Mr. Chester Tong
First, Chester, tell us about your background in logistics and about when you started your career. I believe you have been active for several years?
“Chester, you’re still here? When are you retiring? Why are you still working so hard, attending conferences in person?”
These are some of the questions I’ve had thrown at me when meeting friends at a forwarders’ network conference.
Am I really that old? Hey! Look at our King Trump; he’s seventy-five years old and still kicking asses! A new German friend I met in Guangzhou last month said their founder is eighty-five years old and, although his son is running the company, he still comes to the office every single day at nine A.M. sharp. I admit I’m a lucky person, still kicking ass, free from any illnesses and I take no medication whatsoever.
We already have both my cousin and son running the show for the day-to-day matters so I can come and enjoy my time attending conferences, meeting some old friends and making some new ones at the same time, to talk shop. I’m also fortunate that we have nineteen professionals in New York manning various things. It’s never tiring to do these things and enjoy a busy forwarder’s life!
Who wants to stay at home arguing with your spouse, who hates to see you all whole day long, anyway? Hehehe. I’m just joking, she’s my dearest and my best friend, you know? She came all the way from Japan looking for me and we were dating at school in Form 3, high school, fifty-four years ago! Now you know just how lucky a person I am!
Okay, coming back to your question, it’s been some long years since I started my career back in July 1972, forty-seven years ago when I joined Singapore Airlines in Hong Kong as a cargo sales representative. You can see my happy picture here, winning the Bingo First Prize during the SQ 45-Year Reunion in 2017! I founded MSL Express Inc. (IATA-endorsed) in 1988, when we migrated to the US, followed by forming Sino-MSL Lines, Inc. (FMC-bonded NVO) in 1991. Now our sea freight business is 65% of our overall business, handling all sorts of cargo, be it reefer, DG, OOG, LCL/FCL, etc. All of it to/from places all around the world.
We were one of the few US forwarders to start our own office in Shanghai, back in 1992. Back then, my Chinese forwarder friends were wondering why I employed a young white American, Andrew Thompson, in Shanghai. Well, he’s since opened the doors to giant companies like GE, Carrier, Ingersoll Rand, Bristol-Myers Squibb, etc. Then during the Nokia peak years in China with their extremely successful cell phone business (with which I believe you were very much involved at the time), I employed three Finnish workers at our Shanghai, Suzhou and Beijing offices, and Heidi Jokinen was one of them.
In May 1995, with invitation and referral from Mr Dieter Bendele, MD of Dachser Germany, I flew to Frankfurt to attend a conference and joined as a member of “The W.A.C.O. System”, the oldest and most famous forwarders network by far with a history of around forty years.
Is it difficult to be a freight forwarder in New York nowadays? Do you face a lot of competition?
Competition has always been present here in the US, especially in New York. There are the US big boys like EI, European Giants like SDV. We like to kick those asses because they cannot provide, nor compete with, our customized and personalised services. But for Fortune-500 companies like GE and Ingersoll Rand who care more about cost, they have formed an association with five companies, including Staples, to get a preferential tariff dealing directly with shipping lines. Luckily MSL is a preferred forwarder for PepsiCo, who gives part of their business to minority companies like us.
Although we have eight branch offices in China, many forwarders from China use our services in the US because they know we are reliable, can act impartially and can cover the entire USA nationwide, handling about everything, including import/export, air/ocean, customs clearance nation-wide, DG, Reefers, OOG, etc. etc.
Do customers in the US generally just care about the rate or can you also win business based on service and reputation?
It depends. Our main customers are small to medium-sized companies who look for service, although they need competitive pricing too. When it comes to OOG and project cargo, customers tend to look for experienced professionals to take care of their cargo from start to completion. That’s when we need a strong network like Cross Ocean, with many members that are service-oriented and some owner-operated like ourselves to work together at our common target accounts.
Have you handled larger-sized pieces before? If so, could you provide us with a few examples?
Yes, quite many and here the pictures that could tell all. Here’s a collection of the pictures.
May 2019, we shipped a Guanyin Statue from China to Dallas via Houston using Rickmers
August 2019: Slag pots from China to Pennsylvania
June 2019: From China to Cuba
November 2018: Project From China to Germany
PepsiCo machineries from China to Taiwan.
PepsiCo pieces of machinery from the UK to Pakistan
Praxair Air Separation Equipment.
PepsiCo pieces of equipment from China to the UK
Boiler from China to New York, USA.
Are you able to handle inland transport in the US? What obstacles if any must one observe in your view?
That’s our day-to-day business, where many Chinese and Vietnamese forwarders use MSL, This also applies to OOGs. The obstacles are various. Sometimes our partners require an immediate response, which is not possible, as for OOGs there are a lot of things to consider, such as:
a. which shipping line is used,
b. breakbulk, container or ro/ro vessel,
c. which terminal to check their pricing as each has a different structure.
d. value of the cargo.
e. we need to contact reliable truckers who are professionals and more importantly insured sufficiently to handle when its high-value OOGs and pieces of machinery.
f. sometimes, a trucker will ask for a diagram of the cargo which is usually not provided by partners in their first email inquiry.
g. Truckers who handle OOG are quite demanding for a good reason. They have limited manpower and if you inquire a few times without using their services, they’ll refuse to quote the next time because they regard it a waste of their precious time.
Are you currently a member of any project networks? If so, why, and if not, why not?
We are a member of:
Atlas Logistics Network
How is best to reach you?