased participation of women in the industry is now evident and is bearing fruit through greater openness and respect in the interaction. between staff and with customers. She has also noticed a change in the ranks of DB Schenker and is happy about it.
“I think gender diversity is very important,” she says. “It shows that the organization is open to different opinions and points of view. Women see things differently from men, and I think that shows that the organization is ready to accept differences. I never feel intimidated in the male world. I think respect is earned when you achieve the result, regardless of your gender. “
Leading large teams of mostly men taught Catherine that getting results comes down to planning, giving clear instructions, and practicing speaking. Decisions should be based on the information available and require full commitment from the whole team once made.
“You will never know 100%; nothing is certain. As a leader, you need to logically assess the situation, seek input, and validate with data, even if you have the answer in mind. You will need to assess the types of risks that there would be, so with a lot of logical thinking and your experience, you can make the best decision.
“Being up front and being factual is important. I appreciate open comments and don’t care too much about hierarchy. I enjoy honest and constructive conversations with colleagues of different ranks, especially with frontline staff involved in day-to-day execution. I might not know everything, and a strong team with diverse ideas and knowledge will guide me in the right direction.
Employee contribution also creates an environment for entrepreneurship to flourish, providing employees with the opportunity to “own” positive results and generate momentum to bring in new ideas learned from their own experience. “I like to create entrepreneurship in the organization, confirms Catherine. “I encourage staff to constantly improve their skills, not just for their roles today. Lifelong learning is very important for everyone, as the landscape we live in is constantly evolving and changing. I always encourage staff to improve, retrain and gain knowledge. I ask them to attend external conferences, seminars and cafes to extend the network beyond Schenker, especially for long-time staff.
With this longevity comes a sense of belonging and teamwork that is invaluable in a changing business environment. But Catherine is keen to push people out of their comfort zone.
“Longevity is something our staff are very comfortable with because we’re like family,” she says. “But sometimes I want them to open their eyes to build a bigger network so that they can meet people with different opinions, and also learn from the mistakes and successes of others. The rise in skills is therefore very important. This allows us to remain agile and relevant.
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