NUCO Logistics is an international logistics, freight forwarding, and NVOCC company. Victoria Meyer's guest today is its CEO Noushin Shamsili to discuss how NUCO Logistics pivoted during the pandemic. On the one hand, the demand during COVID has increased tremendously. On the other, many steamship lines canceled their sailings to make sure that they would reduce their losses. What Noushin did was to pull strings through all contacts throughout the world to form a plan B. Learn more about what this is and stay updated with the happenings around marine logistics and more by tuning in!
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How NUCO Logistics Pivoted During The Pandemic With Noushin Shamsili
I'm speaking with Noushin Shamsili, CEO of NUCO Logistics. I am excited to have Noushin on the show because she is an expert in all things marine logistics oriented. As we all know, 2021 has been an interesting year in the shipping industry. Hopefully, Noushin is going to be able to shed some light on that.
Noushin, welcome to the show.
Victoria, thanks for having me. I'm super excited to be on your show. I've been reading the episodes and your interviews. I loved all of them. Exceptionally the ones with the people that I know. It's amazing.
Thank you. It's a small world that we live in. There are always multiple points of interconnection, which is always great to see as well. Noushin, let’s start. Tell us a little bit about NUCO Logistics.
I set up NUCO in 2008, at the height of the downturn of the economy and recession. The worst time a startup company could exist. NUCO Logistics is an international logistics, freight forwarding and NVOCC company. The differentiator here is that we specialize in export and import shipments of chemical products, hazmat or non-hazmat in different modes of transportation such as ISO tank, dry container, LCL, Less-than-Container Load, air freight and rail. To add to this mix, we offer full-service arranging documentation, which is required by US Customs for import and export shipments.
The last piece of it, which complements our services is the consulting service or helping our clients on Incoterms and the letter of credits if required. It's a full-service, one-stop-shop. Prior to that, I had experience in freight forwarding and container line shipments in the Middle East. My last assignment was in Dubai, working for a global ISO tank company, which is now one of our vendors amongst the ISO tank companies we work with.
I don't find that many women working in logistics, much less marine and freight forwarding, starting and running a successful business for over a decade. What led you to the industry? What led you to start NUCO Logistics?
You're right. Although we see higher positions for women in global logistics companies and freight forwarders, you rarely come across a woman in a freight forwarding company. It all comes down to how you like your life to be. Do you want to have a life full of excitement? If that is the case, you will become a woman-owned freight forwarding company, which is what my life is. My last assignment was working in Dubai. When I moved in 2005 to the United States, a lot of my contacts and friends in the industry reached out to me and said, “Why don't you set up your own freight forwarding company? We're looking forward to working with someone who is not only stationed in the US but also knows the challenges and the culture of the customers that we're dealing with. Also, the type of business that we're handling here.”
It is highly recommended that you plan and place your orders for your bookings way ahead of time.
When I talked about that with my husband, he was a driving force behind that. He encouraged me, telling me that, “If a woman was successful in the Middle East, the US is the land of opportunity. You should do that.” I had a dear friend who became my mentor throughout this process. I set up NUCO in 2008. The first two years between 2008 and 2010 have been a roller coaster. Now, we're stronger than before. I'm moving into a bigger office in Houston. We’re being more structurally ready for more business and growth in the market.
You are familiar with all the supply chain disruptions that are occurring. I can't open a paper or look at an online news source where we hear about supply chain disruptions, container shipments being stuck. What's going on? What is driving this disruption? What's causing it to happen? How are we going to get out of it?
You're correct, we are in the middle of it. First of all, the nature of our business, international freight forwarding and logistics are such that anything happening on the global platform will have an impact on our business. We will feel the tremors on our business. During the pandemic, we were officially hit by it in 2020. We went through a slow time. Fortunately, we have been able to maintain all our employees. We used this time to invest heavily in digitalization and logistics software that could help us with the growth of the company, with tracking, replacing, automation and having access to the data immediately. We used that time to work on our infrastructure and make digitalization our priority during that time. Fast forward. We went through 2020. There were a lot of ups and downs, slow times, uncertainty in the market.
There comes 2021 with the promise of vaccination and hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Business starts picking up. We feel the excitement in the market, trust in the market. Everybody is waking up. The incident of the Suez Canal, the mega-ship being stuck there. It’s is another trigger to the disruption to the supply chain. We felt it stronger than before. It caused six long days of waiting for the vessels on both sides of the Suez Canal. That caused more shortage in equipment. That caused more delays in the arrival of the vessels and skipping the sailing schedule. We have seen a lot of challenges.
That Suez Canal was quite worrisome. They managed to resolve the blockage at least. Although, this ship is still sitting idle and waiting for some resolution in the courts.
It is a lawsuit. Egypt is trying to recover its money. All the cargo marine insurance companies are now involved. A lot is going on that vessel.
I hear reports of a lack of containers. There's disruption. Is there simply not enough? Is there a big stockpile of empty containers somewhere? That's a mysterious question that I don't understand. Is there a stockpile somewhere that it's not able to break loose? Is it slow, uncertain and unsteady? When you look at it on the ground as you do, what's happening?
We see the shortage of equipment on a global level. Not only is it regional but it is also a bigger problem. We particularly see this shortage in the ISO tank equipment in the US, Asia and Europe. What is happening is that the growth of the economy is a sharp trend. It's not a curve that anybody can be ready or at least have a good forecast for it. On one hand, the demand has increased tremendously. On the other hand, when COVID hit, a lot of steamship lines canceled their sailings to make sure that they would reduce their losses. The incident of the Suez Canal also added to the delays and shortage of equipment around the world.
To answer your question, there is not a pile of empty containers sitting somewhere. It's not the lack of management that we can get hold of this equipment. It is simply that there are higher demand and the role in the economy that we can see has caused this. One thing we recommend to our clients is that times have changed. The trend has changed drastically. We highly recommend you plan and place your orders for your bookings way ahead of time.
How much ahead of time? What are we talking about?
You're now seeing people placing orders 3 to 4 weeks ahead of time. Even that, at the time of loading then the steamship lines would tell us, “Sorry, we don't have space. We do not have the equipment to provide you.” At the end of the day, no matter how good our service is, how reasonable our cost is or how familiar we are with the business is we can't provide assurance of supply to our clients so we're not doing anything. What we do is pull strings through all contacts throughout the world and reach our contacts and always have a plan B. If one carrier dropped the ball on us, at least we have a plan B also booked so that we can make sure that our customers can be taken care of.
What will it take for things to maybe level out if you will? Is there something structural that needs to take place in the marine logistics industry to get us back to an even keel like we were years ago? Is this going to be our future world, the volatility in freight markets, the uncertainty in the supply chain?
What I can tell you from everything that we see on a day-to-day operation as well as all the articles we're reading in our space and also on the economy, we do not see a good solution anytime soon. At least 2021 would continue to be such a hectic. I don't want to say problematic because, gradually, people are learning to be more flexible with their business plan and understand that this is going to be the trend. We don't see any light at the end of the tunnel at least until the end of 2021. It's all about being proactive and making sure that you're forward-thinking.
We're constantly in touch with our clients. We give them updates, the increased GRI, the General Rate Increases or the upcoming shortage that we can see coming our way. We tell them, “Be prepared. If you have any shipments, please be in touch with us. Let us make the initial bookings for you. After that, we will talk to our contacts. We'll make sure that we have a plan B for you.” In addition to my husband, which is in the business. He joined us in 2014. We're still married, that's a good thing.
My sister has joined the company in 2016 from Australia. She's the commercial director of the company. She has a good working relationship. She has established relationships with vendors and business partners around the world. She's constantly in touch with them and with their clients. It just so happened that she pulled a booking magically, which made the customer happy. You know it and I know it. At the end of the day, it comes down to your relationships, who you know, how well people trust you and what relationship you have had with them in the past.
Relationships are critical across the whole value chain. It's about life but it's also about getting business done. A lot of that is through relationships. When we look at the change in American politics, I know it affects politics around the world. Certainly, with the Trump administration, there was a lot of tariff activity on China and other places. With the new Biden administration, there are some expectations of some of that rolling back or a different approach to global business. How do you see that playing out in your space? When we started seeing pretty heavy tariffs with China, did you see that as a negative within your space? Did that reduce some of your shipments? With the new administration, do you see that going to drive a change as well in global logistics?
At the end of the day, success comes down to your relationships. How well do people trust you?
Often, people thought that when the previous administration imposed higher import duties, taxes and tariffs on import shipments from China. We will see a major drop in the import into the United States. Initially, we went through a little bit of a slower import from China. It's unbelievable and amazing for me to see throughout the years of my life that I have been in this industry, how the market adapts itself quickly. The same clients who used to source out their products out of China immediately changed their sources. They went to other markets: Southeast Asia, India, Europe. Import picked up again.
Also, I’m reflecting on NACD’s point of view. I'm also a member of it and a big fan of these guys. I'm not sure if this new administration and from everything that I have read that this is not on the priority list for Biden’s administration. Not a lot of tariffs are going to go back. It's going to balance itself out. In terms of having an impact on the import shipments, people found other sources to bring the products required for their customers or as raw material for their manufacturing business from other sources. That is fantastic. That is great in this industry.
Certainly, the supply chains figure out how to rebalance and you moved along with it and helped with that rebalancing, which is great. You talked a little bit about digitization. That is one of the trends that we've seen. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you have done? What's been the evolution of business practices in the logistics and freight forwarding industry since you started your company to now? We had the opportunity to go through probably a lot of modernization in what is often a pretty old-school industry. What do you see from your end?
When people ask me about modernization in freight forwarding, I look at how modernized the chemical industry has become. We move along with the oil and gas industry and with the chemical industry. Although there are a lot of pioneers in digitalizing, their buying and selling products online, it's a great move by the way. We have seen it moving across the board. The industry still likes the old school of picking up the phone, letting them know what is happening if the vessel has sailed or the cargo has been rolled. What has happened? Has there been any leakage? Is everything good? The old school is governing the industry.
Along with that, I consider myself as one of the older people in the industry but I can see the younger generation joining the chemical industry. These are the fellows that are in touch with you through WhatsApp, text, LinkedIn messaging. These are the ones who are interested in digitalization. Not only do we have to cater to the core business partners of ours in this industry but we have to be proactive for the new generation who's going to replace those guys and all of us. What we can see in the market is that there is a huge need for online tracking and tracing of the container at any point of time, ISO tank, Flexi-bag or their air freight.
With that in mind, I started looking for software that can cater to this demand and have all the information and be linked to the steamship line’s websites for all of our bill of lading, transfer information and tracking and tracing. Unfortunately, there were a limited number of marine or ocean software that can cater to this whole need. To be linked to a fantastic database of a hazmat product, which is used for our classification and for checking the number of import duties and taxes. It was an extensive search for such software.
We finally came across an international company that provides this service. It's a complete and thorough software, which we adopted. It took a few months for the team. Everybody hates change. Now, they're happy with the software. Through this software, we can better serve the part of the industry that likes to be more digital and to upload all their documents online instead of emailing them as an attachment. We leave it up to the customer. Whatever way you like to communicate with us and provide us with your information, pull your invoices, your statement of accounts, we're ready to serve you. You just need to tell us how. Deep down, the industry still wants you to call them and say, “I have an ISO tank available for you. Do you want me to book it for you?” We're going between these two worlds.
I could see that. One of the challenges for the industry is keeping that relationship, which has been critical in how business is done. There's a lot of trust built and modernizing it. Letting some of the tools and technologies that we frankly have quite heavily in our personal lives come back and drive some of our behaviors and benefits in our business lives. It is a transformation. It's going to take a while. It's not going to be overnight. Maybe it's a little bit faster than it used to be but it's still a bit of a time.
The chemical industry is a bit not as modernized as some others. The marine industry is also equally not as modernized as certainly in this engagements. That's a good lead into you and your leadership. One, you're leading a successful women-owned business in a pretty tough industry. You're leading some family members, which is never easy, as well as your other employees. How would you describe your leadership style? What has been successful for you in leading this business?
I have always heavily invested in my relationship with people. What I always envisioned was that I will have a working environment for people that they get excited to come to and work in. It's an opportunity for people to grow their talents and move up the ladder. The basic thing is that we put a lot of time into the training of the people, of our team members. Simply because of the nature of the cargo that we have to handle and all the details that they have to be fully trained on handling hazmat products. Also, be cautious about different facts. We put them through numerous training sessions. We allow them to grow.
I share my vision for the growth of the company with them and tell them, “This is what we're heading to. You can be a part of this growth or I can see you moving forward. If you want to jump and hop on this train, you're more than welcome. We would like you to grow within the company.” That is a fairly acceptable approach. Some people do not want to change their working habits, that's fine with us too. We need steady people who like to do the same thing day in and day out. The opportunity is always there for people to grow in their career life. Along with that career life growth, they will grow internally and as an individual.
Noushin, this has been good. I've enjoyed talking with you. If people want to learn more about NUCO Logistics or get in touch with you, what's the best way to do so?
They can either reach us on our phone numbers in California and Texas office or they can go to our website, NucoLogistics.com. We have a page that has a Contact Us and they can reach out to us. We would be more than happy to hear from them.
Noushin, thank you so much for joining us. I'm sure that all of my readers are going to enjoy learning about you and your story. Thank you for joining the show.
Thank you so much for having me, Victoria. It has been a lot of fun.
About Noushin Shamsili
Ms. Noushin Shamsili is the President and CEO of NUCO Logistics with over twenty five years of experience in Logistics’ industry.
NUCO Logistics is FMC-OTI licensed NVOCC and Forwarder in United States. NUCO is also a woman-owned and operated Freight forwarder certified by the Women Business Enterprise National Committee (WBENC) and Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB).
Prior to establishment of NUCO Logistics, Noushin worked in different capacity for international logistics’ companies in Middle East, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Early on in her career, Noushin had realized that there is a niche in the U.S. market for a freight forwarder company with extensive knowledge in Chemical products that specializes in shipment of products (Hazardous and Non-Hazardous), in Isotank, Flexibag, Dry Container, LCL cargo as well as arrange for Customs Clearance and documentation (such as Certificate of Origin and Bill of Lading) and to provide cargo marine insurance and consulting services in International Trading on “Letter of Credit” with banks as well as related document management. With that philosophy in mind, Noushin struck on her own and started NUCO Logistics, Inc. in August of 2008.
Noushin has earned a BA in English Literature and has continued her education at institute of Chartered Ship Brokers (United Kingdom).