INTERVIEW with Franco Azzopardi: Leaving no one behind

Over the past months, no company has been spared by the COVID-19 pandemic and everyone has been jostled and roughed up by the brute force of the economic storm which has many wondering what the recovery curve will eventually look like. BusinessToday speaks to Franco Azzopardi, Chairman and CEO of Express Trailers, who explains how the company sought to preserve jobs and stakeholder value.

How have you been living this pandemic over the past months?

Everything was new and we watched a whole new situation unravel in front of us. Sudden safety measures started being introduced by the authorities as businesses shifted operations and communications and remote work became the order of the day.

Nothing was predictable any longer and the ‘not knowing’ made the whole scenario feel more uniquely surreal.

What was clear from the very outset was that Covid-19 was bound to distinguish the tough from the frail and the leaders from the fluff.

Probably, because everything happened so quickly and so suddenly that many were caught unawares.

Many companies were left fighting for survival. Some of them, even in the local logistics sector, have sadly been forced to let go some of their employees, dismantling teams that must have taken them years and lots of investment to build, train and nurture.

This, however, is never the ideal way how to deal with the current situation. Never as much as now do companies need to think long-term.

Because the long-term success of companies depends on the long-term success of their employees.

How has the free movement of goods been affected?

Free movement from one country to another began to change in a short time. Each country began to introduce its own procedures and we began to find that in order to continue traveling, we had to fill out various new forms and submit documents whenever our trucks came to cross from one country to another. We enter a country and find that the regulations have changed. All this also brought with it a great deal of uncertainty.

What about your drivers? It is a known fact that some of your drivers had to spend several days abroad and could not come back home.

COVID was a big challenge for our drivers, especially on a practical level. Everything was new and this brought fear and uncertainty.

Many countries started applying new procedures, overnight.

Suddenly, new documentation was needed that our drivers never knew about it before. There was the element of human contact that had to stop. Everything became uncertain.

There was also the emotional level. Let us not forget that drivers are also human and like everyone else, this was a completely new situation that brought with it fears and uncertainties.

Our drivers would spend hours driving on completely empty roads – something they had never dreamed of before – a situation that would make anyone feel sad and uncertain.

At one point, some drivers spent four months away. We did our best to make sure they were never alone because we kept in touch with them 24 hours a day and provided them with any help and information they needed.

How has this pandemic altered people’s perception of the logistics sector?

People have always viewed logistics as a disruptive sector and our fleet of trucks and trailers as a congesting nuisance on the roads.

But when Malta came to a standstill, undeniably, people realised how indispensable transport and logistics are as a critical conduit feeding consumer and industrial goods in and out of Malta.

As major operators, we remained committed to ensure that the Maltese kept finding their life’s essentials on the shelves especially food, medicines, and other health products.

We sought to keep open all channels to those countries that remained open and made sure our operations for import and export kept functioning by optimising our routes to remain viable and competitive.

As a CEO you advocate a lot in favour of your people…

Our people are our best resource. Not just employees, but logistics experts passing on their acquired knowledge and experience to newer employees.

In these trying and challenging times, it is very tempting for companies to stop investing in people training, risking demotivation and a gradual dismantling of their human power.

This pandemic helped us re-shape our notion of the term sustainability in that through ongoing investment and meticulous reorganisation of our internal processes and governance structures, the company was robustly positioned to commit itself to leaving no one behind.

How is the company looking at the coming months?

Our priority will remain our employees, our processes, and our core business. We are in this together and we will continue to do our best to come out of it together.

The challenges will not diminish, and we must remain grounded. We look at this time as an opportunity to learn more from this experience and to continue to assist all our clients in the best possible way. I am certain that in the end, we will come out of this situation, stronger than ever.

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