Zinnovate CEO on its holistic approach to global freight optimisation

Håkan Nilsson explains how transforming systems, processes and organisations holistically is the best way to achieve global optimisation in the freight and logistics industry


Ever since containerisation transformed the way we transport goods, the international freight and logistics industry has been laser-focused on greater efficiencies and optimisations. Håkan Nilsson and his team at Zinnovate International have been helping the industry get faster, cheaper, and more technologically enabled – he explains how. He also talks about why the industry’s global and trans-cultural nature makes it both challenging and one of the most rewarding sectors to work in, and how his joy at watching other people learn and grow means Zinnovate works to help its clients become independent of its consultancy services.

European CEO: First, why focus on the global freight industry? What is it about this sector that’s so compelling for you?

Håkan Nilsson: I find the global freight industry extremely exciting, as it provides an opportunity to work, bridging over distances in space, time, and particularly bridging over differences in culture.

It’s a truly global industry, and that is a very challenging environment, but it’s also very rewarding.

Secondly, the global freight industry is a very conservative industry; yet under a heavy reshaping through digitisation. That provides ample opportunity for people that can combine visionary thinking with in-depth know-how of the industry.

European CEO: Because you do have this in-depth understanding of the industry, it allows you to work across the sector, improving different elements of it; tell me more.

Håkan Nilsson: We are all about helping our customers transform from local to global optimisation. We do that across systems, processes, and organisation. Most of our competitors focus on just one area. But I firmly believe that you can only reap the true rewards if you actually do this across all these areas, holistically.

What we can bring to the table is, on the one hand, this very deep specialisation, but also an overall understanding of interdependencies. So that we create rules and targets that are in harmony rather than are in contradiction.

European CEO: Give me some examples then of the way you’ve applied this holistic understanding to help some recent clients.

Håkan Nilsson: In the freight forwarding industry, even if people are talking about having one and the same system globally, it may be across 50 different databases. And then you’re facing enormous challenges interfacing between systems.

So first of all, the most important thing is to pick the right system, that would enable you to create these global processes.

And then of course you design the processes, but you also need to bring people from the floor. Because otherwise you will fail in execution. People will not feel that they own the project, and for us as consultants, this is also very important: the transfer of know-how from our experienced consultants to the customer. So the customer themselves, and the customer team, is then capable of driving further improvements, and is actually getting independent of us external consultants.

It’s what I wanted when I was buying these services for 20+ years, and I think it’s also equally rewarding for us. Because it gives me joy to see other people grow. And I’ve also learned that, the more you give, the more you get. It sounds like a fluffy, fluffy thing; but there is truth in that. When people are sharing, they are also receiving. And it spins off in a very positive spiral.

European CEO: You work, as you said, across systems, processes, and organisations; but geographical reach is also very important.

Håkan Nilsson: It is a success necessity. It is simply not good enough to be brilliant in one part of the world, and fall flat in other areas.

The reason we have a global partner network is, global optimisation by definition requires you to have a global presence. And of course, in that the diversity of our team is fantastic. Both in terms of gender, age, and culture. And it’s fantastic, having inputs from people of different mindsets; you will arrive at a better result. But it also brings an element where you, within the team, are challenging yourself. Because somebody brings something up that for them is almost self-evident, but for somebody from a bit of a cultural distance, that’s unheard of! Then you get into a little bit of a challenging game, and eventually that game turns out, you’re operating at a higher level.

European CEO: And what’s next for Zinnovate?

Håkan Nilsson: So, we want to accelerate the growth of our partner network. But we’re also, in that process, very mindful that we will not do that at the expense of quality.

In the process there are three very important pillars. Number one is synergetic value for the customer. Most consultancy firms in partnership focus on partner revenue synergies. To me it must be the other way around: it must start with the customer.

Secondly, personal chemistry. Business is never business to business. Business is always human to human. Unless the personal chemistry and mutual understanding and trust is there, a partnership will never be long-lasting.

The third pillar is the ability to execute. Distinguishing us from some high-flying consultancy firms in this cloud of vision and mission statements; but we work with people that are doers. Getting the job done is what makes the difference.

And finally, in terms of what’s next, it is not to lose that element of joy. To continue to have fun on the journey.

European CEO: Hakan, thank you very much.

Håkan Nilsson: Thank you.