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Merchant of Milan: Eligio Oggionni looks at forwarding then and now

LOOKING back over 54 years of forwarding, and forward to a new career in consulting, Eligio Oggionni, 67, father of the WIN alliance, took time out to review his life and the changing priorities of China and how the China trade should respond.

Merchant of Milan: Eligio Oggionni looks at forwarding then and now
17 November 2014 - 00:00
Merchant of Milan: Eligio Oggionni looks at forwarding then and now

LOOKING back over 54 years of forwarding, and forward to a new career in consulting, Eligio Oggionni, 67, father of the WIN alliance, took time out to review his life and the changing priorities of China and how the China trade should respond.

The most striking features of China's economic activity today, he said, is its dynamic outreach. No longer content to sit at home being the workshop of the world, China is now active abroad in ways quite new to itself and the world, he said.

"In Africa, it is the resources," he said, "they are building roads, and railways - infrastructure, but it is the natural resources they want." 

More interesting to Mr Oggionni, 67, is China's activity in the developed world. "What I see is Chinese companies buying well known brands in Europe and America, but mostly in Europe, and shifting production elsewhere."

Mr Oggionni said they leave some production in the country of origin "so they can say it is an "imported brand", but the bulk of it moves elsewhere. "Mostly to China, but also to other places, say Indonesia, Vietnam or Latin America."

He is doubtful China will be playing its workshop-of-the-world much longer because it is making a transition from being a developing country and becoming a developed nation with all the perks for the people that go with such an elevated status.

"Certainly the coastal regions have priced themselves out of the market. Some of the production can be moved inland, but wages are going up there too, even in the west of China," he said.

Mr Oggionni saw a continuing, even an expanding role in higher value production, but the manufacture of low-end consumables would migrate to lower wage countries, and to a large extent have already done so 

In today's forwarding world, few consultancy clients can boast of being served by a bone fide knight. But such a boast can be made in Mr Oggionni's case as he, a native of Milan, is also a Cavaliere della Repubblica, a Knight of the Republic, an honour bestowed by the President of Italy five years ago. 

"Such honours are well deserved," said Italy's Consul Marco Maria Cerbo at the time. "They assist the recipient become even more effective in public life. Honours are twice blessed - they bless him who gives and who receives".

Mr Oggionni, known for his extensive shipping connections in the Far East and Europe, was elevated for his contribution to Italian entrepreneurship as well as his active role in the Italian community in Hong Kong, said the consul.

While proud of his title and the APC Logistics company from which he recently retired, he is most pleased with the creation of WIN (Worldwide Independent Network), a 74-member company forwarders' alliance, which has many imitators today.

Forwarding networks are closely bound associations of forwarders located in different countries acting as integral branches of each other like vessel sharing agreements among ocean carriers.

As such they produce much the same volumes when combined as major shippers, even if they cannot always get the same break on rates that major shippers get.

"We've made some progress with the airlines on that, but ocean carriers are still reluctant to see our volumes for what they are," he said.

Mr Oggionni spoke lightly of the growing regulatory burden saying it was the same for everybody and mentioned with some pride of being part of Hong Kong Regulated Agent Regime, which gives his firm an inside track with local authorities.

As to the competition from carriers forwarding arms, such as APL Logistics and major independents like Kuehne + Nagel, he said like should go with like, that big shippers should go with big forwarders.

"We are more flexible," he said, citing the case of IT systems. Smaller shippers may not have the latest information technology, increasingly demanded by more exacting authorities wanting advance filings ahead of shipment.

"We can help them with this and in some cases give them our own IT. Smaller companies can be more flexible," he said. 

"The way to go for smaller and medium sized forwarders is to make alliances with similar entities in different parts of the world. Today the offer of networks and global alliances is quite large and very accessible to SMEs," he said.

Many of them have special incentive agreements with airlines; they have in place certain credit insurance and netting systems plus other tools that are put at the disposal to the members," Mr Oggionni said.

Mr Oggionni has also been notable in the Chamber of Commerce and the Dante Alighieri Society, which advances Italian culture abroad. He was also honoured for his current role of running the Alessandro Manzoni Italian School, which enables expatriate Italian children to study under the Italian curriculum. 

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