Episode 6:
The role of pricing and procurement with Catia Fernandes

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On this week’s episode on ‘Freight to the Point’, we invited Catia Fernandes, Head of Trade (Far East – UK) to talk about how she started in the supply chain industry through a graduate programme with Maersk, all the way to her role in the pricing and procurement team at Zencargo.

This episode explores:

  • The complexities of making the best decisions for the customer
  • How Zencargo reacted to space shortages on carriers last year
  • The carrier alliances formed before the pandemic

Catia Fernandes

Catia Fernandes is the Head of Trade (Far East – UK) at Zencargo. Since starting at Maersk in 2005, Catia has worked in the supply chain space for over 15 years. At Zencargo, Catia is part of the pricing and procurement team, who develop relationships with carriers to help customers find the best rates and space for their shipments.

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Helena WoodHello, and welcome to episode six of Freight to the Point, a podcast by Zencargo. I’m Helena Wood, and today I am joined by Catia Fernandes, the Head of Trade Lanes in the ocean team at Zencargo. We’re so thrilled to have her here. Today, we’re going to be learning about Catia’s origins, her experience in the ocean industry, and how she envisages change in the supply chain. Welcome, Catia.

Thank you, Helena.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodRight. Let’s get freight to the point. Why ocean? Tell us a little bit about how you started out in supply chain, Catia.

I can only say I started, I think, the best way I could. I was introduced to ocean through the graduate program from Maersk, where we got a mix of theoretical and practical experience in learning, and I think that has helped to build that love for ocean that I have right now. Interestingly enough, we covered the most we could in two years in terms of job roles, three job roles in two years. So you get experience across operations, commercial, customer service. And then on the theoretical side, they were very good to give us classes on subjects that covered the maritime law, liner trade, economics, terminal management. And funny enough, that was either done by people from Copenhagen Business School, but as well, some employees from Maersk, and one of them you probably know about. He was our teacher, Lars Jensen, so he used to cover our material.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodWe’re big fans of Lars Jensen here at Zencargo.

Yes. So he did all of that for us in the liner trade subject, and I think it has helped a lot to grow that love I have for ocean right now.

Catia Fernandes

Helena WoodGosh, amazing. It’s interesting, because you’re the second person who we’ve spoken to on this podcast. Laura Odell, who looks after air at Zencargo, had a similar route. She came in through an apprenticeship, so slightly less structured learning, but obviously that kind of graduate scheme and the structure of being able to get a really good taste for the industry sounds like such a good entry point.

Yeah. I can only agree with that. It just gives you that level of detail that you wouldn’t have in such a smaller amount of time, as you have through an apprenticeship and the exposure to so many different roles and subjects that helps you get probably in two years what you would get in 10 otherwise.

Catia Fernandes

Helena WoodSo how many other people were on the graduate program with you?

So after the year I joined, we were 405 from all over the world. So every single country in the world, pretty much, had someone joining from the different companies of the group. So it was not only Maersk Line, it was APM Terminals, DAMCO logistics, so we got a good mix of people working in different places to also learn from them, so very good experience.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodGosh, that must have been fascinating. Have you kept in touch with anyone from your intake?

Definitely. We still have our Facebook group. We still talk to each other. And yeah, some people just remain forever, and we all had a very similar profile, as well, which I think it helped.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodNice. And you must have had some fun together while you were on that grad scheme.

Oh yes, Karlslunde, that place in Copenhagen, near Copenhagen, where we used to meet every six months for training and not only learn a lot, but have so much fun together. Yes. If you mention that to any trainee, they will know what I’m talking about. Very interesting.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodFeels all a bit secretive. It’s almost like something I don’t know about. So I’m going to leave it with you and anyone else who knows.

Yeah. What happens in Karlslunde stays in Karlslunde, in a good way..

Catia FernandesHelena WoodAny top stories from your experience you can tell us?

We’ve had fantastic experiences while we were there. They took us, for example, to see, at the time, the biggest vessel that was being launched, the Emma Maersk. We were underneath the Emma Maersk while it was in dry dock, wearing only a helmet, which didn’t feel like it would protect me much if the whole ship fell on top of us. But learning like that, going to terminals, seeing the actual operations happening and being exposed to going on a ship and actually stay aboard, work with the crew, work with the captain and see what actually happens where the container is loaded and is taken from one port to the other. It’s very interesting, I think.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodGosh, an amazing sort of real life experience.

Oh, definitely.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodAnd obviously Catia, you said you held lots of different positions during your time at Maersk. So what was it that sort of pointed you in the direction of working through the pricing and procurement route?

I think it’s the fact that you work at a core of a company. So I’ve learned that without a very good product, that you are able to place in the right price, you can’t really have a product to sell for others to be able to do their job, like sales or customer service. So I reckon being at the core of that department where you decide how you’re going to develop that product, who you’re going to place it to, and at what price creates that ability to create something very strategic. And that was something I learned from my early days in Maersk, continued across other carriers that I’ve worked as well, and has transferred into Zencargo. It’s basically you are at the centre of how we can grow and what we can actually sell for the customers. So it’s just very interesting and complex.

Catia Fernandes Helena WoodYeah. I can only imagine. I mean, you’re so right. Here at Zencargo, we couldn’t do almost anything of what we do without working so closely with you and your peers in that pricing and procurement team who are working directly with the carriers and sort of sorting out the space in rates. Do you mind, for anyone who’s on the podcast who maybe doesn’t really understand what it is that you actually do at Zencargo, Catia, could you give us a sort of idiot’s guide to the team and your role?

Yeah, so we basically make sure that we have the best product the customer can use. So we look for products that have a competitive rate so that they minimise their costs, but we also look at products that fit their needs in terms of space and their needs in terms of transit time, so that we can the deliver the best dwell times they can have, and they can make sure they will have their stock on time when they need it by using our options, basically. So we work a lot, like you said, with the carriers, developing those relationships to find and solve issues that occur, which are very common in shipping. So we have that backup and that good relationship with our partners to solve those issues for our customers. And I think that’s what allows us to get more volumes from them and grow their confidence in our product, basically.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodAnd it’s interesting, because you mentioned a few things there, which I think are so important to unpack, for the first of which is it’s become so clear to me over my time at Zencargo working with you and your team, just how focused you are on the customer at the heart of all of that, because of course securing the rate, securing the space is only one thing, but making sure that we are able to actually deliver our customer outcomes. You, for example, spoke about dwell times and really ensuring that we minimise dwell for our customers. Can you tell us a bit more about the complexity of making decisions and building relationships when you’re focused on not only the cheapest rate or the best guarantee of space, but really of making sure it’s the best match for the customer?

So it’s like a balancing act. We take several variables into consideration when we making a decision into how our strategy will look like from procurement point of view, understanding the impact that, for example, transit times or ease of booking confirmations have on customers, dwell times is one of the variables we consider. So we take that into consideration with rates, with space. It’s a mix. It’s a service mix of different things. And I think that then creates the best possible option for that customer, ensuring that it’s in line with their profile of what they need. And I think it’s not a one size fits all in Zencargo. It’s a very much created for that customer need that we kind of develop the strategy along. So I can only say it’s multiple variables working together, and the which through the knowledge we have of the market and the good relationships we have with our suppliers allow us to build these good options for each customer.

Catia Fernandes Helena WoodAnd I suppose, also, it’s interesting because you talk about relationships. You talk about trust. You talk about customer centricity, but you also started all of this by saying it’s a very complex job. And I can only imagine that, actually, for you and your role and for your team, the way in which Zencargo works and thinks about all of these outcomes, it calls on so much expertise. So can you tell us, I suppose, for you, for the team that you work with, what are the skill sets that helps someone do that really well?

Oh, I think the most important thing is you have to be constantly switched on what’s going on. So we have ways of working that allow that to happen. So we are in constant contact with partners at origin, but we also have our own tools to understand what’s happening in the market from a space point of view, congestion point of view, price point of view. And that allows us to be able to map the different avenues of strategy we can do for a specific case, basically. I think being switched on, proactive, so that you anticipate what can go wrong and plan ahead based on that is one of the things that makes us successful at what we do. And I think it’s that ability… I don’t know how you can translate being switched on as a skill, but it’s the way I name it. It’s like being able to look at something based on your experience and anticipate what can go wrong so that you can plan in advance. That would be the way I would translate it, basically.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodAnd I’m sure if I were to put my marketing hat on, I would tell you that it wouldn’t be possible to be switched on and proactive if you didn’t have good data and good visibility and good forecasting, enabling you to make those decisions. And I suppose, also, we’ve not spoken about this much on the podcast, but Zencargo, one of the things that we love in working with our team is we are a values-driven organisation. So one of the values that we all share and we look for in anyone that joins our team is that we hope they’re going to be outcome-oriented. And I suppose something for you in being proactive and switched on is always having that outcome and the kind of in your sites, and making sure that you’re doing whatever you can to achieve that outcome for the business, but also really for our customers.

Yeah, yeah. That’s the customer-centric outcome we try to focus all the time, because like I said, dwell time is an example, but price is another example, ensuring they meet their sales is another example, by having the containers there that they need to have on that specific point of time. So outcome-oriented is definitely one of the values we have in our team, just because of the essence of the role we do. Definitely.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodAnd let’s take a little bit of a turn, Catia. We have a question that we ask everyone who comes onto this podcast, and it’s to tell us about a ship happens moment in their career. So can you tell us, if you’ve got a story that you tell friends at dinner parties, or that’s particularly memorable, when ship happened in your career?

Oh, yes. Actually, this one was in a local carrier that I used to work for in Portugal. And we decided that we wanted to expand our business in Africa, which we had already some presence, but we wanted to create some competitive advantage in different ports that were not being used by other carriers. So we went and explored, onsite, those locations. Well, I can tell you that Africa’s not very well connected in terms of flights, especially if it’s in intra-country like intra-Africa. So we decided to travel by car, which it was a very different experience. So we crossed the border between Gambia to Senegal, and between Senegal to Guinea-Bissau. And I can tell you I’ve never seen a reality like that, where we are expecting things to work kind of in a similar way as Europe, or even when I worked in South America, but Africa is a totally different thing.

I mean, you do business… Like we were having discussions with partners where they didn’t have an office on a port. They had a motorbike and an iPad. That was their office, and they managed business, and business flourished. And I was astonished to see how little they have and how much they can do. And I always remember that, because it was a huge learning, that you can actually do business in the most basic conditions as I’ve seen there. And going through all of the different borders and not knowing what was going to happen and feeling that, oh, I might get into trouble here. But we actually were very well received across the different borders, never had any issues. And when we explained what we were doing, people were very welcoming. So I think that was my moment I would always raise as something that was unique, for sure.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodI was going to say, that sounds like a very positive experience. Usually when someone tells us their ship happens experience, it might be something that’s gone wrong that they’ve had to overcome, but that sounds like actually taking some challenging circumstances and really thriving in them. And great that it was such a learning experience and so eye opening, as well.

Very eye opening.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodI’m sure stuff has gone wrong, though. Give me a ship happens moment where something’s actually gone wrong and you’ve had to overcome it. I doubt the bank is completely empty on that one, Catia.

Oh, there must be… Well, already in Zencargo when the massive crush for space happened back in 2021, we were faced with severe space shortages where we basically had to sit down and think, how are we going to solve this? What plan are we going to put in place that allows us, not being the biggest of the forerunners in the market, competing with big international companies, succeed in delivering the space that the customers need. And we definitely managed to put together a plan of action that, once we rolled it out, it brought results and we’ve shipped the volumes we needed for our customers by working in a very clever way with our suppliers. And I think I’ve seen moments, at that point, where I thought there’s no way we’re going to solve this. And then by sitting together and managing to plan that accordingly, we managed to overcome a situation that was extremely difficult.

So yes, and it was not just me. It was the whole team that came across, and we’ve been very proud of that. I think it was a very good result in the conditions we were in, very good result.

Catia Fernandes Helena WoodThat’s great to hear about that. That’s a really good example of just turning something around to have such a positive outcome. So Catia, let’s think a little bit about everything you’ve been through, because this is a good example. You spoke about the space crunch, at the end of 2021. So much has changed in the supply chain industry over the last two years, it’s been ups and downs and also sorts of chaos. What would you say has been the most significant change since you started your career?

Aside from the pandemic, which put everything upside down, I would say it’s actually pre-pandemic. Well, just before the pandemic, carriers decided to organise themselves into alliances. And that was a way that, at the time, they found to make their existence sustainable. Basically they managed to pull resources together in a way that they could control the supply of space and therefore the rates so that it was not a fight to the bottom, basically. So that meant they got access to markets that they wouldn’t have unless they put fixed assets, serving those markets. So it allowed them to grow revenue at a less expensive cost, and then allow them to tackle issues when the demand dropped.

So for example, right at the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone went into lockdown and the volumes dropped massively, they activated that alliance to prove that it was a fantastic tool to control the prices, not to crush totally, by pulling out some resources out, but in a way that it was coordinated, if you see what I mean. So there was not one player losing while others won. Everything was so coordinated that they mitigated any losses in that sense. So that made the industry become sustainable. It will probably continue after the pandemic ends, and it will be a tool for them to be able to grow without having basically decreased their costs and their revenues to a level that would basically mean they would close.

So it’s been the biggest change after the pandemic, which was, as I mentioned, one of the worst things that has happened in shipping from a point of view of disruption, basically.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodThat’s really interesting. And when the alliances started to form, what role were you doing at that time? And did it change the work that you were doing or the way that you were working?

So at that time, I was actually not in the container business. I was doing towage, which is a slightly different industry where container ships are our clients. So from that point of view, it didn’t affect much what I did unless you consider the fact that because the shipping lines remained afloat, they would still be there as customers of the industry I was in. But basically I would say the biggest impact in there has been the fact that it allowed the companies to remain at trading, and not close in difficult conditions.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodAnd in terms of the future of the industry, Catia, what changes do you envisage for the future? What would you like to see in terms of disruption of the space?

Well, I honestly believe that this industry needs to grow sustainably. And what I mean by that is that it has to go the step above in terms of automation and visibility. It has to have that connection between different parties and the systems of those parties, so that you get full visibility of what’s going on ahead of time. So I give you a very specific example, or two specific examples. So containers, despite they are tracked in carriers, websites and so on, the majority of the containers in the world are not real time tracked, because they are just tracked as when they pass a milestone. But if they don’t pass that milestone, you don’t know where the container is, basically. So not having that visibility means a lot of containers end up missing.

Customers that are affected with that don’t know where their cargo is, cannot climb ahead, so if we were to make all containers tracked, that would allow for a level of visibility that doesn’t exist today. But also, imagine if that tracking would connect to, for example, a container that is loaded in China is immediately made available for visibility to the port of destination in the UK at the moment it’s loaded. So that would create a massive amount of information ahead of time that the Port of Felixstowe, for example, could know what was coming, could plan their yard density, could plan their vessels’ birthing plans ahead of time, instead of waiting for the last minute information that comes when the vessels are much closer to the port.

So having that ease of access to information, I think it’s what’s going to make things be sustainable for the future and be totally transparent for someone to be able to make plans ahead. And that was, I think, the best, in my opinion, the best thing that could happen to shipping.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodI think you’re so right. And obviously we in Zencargo are part of that journey towards visibility and better tracking, but everything we see from the data, from the anecdotes we hear from our customers, from the experience and the work we do with carriers, better visibility, better data, better planning, better decisions, everything’s so interdependent on that journey towards improving the overall outcomes, not just for customers, but their consumers in turn, and then ultimately for things like the planet, if we want to think about sustainability. So I think you’re very right to come up with that sense of tracking and visibility as the sort of first domino that has to fall in that series of consequential events.

I would say, Helena, that we are actually proving that if you have access to the level of detail that we can provide the customers, they can plan their supply chains ahead of time and minimise their costs and enhance their revenues. So in essence, the proof is there. If we can do it at this level, then imagine if the whole of the shipping world could do it at that level, and everyone was interconnected and we could then make the best decisions based on that information. So yes, I think we are in the right track. We just need the rest of the industry to then move to that level.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodWell, we talk a lot about a world with smarter trade, here at Zencargo. I think you’ve pretty succinctly explained what that might look like. Now, Catia, before we get onto our quickfire questions, which I know you’re a bit anxious about them coming up, I’ve got one final thing I’d love to ask if you want to talk about, which is you’ve had a fantastic career and loads of amazing exposure, lots of great experience. Something I’m so moved by, when I hear people talking about supply chain and talking about their journeys, is just how human much of this industry is, never mind all the logistics, never mind all the heavy vessels, the moving goods, but is there anyone that’s impacted your journey that you would particularly like to call out and thank, or to show some appreciation for in this sort of public forum?

Oh, I’ve had the chance to work with so many amazing peers and managers that have helped me grow professionally, but also tackle things differently. I learned a lot right at the beginning from one of my colleagues, her name is Claudia and she was my peer in Madrid when I was working in liner trade. And she basically taught me to look at things in a very human way and always not assume things as you look at them. So you always question stuff and you always think about, maybe it’s something different than what they’re saying or what you’re understanding. So don’t make initial judgments that can then harm your relationship with a person.

And I think that was a huge learning, because it has helped me to put forward things that you might not understand in a way that is not a critical, bad way, but like a learning way and a way that you’re questioning because you’re truly just wanting to know. And that has helped people become welcoming of the way you approach them. Humans are humans. If you become too critical to them, they might backfire a bit and not want to then help or go move towards the same goal. So that has been a huge learning and has helped me a lot throughout my career, for sure.

Catia Fernandes

Helena WoodSounds like some really great advice. Well, hopefully Claudia from Madrid is listening. Maybe she’s not in Madrid anymore. Who knows? And she’s able to hear that appreciation.

No, she’s in Barcelona.

Catia FernandesHelena Wood

I’m ready.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodSo question number one, if you were to give any advice to someone on looking at their supply chain right now, would you recommend that they were focused on agility or resilience?

Agility. And if I say so, it’s because you want to make sure you don’t miss your revenues in a market that is moving so fast. So agility to make sure you are there with your stock when you need to, basically.

Catia Fernandes

Helena WoodWhat supply chain job would you love to try out for a day, if you could choose from anything?

I would love to be on the warehouse, because it’s something I’ve never witnessed, how the operations inside a warehouse actually function. So I’ve been so much into the shipping side that I kind of feel interested in learning about that side.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodPerfect. And just one more, can you sum up for us the ocean market in three words?

Oh, God.

Catia Fernandes

Helena WoodThat’s two. No, you can start again.

Three words, the ocean market in three words… I would say very congested market, I would put it. I don’t know if it’s the best three words I can think of.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodGreat. Well, Catia, you can breathe comfortably. You’re done with your quickfire questions. Thank you so much, Catia. It’s been such a pleasure having you on the show and talking to you today.

Thank you, Helena, and I hope to have the chance to participate again.

Catia FernandesHelena WoodWe’d love to have you back at some point in the future. And thank you also to our audience for tuning into this episode. If anyone has any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact us on LinkedIn. Catia I’m sure would love to answer any questions, as would I. We love to hear from you, so please do keep in touch, but for now, goodbye.