Skip to main content

Upstream Focus: Laufer’s Michael Van Hagen on China Trade, Collaboration & Contingency Plans

Upstream Focus is Sourcing Journal’s series of conversations with suppliers, associations and sourcing professionals to get their insights on the state of sourcing, innovations in manufacturing and how to improve operations. In this Q&A, Michael Van Hagen, vice president, sales and marketing at freight forwarder Laufer Group International, discusses the need for vendor collaboration and how retailers and brands can plan ahead for disruptions.

Michael Van Hagen Laufer
Michael Van Hagen, VP Sales and Marketing at Laufer Group International Courtesy

Name: Michael Van Hagen

Title: Vice president, sales and marketing

Company: Laufer Group International

What’s the number one question you get from your clients now that was never really a consideration before?

Why was my booking rejected when I agreed to pay the carrier’s premium?

What is the main thing brands and retailers could do (or stop doing) right now that would immediately improve logistics?

Build a centralized control tower ecosystem where all vendor partners are connected to your strategy, each knows their role, each is working collectively for you, and all are participating with you on monthly review calls to ascertain market conditions and make adjustments. Your vendors cannot be competitors in this environment. Working with each individually on a one-to-one relationship basis will not help you.

This needs to be an “all-hands-on-deck” moment.

Green light decision-making processes in advance with your vendors and within your supply chain leadership. With space at such a premium now, waiting even hours to make a decision on carrier selection, premium capacity or routing changes allows others to get in front of you in the queue. We’ve seen premium space sell out in minutes in China; make sure you’re first in line and you stay there.

Given the rollercoaster of demand and shipment volumes during the pandemic, how are you adapting your operations to better prepare for and react to uncertainty?

Related Stories

Our booking management team has had to change how they communicate, problem solve and create collaborative “pre-booking” dashboards to track pending space releases by the carriers.

Which piece of technology or innovation have you found most useful during this time?

Insightly’s marketing and CRM automation has accelerated our ability to communicate to customers and prospects faster, with better and more insightful content. It simply can’t be done on a case-by-case basis. It’s been a lifesaver for us.

Resiliency has become a buzzword since the disruption caused by the pandemic. What could brands and retailers do right now to immediately start preparing for the next unforeseen event?

Test your ecosystem and partners and plan contingencies. What would you do if there is a fire at Shanghai port, a blockage of the Panama Canal, a rail embargo to a key distribution center, a strike in Bangladesh, a lost vessel due to a storm in the Pacific? Mock up these scenarios and test your emergency planning, ensure all partners in your ecosystem are aligned with the contingency plan you outline, and have a process in place to make adjustments fast. In this environment, you need a Plan A, B, C and D!

What should be brands’ and retailers’ top lesson from Covid? How can they address this in their operations?

How to flourish in a hybrid remote/in-person work future. They will need to focus on what lessons they learned being remote, what processes and conditions existed on teams that suffered, and what processes and conditions deployed by teams outperformed. How do you create a culture of innovation, collaboration, project management, accountability, team building and effective problem resolution in a hybrid remote world that is true to your corporate values, architecture and routines? Seek feedback and input from the team members. The goal shouldn’t be to get everyone back to the office, it should be, “How do we innovate, create, problem solve and strengthen our culture in a hybrid environment?”

What’s one piece of pending legislation that should be on fashion firms’ radar? How can companies proactively prepare for this potential policy?

Withhold release orders (WRO) that are pending in Congress that would expand on the existing WRO impacting cotton sourced from Xinjiang Province in China. Congress will continue to use trade restrictions to push political, social and human rights agendas. Companies need to have a formal review with their customs broker and/or customs attorney to review pending legislation and how it may impact them. Secondly, stay very active in trade associations, as they can be a great source of information and insights as they have feet on the ground in Washington D.C.

The Trump administration’s trade policies tended toward protectionism. What tone do you expect the Biden administration to strike when it comes to trade?

I expect the Biden administration to rebuild strategic and economic partnerships that were neglected during the Trump administration and use those partnerships to increase leverage and pressure on China where it can. China remains the biggest economic, political and military challenge to the U.S. while also being the single most important economic and strategic partner to tackle key issues like climate change.

What keeps you up at night?

The emotional well-being of the team and our customers.

What makes you most optimistic?