Logistics by simple definition is the detailed organization and implementation of complex operations. Drawing from the definition alone it is clear to see that it involves movement of many parts for the success of the business. One man with such a dream to bridge this complex gap is Solomon Zewdu, who at just his teens envisioned a path to solve the logistical gaps in his generation. Two decades letter, his firm, the Solomon Zewdu Shipping and Freight Forwarding Company has flourished in the country’s logistics sector. The firm has now more than 100 employees who work hard for the satisfaction of the clients logistical needs. Capital sat down with this transformative owner for an insight on the logistical service scene. Excerpts;
Capital: What are the everyday operations of Solomon Zewdu Shipping and Freight Forwarding?
Solomon Zewdu: Solomon Zewdu Shipping and Freight Forwarding is a freight forwarder or a forwarding agent that organizes shipments for individuals or corporations who want to get goods from the manufacturer or producer to a market, customer or final point of distribution. Our involvement stretches from packaging and moving, custom clearance, air freight, ocean freight, in land transportation as well as office relocation. For example, we recently relocated governmental offices which are a huge sector. The offices we relocated include the Ministry of Trade And Industry, Information and Security Agency and others. We successfully completed this relocation through professional ways without any destruction of equipment. Moreover, we also deal with diplomatic cargos and as result we are involved in embassy related works.
Internationally, we are a member of the International Cargo Association and International Movers Association of which there are small number of Ethiopian organizations that help us to get international businesses. We do our transit work on all of our local dry ports and apart from the Djibouti port we have branches in Addis Ababa airport, Modjo and Kality dry port.
Capital: How did you embark on such a business and how did you find it after getting in to the sector?
Solomon Zewdu: As a business we are an international freight forwarder with 20 years of illustrious it has been operations on the logistic service. I started this business in the late 90s at the time government used to train 12th grade students, who wanted to be custom transistors.
Personally, I have invested over 20 years of my life to this business. Two decades in the sector is of course not easy and there are challenges in the sector however perseverance and consistency is key. Therefore, it is my life’s commitment to make a difference by providing ethical services to the best of my ability in this sector, and to lay a path for the future generation.
Capital: What were the major challenges in the last 20 years?
Solomon Zewdu: I was at a tender age of 19 when I started building the company. There have been a lot of challenges I have indeed faced along the way. The first challenge in business in our country’s context proved to be a challenge because unless you have capital it is difficult to sell your business idea and start business. It is difficult to find support for your idea only by envisioning your idea as useful and important for the generation.
Existing challenges from the past will only compound the already precarious situations. The sector is difficult; it is like giving service on behalf of the owner, we have to be responsible even with our words. The main responsibility of the freight forwarder is to arrange the movement of the cargo to its final destination point. Apart from that, the freight forwarder must prepare and process the documents for international freight forwarding. Then you may face long delays in customs and port handling.
In this mentioned chain of procedure, one of the big challenges which we are still facing is the complicated system of the country, no one sees your value to the country, and even our governmental officers lacks ethical workers.
The common currency that is used for international trading which is the US dollar faces daily fluctuations in the exchange rates.as a result it affects the freight rates as they might change at any time which poses a challenge for us.
Furthermore, seasons also have a significant role to play in the cost of the cargo and its transportation. Depending on the season, some goods become highly expensive to ship. This is because of the demand and supply changes.
Apart from the financial challenges, the freight forwarding industry also has economic challenges that it faces daily. Ethiopia having no access to sea, we are expected to go to Djibouti to collect shipments due to this the delivery process is expensive and challenging.
In addition, the underdeveloped and fragmented management system coupled with inadequate and inappropriate fleets of vehicles and other means of transportation in conjunction with poor and lack of transport /logistics infrastructure /roads/ warehouses and cold chains possess a variety of logistical challenges.
Capital: How has your business faired on in this pandemic?
Solomon Zewdu: The art of good business working collectively and coherently being as a firm with its staff at such kind of hard times. We have more than 120 employees, even if at the time of the pandemic the business was vanishing so to speak we did not drive out any of our workers, rather we were even giving job promotions.
Capital: How do you compare the logistic sector from the time you started to now?
Solomon Zewdu: It is difficult to compare the scope of logistics practices since it has been extended beyond its traditional coverage of transportation and warehousing to include packaging, labeling, assembling, purchasing, distribution, manufacturing, finance, customs clearance, and other forms of customer services.
In my assumption, one of the major changes in the sector is the online platform. Of course, technology plays an integral part in the success of any business and that is no exception for ours. In terms of online platforms and technological advancements I believe that there should be education on the matter as well as sufficient man power to help smooth our operations.
Capital: What is your fear on the sector?
Solomon Zewdu: In perspective, I believe we are late to the sector in comparison to other countries round the globe. Recently, Ethiopia has allowed the free trade agreement and soon internationally strong logistic providers will get in the sector which presents a concern to me. Questions of, ‘do we have the ability to compete with them?’ always crosses my mind. Despite that however, I know our firm is resilient.
As a sector it will be difficult, local companies will face huge challenges since there are lots of hardships. When you come to the international market there are lots of strong competitive organizations backed up with finance and it we will have to see how the future plays out.
Capital: What is your plan for the future?
Solomon Zewdu: Our plan is to give the endless pursuit of excellence in Logistical service in Ethiopia, by respecting and educating the rules of our profession locally and internationally. We seek to be the logistical service provider of choice in our industry and are working round the clock to ensure this.