Cargo execs reflect on industry
One of the air cargo sector’s strengths is its breadth of astute management. As the industry heads optimistically into the uncertainty of 2014, it will rely heavily on the guidance of its top executives. Air Cargo World has selected six of the industry’s best to highlight in our annual Air Cargo Leaders feature.
United Cargo head says airfreight’s future lies with new ideas
Few people know that United Cargo President Robbie Anderson is an introvert.
“It’s just my natural tendency to be quiet and more introspective,” Anderson says, “but in my career and certainly being married to my wife, I learned you have a lot more fun talking to people.”
And now, what Anderson likes so much about the air cargo industry is the people involved.
He started his airline career with Continental Airlines, which eventually merged into United. He worked his way from catering to flight operations. In 1994, he got his first airfreight job as division controller for the cargo division, which he served as for two years.
Anderson has spent more than half of his career in the cargo business.
He calls airfreight a “relationship-focused industry.”
“As large as it is, it’s still pretty small,” Anderson says. “One thing I recognized when I left in 2005 and came back in 2010, the names were all the same.”
It’s no wonder why he says people are also the aspect of his career in which he takes the most pride.
“What I’m most proud of is to see the people I work with succeed in their careers. It’s been one of the most gratifying things to work with individuals that you see, just pure talent,” Anderson says. “To help understand where they want to go in their careers and find ways to help them move along those career paths and be successful – I think that’s probably been the most rewarding thing that I’ve seen.”
He says however the economy develops, the future of air cargo is in new ideas.
“Air cargo plays an irreplaceable role in the worldwide economy – and there is a tremendous upside opportunity to improve the service we provide,” Anderson says. “Since our planes aren’t likely to fly any faster, we need to promote a spirit of entrepreneurship and creativity to develop innovations on the ground. Then we need to test these innovations to determine whether they enhance or create value for our customers.”
Anderson earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from Stephen F. Austin State University and his MBA from the University of Houston, both in Texas. He serves as chairman of the Airlines for America Cargo Council and is a member of the International Air Transport Association Cargo Committee.
Anderson began working in junior high school. His first job was running livestock in a sales barn in his hometown of Tom Bean, Texas, a town with a population of under 1,000 at the time.
“It was a big farming community, and it was a great place to grow up. Small, small school. Literally played every sport. You had to or we wouldn’t fill the team,” he says.
Anderson was responsible for getting pigs, horses and cattle into and out of a pen and loading them into trucks for farmers.
“What I learned in the sales barn is you don’t want to stand between a 500-pound sow and anything. You want to get out of their way,” he says, laughing.
Learning to dodge pigs, Anderson no doubt knows the importance of speed. And he says that is the very aspect that the air cargo industry needs to improve on.
“E-commerce was a high focus for the industry when I left in 2005, and when I came back in 2010, we’re still talking about the same initiatives of E-freight and e-airway bill and really trying to get the industry to buy in on why we should do this,” he says. “I think that’s been one of the frustrating parts for a lot of us.”
Anderson has three children. In 2005, he moved to Cleveland with his family for work. Once their last child finishes high school in spring 2014, Anderson and his wife will move to Chicago, where Anderson now works.
One of his hobbies is spending time with family. He also likes to walk, fish and travel. The beach is his favorite destination, so each summer, he and his family go on vacation to Destin, Fla.