Lee Connor and Butch Connor
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100 years and four generations of full-service freight and logistics management
Lee Connor and Butch Connor are the President and Vice President, respectively, of John S. Connor, Inc. Headquartered in Baltimore, JSC manages transportation and logistics throughout the world, coordinating supply chain services such as sea and air freight, project cargo, trucking, warehousing, vessel agency, and cargo security domestically and internationally—for private companies as well as government, military, and not-for-profit clients. Founded in 1917 by Lee and Butch’s grandfather, after whom the company is named, JSC has remained a very successful family business for 100 years.
Lee and Butch Connor spoke with citybizlist publisher Edwin Warfield for this interview.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Can you tell us some more about where JSC fits in in the logistics process?
LEE CONNOR: People, even in this area where Baltimore is such a huge economic engine, don’t really understand that much about the port itself or the air freight activity itself. Most people can have a clear visual of a ship, or an airplane or a truck, or a big crane that’s moving freight, but when you tell somebody you’re a freight forwarder or a customs broker, you often see their eyes glaze over because they don’t really see how that fits in all of this.
Basically, as a freight forwarder, we represent importers and exporters. We arrange for their goods to be moved from Point A to Point B. For us, that means we’re looking at the marketplace. We get the information on their product, what’s sensitive about it, whether it requires special handling in any way, what is the destination or the origin. We pool all that information together. We also get information on their transit time requirements, what they’re trying to accomplish with this move, and exactly, what is their budget? What are the economics they’re dealing with on this?
We then go to the marketplace and find out what is the best means to move that product from that origin point to that destination point. We make the arrangements, book the cargo on the vessel or the airplane, and then we do all the documentation and behind-the-scenes paperwork to make sure that they’re moving this product in compliance with regulations, both overseas and in the US. We are very highly regulated and there are a multitude of government agencies that are interested in our imports and exports. Customs and Border Protection is the main enforcement arm for our border control with goods, but there are many government agencies depending upon the product that could be interested: Food & Drug Administration, USDA, EPA—there are about 50 other government agencies who could possibly be interested in the import or export of the product and want to know what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, are we complying with all the regulations that relate to that product? That’s the role on the freight forwarding side.
On the customs brokerage side, it’s basically clearing the goods through customs, arranging for the release of the cargo from the carrier and making the final delivery to the warehouse or the plant where the importer needs the cargo to go.
Q. How crowded is your industry, and how do you ensure JSC differentiates itself from the competition?
A. Our industry is still very much a fractured industry, in that we have over 5000 companies in the country that do what we do. In Baltimore alone, there are probably 70 or so companies that are in our directory that offer some type of freight forwarding or customs brokerage service.
How we differentiate ourselves is that first of all, technology, with the changes in technology, we can get much of the technology that those larger companies have. We have access to that, too. We feel we can compete on a technology basis.
We also believe that our business is still, to a very large extent, a personal service business. Anybody can move a piece of freight or container from Baltimore to Germany, but when there’s a special requirement or special need or special regulation that has to be met, or a problem with the shipment, that’s when the personal service aspect really comes in. We develop relationships with our customers. We know their products, we know the special needs they may have. Whether it’s frozen seafood, or a hazardous good, or a special defense or aerospace product that needs special export licences that are required, those companies want to make sure that they comply with the regulations, because if they don’t there are stiff penalties and fines—and possibly even losing the right to import or export that product. Our expertise and our personal attention to those type of shipments are what really differentiate us from our competition.
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