Across Japan, Nippon Express stands tall among shippers against other multinational competitors such as Kuehne + Nagel, Panalpina, DHL, UPS and FedEx, but that recognition fades once the company lands the cargo in North America.
In fact, many American shippers are barely familiar with Nippon Express’ global breadth and wide array of specialty logistics services beyond its air freight forwarding operation, although the company has had a presence in the U.S. market since 1962.
Toshiro Uchida, president and CEO of Nippon Express USA, has made it his mission to elevate his company’s presence among shippers operating throughout the Americas. “We have so many capabilities that many shippers here don’t know much about, although we’re a very dynamic company,” he said.
“In Japan, Nippon Express is a household name and that carries with it a high expectation,” said George Hassapis, general counsel and vice president of the Corporate Strategy Division of the U.S. operation. “When you walk into a large U.S. manufacturer, you have to spend a lot more time educating them about the company.”
To become better in tune with its non-Japanese customers, Nippon Express has increasingly appointed senior managers throughout the world who are most familiar with their respective markets.
In the United States, the company in 2017 appointed Hassapis, formerly of UTi, who along with Steve Concannon as vice president of U.S. sales, has increased the company’s interface with American shippers. Nippon Express has made similar types of appointments across Europe. For example, a French manager is now in charge of the company’s operations in France.
That’s not to say the company hasn’t appointed local management for its branch offices. It has done that for years. However, it’s making a more concerted effort to expand this practice worldwide.
“The shift is very clear that Nippon Express is installing more national management overseas, instead of solely bringing in managers from Japan,” Hassapis said. “That’s a big change for the company, but we think it’s beginning to work in a positive way with our customers.”
Nippon Express and its numerous subsidiaries operate in 44 countries in 266 cities and 698 offices. It employs more than 70,000 individuals, including 20,700 at its overseas locations. In 2016, the company’s revenue exceeded $16 billion.
“The shift is very clear that
Nippon Express is installing
That’s a big change for
the company, but we
think it’s beginning
to work in a positive way
with our customers.”
general counsel and
vice president of the
Corporate Strategy Division,
Nippon Express USA
“I’m a typical Japanese businessman,” Uchida said, explaining how he started with the company’s air freight division after completing his university studies in 1982. He was first sent to New York’s JFK International Airport, and then returned to Japan before being assigned to Singapore for six years. He also served in management roles in Germany, where he was in charge of intra-European air cargo. In 2016, he was named president of Nippon Express USA. “It’s an honor to oversee the Americas,” he said. “It’s such a huge market.”
Uchida’s role not only covers the United States, but he is also Nippon Express Co.’s regional general manager for the Americas, responsible for North, South and Central America.
“My instruction here is to make a dynamic change to our company in the Americas using our well-established logistics infrastructure in Asia, which is not so known in North America, and we can do that,” Uchida said.
He’s referring to the company’s myriad specialized logistics services beyond air transport, including moving and relocation services; fine arts, high fashion and high-security transport; and heavy and outsized cargo handling.
For nearly 70 years, Nippon Express has been called upon by leading museums and governments to transport some of the world’s greatest art and archeological treasures for traveling exhibitions. In 2014, the company handled the National Treasures of Japan Exhibit and France’s Louvre Museum Exhibit in 2015. In 2016, Nippon Express was awarded the contract to transport the Roman murals of Pompeii as part of a World Heritage exhibit.
Nippon Express also works with many Japanese and other Asian heavy equipment manufacturers to move their products not just across the oceans but to actual job sites. Over the years, the company has patented and constructed specialized conveyances to transport heavy and outsized cargoes. In 2003, for example, it developed a mobile device to tilt wind turbine blades—measuring 10 meters (32 feet)—so that they’re at the proper angle when lifted by crane to the rotor at the top of a tower.
The company’s Americas profile includes 12 companies, across five countries. In the United States, Nippon Express USA occupies 44 stations, while subsidiary NEXTransport, a packaging and inter-factory distribution specialist, has one office; Associated Global Systems (AGS), which focuses on white glove, final-mile delivery services, has 21 locations. Adelta Logis, formerly the logistics operation of a U.S. printing equipment manufacturer, operates from one U.S. office, and Nippon Express Travel has five locations throughout the country.
The Canadian market is overseen by Nippon Express Canada from seven locations. In Mexico, Nippon Express De Mexico and NEX Global Logistics Mexico operate nine and six offices, respectively. Nippon Express Do Brasil has seven offices and MAP Cargo in Colombia has five offices.
Expanding its U.S. presence via mergers and acquisitions (M&A) is an option in the near future. “The United States is very transparent when it comes to M&A. The business is clean,” Uchida said. “I see a great opportunity for M&As in the United States.”
Part of Hassapis’s responsibility is to assist the company when pursuing and evaluating prospective U.S. acquisitions, something Nippon Express does not exercise frequently since it prefers to grow its services internally.
“When doing M&A, it’s important to find a company that doesn’t compete with Nippon Express’s existing services,” he said. “We’re not looking to make massive acquisitions to build a footprint, because it’s already there. We’d rather earn the business by investing in our sales organization and growing organically from there.”
Nippon Express is exploring services in specialty goods, such as high fashion. “You have large forwarders like ourselves who are commoditizing things that are commoditizable, but then the margins are gone,” Hassapis said. “The other option is to specialize and special handling is what we do best.”
The company has also expanded existing facilities throughout the United States to further expand various niche services.
In September, Nippon Express expanded its presence at Laredo, Texas, nearly doubling the size of its former facility in that cross-border city. The new warehouse offers about 93,000 square feet of space and another 6,700 square feet for offices.
“Combining the functions of a logistics center with those of a truck control center, the facility offers storage near the border of automotive parts/materials produced in the U.S. or overseas and delivery of these parts/materials to Mexican destinations, as well as consignment of automotive parts produced in Mexico for milk-runs arranged by automobile manufacturers in the U.S.,” Nippon Express said at the time of opening the new Laredo facility.
The company credits its expansion at Laredo to the North American Free Trade Agreement, and its watching the trade agreement’s renegotiation talks closely.
“We as a forwarder implement those processes brought about by these trade agreements, although we’re not the primary impacted party—that’s the manufacturer,” Hassapis said. “If NAFTA ends, it will, of course, change the way cargo moves across the [U.S.-Mexico] border, and we will respond to that change. While these are challenges not of our creation, we’re asked by the manufacturers to help solve them.”
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