As director of logistics for Purchase, N.Y.-based Central National-Gottesman Inc., Simon Preisler looks to hold an edge over the competition by keeping the forest products conglomerate’s supply chain running as smoothly as an epic downhill schuss over fresh powder.
Whether maneuvering around the proverbial slippery slopes of the supply chain’s no-fall zone or enjoying his lifelong avocation on snowy mountainsides, the Copenhagen native knows the race is won by those who maintain control while grabbing every opportunity to consistently improve.
In an interview with the American Journal of Transportation, Preisler shares his thoughts on how CNG’s supply chain is delivering to more than 100 countries a diverse range of products – including Russian plywood railed across Siberia that is being used in the rebuilding of the bridge he takes across the Hudson River on his weekday commute.
With its numerous recent acquisitions, how has Central National-Gottesman efficiently expanded its supply chain to accommodate additional commodities and markets?
Every acquisition is an opportunity, obviously, to expand commercially. But we also – from the logistics side – see all these acquisitions as a new project and a new opportunity to add skills and capabilities to the network.
As an example, two years ago, we did not have a lot of activity in Russia. But we’ve acquired two plywood companies since then, and now we have a solid network in Russia, and we’re managing rail movements from Siberia to St. Petersburg. We transload it into containers or breakbulk services, and that product is destined for the U.S. markets.
Every day we challenge ourselves as a company and from a logistics perspective to make sure that we are not only competitive, but also that we offer the best possible service.
Really, these acquisitions have been, for me at least, an opportunity to take a look at what good things other people are doing and what we can learn from that and what we can potentially apply to the rest of our business.
By adding new products and adding new geographical areas in the world of doing business, we also bring in new suppliers that potentially will start picking up pieces of business from other parts of our company as we gain improvements in service or cost.
What impact has the increasing use of containers as opposed to shipping via breakbulk had upon your company and the forest products industry in general?
We see it as a net positive. If we discount the outright cost considerations, the biggest change for us is the ability to ship in smaller lots, and, by having that ability, we really eliminate a lot of inventory buildup in our supply chain.
In a containerized model, we don’t really have to have big consignment inventories sitting anywhere. We’re able to simply have the lot sizes according to the order sizes.
How are you applying your extensive shipping industry background – including 11 years with Maersk and related companies and then serving as president of TGS Logistics and finally being managing director of the startup of CMA CGM’s third-party logistics operation – to the role you assumed three years ago as head of logistics for CNG?
The challenge at a company like CNG is the fact that we are so diverse in our business activity and we have such a broad scope geographically. We service customers and mills throughout the world.
So, when I look back over my background and I look at what I’ve picked up in terms of knowledge over the years, I’m probably in my current job using every ounce of knowledge that I ever gained. This is part of the reason why it’s a great job and that I’m so excited to come to work in the morning.
We are doing everything from railroad movements in Russia to domestic trucking in China, so the experience part of it is absolutely critical for me to perform my job and, quite frankly, that kind of experience and background is also part of what we look for when we hire people into my team.
So is it a challenge to find qualified logistics professionals?
I think it is a challenge to find logistics professionals with the targeted background that we would ideally like to see. What I mean by that is that you will find plenty of logistics candidates out there who have previous experience in 3PLs and so forth, but, as soon I start to look for somebody who can also bring something to the table in terms of forest products, then the field becomes limited.
It does take a certain amount of specialized knowledge to be effective in an environment like Central National, just because of the scope and nature of the product, the overweight permits and network constraints that we have to deal with every day.
Speaking of every day: As your weekday commute between your home in New Jersey and office in Westchester County, N.Y., takes you across the Tappan Zee Bridge, do you find it intriguing that your company is one of the suppliers of material used in the span’s replacement? And, more broadly, how important do you see the rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure?
I absolutely love the fact that we play a small role in the building of the new Tappan Zee Bridge. Our Russian plywood is being used for the molds to pour the concrete. Because the Russian plywood is of such a high quality, it can be reused many times.
The rebuilding and upgrading of the U.S. infrastructure in general is absolutely crucial as we go forward.
On the logistics front, one of the big topics of discussion is these megavessels – container vessels that have become bigger and bigger. We are having a lot of discussions about the complexity of the terminal operations when you bring in 18,000-TEU [20-foot-equivalent-container-unit capacity] vessels.
I think the discussion should be broadened out more than that. The bigger bottleneck is probably going to be more in the supporting infrastructure in the hinterlands than on the terminals themselves. Most of these ports are located in relatively populated areas, and you don’t just simply add new infrastructure into these areas.
You have to improve the quality and efficiency of the existing infrastructure. It’s a huge challenge, but I like to see these things also as a great opportunity, including for local businesses to create jobs by playing a part in these upgrade projects.
Rock, paper, scissors?
Clearly, I have to go with paper. If you look at the application of the products that Central National is delivering in our product portfolio, it’s everything from when you reread the Harry Potter books to the sandwich wrapper at the local coffee shop to the catalogs you get in your mailbox and order furniture from to the newspaper that you read.
We play a part in so many aspects of the daily lives of people that I have to go with paper on that one.
Being an avid skier, including with your family, are you a bit saddened that all the snow has finally melted?
Actually, no. One of the reasons I love to live in this area is the changing of the seasons.
It’s true that we’re very keen skiers in our family, and I have two young boys who are deeply involved in alpine ski racing during the winter, and we’ve just now been finishing up the final few weeks of racing this season.
But, to tell you the truth, I’m ready for spring. I’m ready for all the different activities outside and maybe having to wear a little less warm clothes as I go outside to have fun on the weekends. I’m quite fine with the fact that winter is ending and we step into a new season.
So what are your plans for spring and summer?
I’m a family man, so I have boys who are involved in lacrosse and football and everything else. And my wife and I have projects around the house and the garden.
But I may go skiing for a week or two over the summer as well, either to Mount Hood out in Oregon or Saas-Fee over in the Swiss Alps.