SLA: SLAted for Success
Course trainer and entrepreneur Marcus Lau shares how SLA can help fresh graduates forge a great career path in the logistics industry through professionalism and excellence.
By Nabilah Husna A. Rahman
Marcus Lau is sagacious when it comes to dispensing advice. The 42 years old course trainer at the Singapore Logistics Association (SLA) has a prudent outlook of the logistics industry after having served in it for many years.
“I graduated in 1991 and during that time, there wasn’t really a logistics industry,” says the former Biochemistry student in the National University of Singapore. He fell into the industry “by chance”, when he was introduced by a friend to a freight-forwarding company.
Upon joining the company, Marcus developed a thirst for logistics that couldn’t be quenched by a mere part-time position. “Four months after the part-time arrangement, I decided to take it on a full-time basis,” he says. “There’s something attractive about the industry that made me stay on and give up the Biochemistry major I had.”
“Be a photographer,” advises Marcus, a quizzical suggestion for those expecting to be indulged with the secrets of the logistics industry. He elaborates, “You must be able to make use of the microscopic lens to learn the small details. Then use the telescopic zoom to look far enough and plan your career accordingly, find your own niche which you’re strong at. And finally you must be able to use a wide-angle lens to see how the logistics industry evolved together with other industries.”
A noteworthy point is the new wave of demand for logistics services. “I must admit that it was probably the most exciting transitional era a logistician can experience and witness,” Marcus reminisces. “In the late ‘90s, there were lots of business mergers and acquisitions, and logistics outsourcing, which changed the landscape.” Back then, most businesses chose to focus on their core service and products, leaving the back room operations to logistics service providers.
“When I first stepped into the logistics industry, the providers are generally known as Freight Forwarder, Consolidators, Agents, Warehouses and Transporters,” he reveals. “However, as we progressed sometime after the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, we witnessed lots of changes in the business landscape in several sectors, including the logistics industry.”
A layman might think that logistics is all about transportation. “This is the wrong perception,” says Marcus. “The industry has evolved. What a layman doesn’t know is that the most rewarding challenges logisticians face is providing a lot of extra value-added services for customers who outsourced their back room operations.”
He reveals that this includes kitting, assembly, light processing, vendor management, procurement and packaging, to name a few. “These value added services are never core competencies of the logistics companies, but as demand increases, there is a need to ramp up service offerings to stay competitive,” he says.
The industry veteran
Since graduating from the National University of Singapore (NUS), Marcus has dabbled with a plethora of logistical roles and hence, has an incisive observation of the industry trends. His experience extends to human resource planning, warehouse and distribution operation management and customer service programmes. Currently, Marcus serves in the Training and Development Committee of SLA, coaching employees in the various logistics companies. On top of that, he has also started his own business – Scorebot Pte Ltd – a new business concept for International Business Trades.
His longevity in the industry saw him holding various senior management roles in companies. Some of the notable projects he has had a hand in include the Phantom of the Opera, the Whitney Houston Asia Pacific Tour and Aida – The Grand Egyptian Opera.
The logistics industry, shares Marcus, is one that allows for plenty of leaps and bounds – anyone can have the opportunity to develop their skills and dabble with more than one expertise. With vast opportunities of learning from others in logistics, including industry veterans, Marcus finds that SLA is a “great avenue for networking”.
“For their career to be meaningful, one has to be able to absorb information like a sponge, and be hungry for opportunities of learning and upgrading,” Marcus advises.
Overcoming the odds
Marcus’ career as an entrepreneur also sees him overcoming the odds of building a business from scratch.
“In terms of challenges for a new business, there’s definitely a lot, especially creating from something non-existent. It’s tough for us to introduce our new product to the customers and make them realize the value they can receive from our product,” he elaborates.
He adds that his study of the logistics industry as a whole provided him with the outlook that when aiming for success, “it’s always about building first, then taking later” – you shouldn’t expect to be rewarded too immediately for your efforts, but instead, prove your expertise in the area first.
Marcus believes the logistics industry in Singapore is a bright one. “Despite the poor economic sentiment at the moment, you’ll always see an evolution in the industry and how the role of a logistics provider strengthen,” he observes astutely, then jokes, “Unless one day, the technology of ‘beaming’ products is developed – like in Star Trek!”
The first lesson Marcus was ever taught was the industry’s three-dimensional form of learning when it comes to optimizing space and time. “I remember my boss telling me that if I want to make money for this industry, I must know how to manage the ‘length, breadth and height’,” he says.
He explains, “Go for the breadth of service coverage, the length of service continuity, and soar for the highest possible achievement in the area of competencies.”
“Because the customers expect you to perform everything, it’s a lot easier for you to be an all-rounder, and be good at everything so you can serve the customer well. If you have a very strong urge to learn, it’s one of the industries where there’s literally no limitation,” he concludes.