2022 marks the 20th anniversary of AASMVAZ. How did the company evolve in the last two decades?
There were two phases related to AASMVAZ. I joined Lufthansa in 1967, and until 2002, I was always in the cargo division of Lufthansa. That year, I decided to leave the company; at the same time, Lufthansa invited me to become a general sales agent of the company. It is a role that represents the company in terms of cargo and logistics. My focus is the Lisbon area, which includes Coimbra in the north all the way down to Faro in the south. This partnership lasted 11 years. At that time, we were only focused on representing Lufthansa cargo. Most of our customers were forwarding agents. After 11 years, we mutually agreed to end this partnership, which marked the beginning of the second phase. I could have retired and let everyone go their separate ways; however, I decided to continue the business and invited my team to create a new company. We did not have any network or clients and started from absolutely zero. It was a great challenge, and we eventually succeeded. We were six people, including myself, and now we have about 90 people and two offices. At the time we started, we only handled air cargo. We had to increase our network and form alliances with network company groups. We are members of the Spanish and Chinese chambers of commerce, and for 12 years, we have been members of the German-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce. We had to establish excellent connections because we did not have any contacts or know anyone. AASMVAZ’s history could be split in two phases. I had joined Lufthansa back in 1967 and stayed until 2002 always working on the cargo division. Then, I decided to leave the company to start AASMVAZ and simultaneously got invited to become Lufthansa’s general sales agent, representing the company in terms of cargo and logistics with focus on the Lisbon area, from Coimbra up north to Faro down south. For the first 11 years our sole focus was to properly represent Lufthansa Cargo as most of our customers were forwarding agents. Eventually, both Lufthansa and AASMVAZ agreed to end the partnership which marked the beginning of phase two. Instead of retiring, which was a potential option given my age, I invited the team to redefine the company and embrace new challenges. Lacking in clients and even proper network, we had to start from scratch which was a great but rewarding challenge given our present success. At first we exclusively handled air cargo and focused on expanding our network, being members of the Spanish and Chinese chambers of commerce, as well as the German-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce for 12 years. This was the kickstart to develop excellent connections, as we were generally unknown in the logistics world.
Which division of the company is the most successful?
All of them are successful, though the most is the time critical segment. This segment has to do with the automotive industry segment. In theory, if you approach the people in the logistic departments of the automotive industry, and ask them about their expectations for air cargo for the coming year, they will say no to air cargo because it is too expensive. They usually decide to send cargo at the last minute due to different factors. We need to be ready. When they are ready, the freight options should also be ready. We are asked to find solutions in less than 24 hours. If time permits, and of course it is cheaper, we try to send by sea. To accomplish what we do, we have to work 24/7, including public holidays. This is one of the major advantages that we have in the market. We were extremely well-prepared from our Lufthansa experience because it believes in educating its teams. We learned a great deal about doing our current work and making that transition. In terms of sea freight, it was completely new but we also embraced this challenge as well. We are extremely flexible; our customers know this, which is why we are so successful. Although it’s safe to say all our segments are successful, the highlight goes to the time critical. This has mostly to do with the automotive industry given its high volatility in terms of production chain. When asked about their expectations for air cargo, most automotive logistics departments are reluctant about it due to a higher general cost when compared to its sea counterpart. However, there are enough last minute situations to create a market for air cargo in this industry. We are asked to find solutions on a 24 hour timeframe or even less which means we have to be ready on a 24/7 basis, including weekends and public holidays, that being one of our great competitive advantages. The Lufthansa days provided us with the experience we very much needed in terms of team know how and market demands. Eventually, we decided to embrace the sea freight segment which has also been a positive experience for us. Our extreme flexibility and reliability are key. Our customers know it and that is the basis of our success
Did COVID-19 mark a third phase for the company, and did you have to adjust some of your operations?
I was invited by the airport authorities in January 2020 to talk about the local market because a consultant company came to provide solutions to the market. I was invited to discuss about what could and could not be developed and the future perspectives of the market. Before COVID-19, many people used to think cargo is the poor segment of aviation, which is not the case. Cargo is in fact one of the strongest points in the industry. From one day to another, COVID-19 was a catastrophe for the airline business. However, this was mainly for the passenger business; cargo still remained stable. In order to survive, airline companies created freight flights. We adapted to that and tried to find solutions. One solution was to pick up cargo at the border with Spain, as some companies were not flying to Portugal. It is rare in this company that we come to a decision not to do something. COVID-19 became an opportunity for us in a solid way.
I was invited by the airport authorities in January 2020 to talk about the prospects on the air cargo branch for the local market because a consultant company came to provide market solutions. Before COVID-19, air cargo was regularly seen as aviation’s poor segment, a perspective I deeply disagree, as I believe it’s indeed one of its strongest assets. The pandemic proved my point as the catastrophic fall in passenger transportation revenue was not a reality for the cargo branch, which remained rather stable. From one day to another, airlines turned to freight flights. We did our part in adapting and finding solutions. One, for instance, was to pick up cargo at the border with Spain, as some companies were not flying to Portugal. We seldom decide to give up and do nothing to overcome challenges and COVID-19 ended up as a solid opportunity for us
What are your main targets and priorities?
My target is to capitalize on every single opportunity that the market will generate. There are always opportunities; it is a question of philosophy. For us, the glass is always full. It is never half empty. If we have to change, then we have to change. If we need to find other solutions, then we will. We manage to achieve these results because we have motivated, young people. They know their jobs well. We gave them training and all sorts of certification courses. We take advantage of courses provided by different associations and chambers of commerce. We are not afraid of the future. I don’t plan to retire; I enjoy this. My target is to capitalize on every single opportunity that the market will generate. There are always opportunities; it is a matter of philosophy. We always look at the glass as half full rather than half empty and if there’s a need to change or to find different solutions, we embrace it. This is only possible due to our young and motivated team, who knows the job well, given all the training and certification courses we provide them with, an advantage of being part of different associations and chambers of commerce. As for me, retiring is not yet an option. I enjoy my work and look at the future with bright eyes.