In VIETNAM in 1965, when the US government started a rapid buildup of military forces in a place with primitive roads, a single rail line that was largely inoperative and only one deep-water port, some saw a big problem. But American trucking firm owner, Malcom McLean, saw a big business opportunity.
He had a vision of creating ways of seamlessly moving cargo from trucks to ships to trains, without loss or delay.
McLean pitched his idea and won contracts to build a container port at Cam Ranh Bay and to run container ships filled with military goods from California, delivering 1,200 containers a month to Vietnam.
Infinity Logistics and Transport Sdn Bhd managing director Chan Kong Yewhas also done his bit to push efficiency in shipping to a higher level.
Chan did this by coming up with the 9ft 6in High Cube 20-footer (20HC) container and introducing it to the South-East Asian market.
He said the 20HC was 12% taller than a normal-sized 20-foot container.
“This is an established industry. We have to compete with logistics service providers who have better infrastructure and equipment than we do,” he told Metrobiz.
The company, which Chan founded in 2003, started as a Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC), a shipment consolidator or freight forwarder who does not own vessels.
The company won the Silver award in the “Best Innovation” category in last year’s Star Business Awards (SOBA 2014).
Chan believes it is through innovation that he can to steer the company towards the “Blue Ocean” rather than competing with other logistics service providers in the “Red Ocean”.
Having said that, he is a realist who is attuned to the requirements of the industry. Running contrary to the popular adage that says “think outside the box”, Chan is a believer of “thinking within the box”.
“We learnt that for product manufacturers, even before a designer starts work, he is handed the specifications on how it will be shipped. So the designer has to bear in mind that the shipping cost or additional materials needed to ship it cannot cost more than the product itself,” he said.
Aware that in the shipping business, the width and length of the containers must remain constant — “unless your operate your own ship,” he jokes — Chan saw the potential of tinkering with the height of the container.
By offering a higher capacity of 37.4 cubic meters compared to the standard container of 33.2 cubic meters, they would be offering an advantage to customers.
Company executive director Ethan Kwan said they made it a point to talk to vessel and port operators whether such a container would be viable.
“We checked with the ship captains, and they did not have any concerns, except for the smaller vessels which we predicted would be phased out, which has happened,” Kwan recalled.
They also talked to a container manufacturer regarding the manufacturing costs involved.
“We made sure that they understood the requirements and that it was not a special product which required special equipment to manufacture, apart from the additional steel that needed to be used,” Kwan said.
Today, the company, which has grown from a staff of four to about 400, owns and operates 1,000 units of 20HC and is recognised as the largest 20HC operator in South-East Asia serving the Asian region.