What 50+ Years of Experience Have Taught Me: Ronald, ICE’s MD
November 15, 2023 ICE Stories
We’ve interviewed Ronald Spahr, the Managing Director of ICE, who has spent five decades in the freight forwarding industry. We explore his unconventional path into the field, the inception of ICE and his thoughts on the future of the industry.
Tell us your journey of how you went from living in Germany to first starting in the industry.
My journey into the world of freight forwarding had an unconventional beginning.
I began my career with a few false starts – first as a seafarer and then doing work experience with the police.
But I soon found myself on a different course. It was my mother who played a pivotal role in redirecting my career trajectory.
She encouraged me to explore an apprenticeship, sensing that there might be a better fit for me.
My apprenticeship at Lassen GmbH
My initial foray into the logistics world took root in 1973 when I began my apprenticeship with Lassen GmbH, a well-established and renowned freight forwarding, and logistics company based in Hamburg Germany. This apprenticeship would prove to be a turning point in my life.
During the apprenticeship, I did very well. In a group of 224 apprentices, only two were offered jobs upon completion of the program. I was privileged to be one of them.
This early success affirmed my passion for the industry and ignited a deep-seated dedication to freight forwarding.
Transferring to sales
After an 18-month stint in military service, Lassen moved me into their sales team. I was 20 years old knocking on doors cold and making over 1,100 physical sales calls in my first year.
This experience taught me essential skills, including confidence and effective communication, that would serve me well in the years to come.
Moving to Australia
I always loved the idea of working overseas. During my sales time in Hamburg, I met numerous overseas visitors from all corners of the world. That triggered my desire to work overseas, at least for a while! I made this clear to Lassen and they made me an offer to work in Sydney, Australia. It was an offer I quickly accepted.
I arrived in Sydney in November 1979. The new environment was both a cultural shock and an adventure all the same time. Hamburg is much smaller than Sydney and Australian slang is not taught in Germany…
But I’ve never felt homesick – which is why I’ve stayed in Sydney ever since!
How did you start with ICE?
When I moved to Sydney, I worked in sales for Lassen’s mother company in Australia as their German representative, a company called Lep International.
I focused on selling to Australian importers who purchased goods from all German-speaking areas in Europe. This role allowed me to leverage my extensive knowledge and network to build relationships and foster growth within the company.
In the late eighties, however, Lep International wasn’t doing too well financially. The company was failing, and the writing was on the wall. So, to cut a long story short, the management team decided to jump ship and started ICE in September 1988.
The objective was to establish a new, dynamic, and customer-centric freight forwarding company that could offer a viable alternative to the established corporate forwarders in the market. Free of politics and with quick decision-making.
I officially made the transition from Lep to ICE in January 1989, a momentous chapter in my career.
This decision came with its challenges, particularly financial pressures, the responsibilities of a growing family and inherent risks. But I was determined.
I leaned on my extensive network and contacts, leveraging my experience to generate an income for ICE. We have now grown from 4 to 70 employees and continue to grow.
When did you become a Managing Director?
I became Managing Director in 2009 and by then was also the major shareholder. The transition was quick and I needed to learn issues fast, which I had never needed to get involved with. It was an exciting curve for sure but lifted my experience and gave me the opportunity to shape the future of ICE.
How would you describe working at ICE, after 30+ years in the business?
After over three decades in the industry, I can say there’s never a dull moment in logistics. Some days are good, some great, and others frustrating.
Logistics is one of the most interesting industries – it requires a sharp mind, keen attention to detail and a knack for handling multiple moving parts.
Despite my long history in the industry, I continue to find value in what I do.
As the Managing Director, I run the company, ensuring financial stability and a secure working environment. My role is not just about managing. It’s about being a leader and creating a positive workplace culture.
Where do you think the industry is headed in the future?
One of the most substantial shifts on the horizon is the increasing automation of data entry and processes. This automation is already well underway, with the integration of sophisticated technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain.
These innovations have the potential to streamline and optimise supply chain operations, reducing data entry and enhancing efficiency. Automation can significantly reduce the margin of error, improve the speed of operations, and ultimately drive down costs.
However, the fundamental structure and processes of the logistics and freight forwarding industry are likely to remain the same. The essence of the freight forwarding profession will endure.
The real value of a freight forwarder, I have often described as the “architect of the logistics chain”, remains indispensable. While some logistics functions may be automated, the human touch and expertise that freight forwarders provide will remain a cornerstone of the industry.
Having now worked for half a decade, what are the 3 things you’ve learned in life?
I can’t stress the power of kindness enough. Being kind and compassionate toward others fosters goodwill and trust.
This goodwill becomes an incredibly valuable asset – and ultimately often leads to high-quality work, collaboration and lasting relationships.
Another value I live by is patience. Patience is a virtue I’ve come to appreciate more as the years have passed. I’ll readily admit that it’s a quality I’m still working on, but I’ve learned that patience is not only a virtue but a vital tool in personal and professional growth.
Finally, one of the most liberating lessons I’ve learned is not to take myself too seriously. Life and work can be incredibly demanding, and it’s easy to become consumed by the pressures and responsibilities that come with them.
Not everything is a personal attack or a direct challenge. In many cases, it’s more about the situation or circumstances than the individual. Embracing a more lighthearted perspective allows me to face challenges with a sense of humour and perspective, which can be invaluable in maintaining a positive outlook and healthy mental well-being.
What would you like to leave as your legacy?
That I was a guy who could be trusted. That I was an honest, hardworking person. And, of course, people liked to read or listen to my stories!
I’ve always believed that dedication and a strong work ethic are the building blocks of success. In a world where shortcuts may be tempting, I’ve tried my best to stay committed to the principle that hard work and perseverance are the pathways to achievement.
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