#MeetTheLeaders EP05: Mark Parlane

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As Asia Pacific’s SVP of Contract Logistics at Kuehne+Nagel, the global transport and logistics company founded in Germany, 1890, Mark Parlane is passionate for driving success while promoting the company’s values among its multicultural team. We meet with Mark as he shares his views on how the pandemic motivates himself and his team— and their readiness to weather challenges posed by COVID-19 and seize opportunities opened up by recent events.

Growing up in New Zealand, Mark realized the world to be much bigger than what he, in his youth, had access to. It became his ambition to broaden his horizons through travel – and to see the world for himself. “It was never part my plan to be in the supply chain”, Mark recalls. Rather, it was Mark’s determination to educate and better himself which brings him to where he is today.

Mark’s professional journey started when he first ventured to the UK to join a 3PL as a project accountant in Leeds. “It became an area of knowledge where I had to work with operators to [better] understand their business in the supply chain.”

Once embarked on this journey, Mark’s passion for learning about other companies’ supply chains grew alongside his desire to become an influential leader within industry. “I wanted to get out of finance and into business development, into operations management, and into other parts of the business to help me understand how to be a better leader”, says Mark.

He describes his biggest leadership experience gain to be the ability to gather industry insight and knowledge. “You meet different customers and people…[where] you can [each] look at the same thing and have a different perspective…entirely”. One incident Mark vividly recalls was coming away from a client meeting one day, feeling it had been disastrous, whilst his colleague felt it had been nothing short of a fantastic, smooth consultation. Mark argues that distance, translation and personal opinions explain why people might not always agree.

Nevertheless, Mark emphasizes that the most important approach to resolving disagreement is to stay open-minded, and to have “an empathy for [others’] views”. In order to achieve this, “there’s got to be a curiosity to learn about the other person’s perspective, [and] what drove them to reach that conclusion”.

Having gained leadership experience in various parts of the world, Mark has often encountered professional disagreements stemming from cultural differences. He embodies his commitment to positive leadership by building trust among his team members, ensuring that he always has their best interest at heart. Once mutual trust is established, both himself and his team strive for success by helping and communicating honestly with each other, Mark explains.

“We’re not paid to do everything right. We’re paid to work as hard as we can for a common goal, and we’ll do our best to achieve it. Those results measure us,” Mark reaffirms. “[When dealing with local matters] …, you really need the local team to step up and say why that they believe [it] is the right approach.” He explains that having an environment of mutual trust where people feel comfortable in voicing their opinions is very important.

Mark also emphasizes how success is achieved collectively together with his team. He believes the amount of effort contributed will define the amount of pressure and anxiety experienced for any given project, and the same can be said of its ability to generate feelings of pleasure and success. “If you really work hard at something and you get the outcome you want, then that’s worth a lot more— even if it’s [just] a small thing”, Mark says. “I attach success to the team, achieving the goals that we set out to achieve, and celebrating that we’ve done what we said [we would]”, Mark says.

As a manager, Mark feels rewarded knowing he has created opportunities and resolved problems. Though it may not seem significant, what Mark deems most important and valuable is the process of arriving at success.

With the coronavirus pandemic comes inevitable changes to human resource arrangements. Rather than dwelling on the loss of colleagues, Mark faces the challenge with positivity. He believes that no job or role is for life, and looking back on his own career, he realizes everyone has to “take the next challenge in life and go on their own journey. If I’ve been a custodian to a part of that journey, that, to me, is still something I can be very proud of.”

In a new era where many now work from home, the retention of team values and company culture is crucial for both existing employees and new recruits. Mark believes that having office time and building relationships in-person will always be necessary. “There is that requirement for face-to-face [interaction] to put the culture in place, [to] allow people to spend time with each other, and also to build trust.”

Mark also comments on how COVID-19 has changed the way he and the team interact with each other. Advanced video conferencing products and improved online communications means technology has enabled businesses to continue operating amidst the pandemic. With the worker’s commute being taken out of the equation for those working from home, Mark sees the benefits of enhanced productivity to be quite ideal, allowing more time and flexibility to do things one enjoys.

“Technology allows us to have different ways of being together, communicating [and] travelling, [for example…which] can improve our productivity and success. [It can help us] understand…how the individual likes to work”, Mark reinforces.

Amidst the pandemic, the rise of technology has led to the exponential growth of e-commerce. Mark comments on the fact that one in four e-commerce users were either new to the marketplace from which they were buying, or new to e-commerce itself, and that he does not see the trend stopping there.

Being relatively new to e-commerce himself, Mark recognizes its potential, and believes that many of his customers would agree. With a growing percentage of goods being purchased online, Mark is keen to seize opportunities for his team to position themselves as online sellers, and firmly believes that “we need to accept that this is the future of the supply chain”.

As someone who oversees both developed and emerging markets, Mark foresees plenty of opportunities ahead. With decades of experience in Asia and the Pacific, Mark identifies the need for country-specific strategies rather than having one single, pan-Asian strategy. The key is to be agile; to know how to respond, especially in the Pacific. “I think [it will be interesting] how [countries] pay for the pandemic – their reactions…could lead to longer recessions”, Mark claims. On China, Mark feels bullish about the country’s possible e-commerce opportunities. He also identifies growth opportunities for manufacturing in Vietnam.

From technological advances to the market’s newly-opened opportunities, COVID-19 has drastically impacted the way businesses operate and survive. Data, machine learning algorithms and AI play a growing role in business processes, and Mark agrees with the innovative approach to data interpretation offered by companies such as Ergon. With the aid of intelligence and data, Mark and his team can now map the entire customer process and apply such models to new businesses in other countries. With the ability to help businesses operate more efficiently, Mark is looking into potentially commercialising the process.

He continues, “If you miss this boat, it would be quite hard to jump back on…That’s our attitude going forward. We see a lot of change to the supply chain, and we have to change with it.” With much invaluable experience under his belt, Mark looks forward to continue collaborating with his team, building trust as they rise above challenges and together seizing new opportunities.

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