Lawrence R. “Larry” Antonucci Jr. admittedly derives the same thrill hooking big game fish off the Jersey Shore as he does reeling in business as president of the 721 Logistics LLC customs broker firm and leading Ship Philly First in its efforts to promote the ports of the Delaware River and Bay.
The self-described “Philly guy” isn’t spinning fish tales when he describes how a “work hard, play hard” attitude and a focus on leading-edge technology are advancing Lester, Pa.-based 721 Logistics and its J&K Fresh East perishables division, which he runs with his cousin and brother. And Antonucci isn’t serving up whoppers when, in an exclusive interview with the American Journal of Transportation, he talks of the success of the regional not-for-profit maritime industry organization of which he has served as president since April 2014.
How is Ship Philly First engaged in spreading the word about the ports – and I say that in the plural – of Philadelphia?
Ship Philly First was established in 2010 as – and still is today – a not-for-profit organization made up of local port businesses, most of them family-owned, who make their living from the success of the ports. As the name denotes, it’s ‘Ship Philadelphia First,’ so most of these businesses are in and around the Philadelphia area.
A challenge that we have is that the ports of Philadelphia, from a Customs standpoint, encompass ports on the other side of the Delaware [River] in New Jersey and south of us down in Delaware.
That being said, all the ports along the Delaware benefit from what Ship Philly First does, sometimes indirectly, sometimes directly.
One example where ports other than Philadelphia won’t necessarily benefit is the recent SeaLand announcement of a direct Philadelphia service from the east coast of Mexico [see story on page 7, which will come from Veracruz and Altamira directly into Philadelphia’s Packer Avenue terminal.
But there’ve been other initiatives to benefit all ports along the Delaware. For example, one of the first initiatives we got behind was seeking to get the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Centers of Excellence and Expertise [CEE].
As you know, the ports of the Delaware River and Bay handle a substantial amount of agricultural products – inbound proteins from New Zealand and Australia and obviously all the perishables out of the Southern Hemisphere – and they hit all the ports – New Jersey, Philadelphia and Delaware.
We worked with the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay in a letter-writing campaign to Congress and tried to get the CEE put here. Ultimately, it went to Miami, but that was an example of something with a wider benefit.
What impact do you see coming about as a result of expansion of the area’s port facilities, not just in Pennsylvania but New Jersey and Delaware as well?
The deepening of the river [to 45 feet] will help us attract the post-Panamax vessels. What’s the old saying? ‘A high tide raises all boats.’ So, just from that standpoint alone, you’ll see more activity on all the ports.
Here in Philadelphia, you’ve got the Southport development being considered, and you’ve got expansion concepts on the table in New Jersey and Delaware, too.
Everyone knows we need to have the deeper river, which we’re getting. We need to all improve our port facilities, which is happening. As long as we can do that, we can stay competitive with everybody else on the East Coast.
How have your company’s operations expanded over the four years since you extended 721 Logistics to encompass the J&K Fresh East perishables division?
In 2012, we started with two people – myself and one other individual – and now, entering our fifth year, we’re just adding our 32nd employee. The J&K Fresh East division has been our mainstay and our growth division. The ports are really known for their perishables.
We reached out to [El Segundo, Calif.-based] J&K Fresh on the West Coast and Lynnette Keffer, who started J&K Fresh with a partner in 2001 with a mission to provide ‘A Fresh Clearance’ for produce importers. I called her up and asked if she’d like to bring her brand to the East Coast, and she said, ‘Yes.’
Here we are four years later, and I think the brand J&K Fresh is well-known both on the East Coast and the West Coast as the premier perishable customs broker. Period. End of story. We’re the best in the business.
As you earned your degree from Temple University’s Fox School of Business and Management in computer science and industrial management, I’m figuring you’ll respond that it has been significant, but what role has leading-edge technology played in advancing your company?
That’s a great question, because, initially when we started in 2012, as far as the perishable industry goes in this market with customs brokerage, there wasn’t a lot of automation involved. There wasn’t a lot of IT [information technology] involved.
So it was an area that we focused on right off the bat. What we’ve developed is called FreshLook. That’s our customer-facing application that enables our clients to better manage their processes and make them more efficient, instead of having to deal with some kind of out-of-the-box generic customs broker track-and-trace program.
We do much more than that. Our application is not just a track-and-trace, it’s a data facilitation, it’s inventory management. We allow for seamless operation and paperless processing for the interaction between ourselves, as a customs broker, and the customer, as a receiver of perishable goods.
To me, I think we’ve actually revolutionized that aspect of the business. I think that’s been a real game-changer and differentiator between us and everybody else providing brokerage services.
How important is a genuine spirit of camaraderie and commitment to customer service in what you do?
It plays a big role. If you could sum up our philosophy, it’s: ‘Work hard, play hard.’
We thoroughly enjoy working together. Not just the management team, but everybody working together. Everybody just gets along very well, and we really take pride in treating our customers’ freight like it’s our freight. Their cargo’s our cargo. Their fruit’s our fruit. And they see that.
When we go to the PMA [Produce Marketing Association Fresh Connections events] every year, we always break out our PMA-themed shirts. They’re always very loud and colorful, and we get a lot of compliments on them. We enjoy walking the floor with those shirts on. It’s like a walking billboard.
With the rigors of work and now the Ship Philly First presidency, aren’t there times you’d just rather be saltwater sport fishing?
I’d always rather be saltwater sport fishing. When you have a passion like that, it’s just something you want to do.
I’ve got the work, the Ship Philly First, and I’m also on the board of directors for the World Trade Association of Philadelphia, so I like to be active in the port community, and I’m a Philly guy.
Philadelphia’s important to me, not just professionally but personally. I think it’s incumbent upon any business in the area to be involved in and to help grow the business community. Like I said earlier, ‘A high tide raises all boats.’
So, we’re all very active. My partner [cousin and 721 Logistics vice president for operations] John Ercolani is on the board of the Chilean & American Chamber of Commerce [of Greater Philadelphia], one of the organizations in which the third partner, [brother and vice president of corporate accounts] John Antonucci, is also active.
As far as the saltwater sport fishing goes, I have a boat, so every summer, actually as soon as the weather breaks in the spring, the boat goes in the water, I go on the boat and I spend my weekends on the boat down the [Jersey] Shore trying to catch as many fish and as big of fish as I can. I’m not always successful at it, but I have fun doing it, that’s for sure.