It might be a bit late to tell you this, but the fact is that you can’t say “I love you” on Valentine’s Day without her!
Every year, in the midst of the fading winter season, air shipments full of cut flowers reach the western parts of the world in the first week of February to cheer hearts full of love. “It’s a tradition in air freight,” says Richard Francis Theknath, Chairman and CEO of this leading logistics company in India.
“That’s one of many interesting stories we have about ourselves. Every year Jet Freight makes a shipment of cut flowers weighing around 100 tonnes from Bombay and Bangalore to London and Amsterdam within the first week of February and it’s incredible,” says Theknath, adding that the company has kept this very consistent Tradition.
Founded in 1986, Jet Freight is one of many Indian family companies doing their fair share of the logistics cynefin in India.
“In the Indian economy, family businesses make up the largest share. The landscape is volatile and changes dramatically. Those who strive to learn and grow from the world will definitely not perish. Technology and management practices have changed drastically, and without adapting to the new work paradigms, any business, family or otherwise, can fail,” he comments.
As one of the largest IATA agents in India, Jet Freight announced its main listing on the Indian Stock Exchanges ie the BSE and the NSE in December last year.
Over the years, as India’s logistics sector has changed, this organization has also evolved, adapting to newer technologies and evolving itself into more of a platform-driven/aggregator-driven business. “Jet Freight now works with a multi-model logistics framework to meet agile customer requirements,” he says. In other words, the company’s growth reflects the development of the Indian logistics industry.
Today the company manages over 150 tons of air freight daily with all leading global airlines. In this series on family businesses on SME futures, Theknath explores his legacy business in the logistics sector.
Jet Freight: yesterday and today
“The company started in 1986 with the aim of promoting agricultural and perishable businesses in India through exports,” says Richard.
Richard’s father, Francis Theknath, started this business more than three decades ago. But it was the brother’s dedication that allowed jet cargo to reach the skies. “Around 24 years ago, I joined the company under the leadership of our father together with my younger brother Dax Theknath,” he recalls.
As of now, Jet Freight excels at air import/export, sea and land transportation, and this year has brought more sustainability into the mix by using electric vehicles for last mile deliveries.
The company’s growth figures show that in the December quarter of 2021, the company reported revenue growth of 47 percent and EBITDA growth of 65 percent. Richard added that the company continues to deliver strong revenue performance, particularly in the e-commerce, pharma and international trucking sectors.
It’s a double effort
The company thrives under the leadership of the two brothers as dedicated leaders.
Richard says: “We have come a very long way now, we started with 20 employees and are now a proud family of 200.”
The brothers attribute their success to their complementary nature. Richard, an FMBA, is an avid learner. Having too much on his plate has never stopped him from learning new things. He completed FMBA from NMIMS and is currently pursuing the 2021-2022 Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) program from IIT Bombay and Washington University in St. Louis. He is also completing a course in Artificial Intelligence and Data Analysis. “It will only help business,” he assures.
Dax is now seven years younger than Richard, is an airline pilot and has been the company’s full-time CEO since 2006. He is currently involved in marketing and maintaining operational excellence in the organization.
“We share a very strong bond inside and outside the organization. My wife runs an NGO that focuses on women’s empowerment,” Richard tells us.
Have you ever faced conflict, we ask you? “We debate,” he says.
“We don’t usually face conflicts per se, but disagreements are always possible when developing strategies. We prefer to conduct our best debate according to our beliefs, based on which we make decisions together. If a scenario arises where we still prefer a different approach to achieve the same goal, we take the opinion of our extended Jet Freight family, or at least our core team, to come to a clear and comprehensive conclusion,” he continues out of.
Challenges and growth belong together
When the brothers got into their old business, automation was new. They introduced new technologies and business strategies. “We worked on the technical aspects, developed new business ideas, took advantage of the extensive marketing opportunities and worked on different ways to reach potential customers and suppliers. I believe these were some of the most significant changes that we both brought to our organization,” affirms Richard.
But in this fast-paced business where every journey is a challenge, the company has had its fair share of ups and downs. Discussing the main limitations they have been struggling with, Richard said money is the most important thing, but having a good relationship with all stakeholders is also important.
He then lists the challenges and says: “For an India-based logistics company, working capital is the number one requirement. Also, maintaining a good relationship with the leading airlines and shipping companies and timely customer payments is a very important part of the business and sometimes brings its own challenges.”
But despite the challenges, the prospects are plentiful.
As of now, his company is undergoing a business transformation that will not only bring the company multidimensional growth, but also digitize operations and minimize operating costs.
“We want to be at the forefront of this technology-driven logistics revolution and use our strengths to gain a foothold in both the B2B and B2C sectors. We will endeavor to share with our shareholders the fruits of our growth and the exponential opportunities that India is offering for logistics. Jet Freight is also focused on advancing the Jet Freight app, a technology-driven application accessible to customers for integrated logistics solutions,” Richard informs us.
Jet Freight is actively working on technological advancements such as the introduction of robotic automation, artificial intelligence, etc. to improve efficiency and streamline their operations while streamlining their processes.
With that in mind, Arvind Talan, the company’s CFO, informs SME Futures that Jet Freight is focused on expanding inland logistics and is targeting annual growth of at least 30 percent with good volumes in ocean freight and last mile deliveries.
And the pandemic has a lot to do with their current efforts, he tells us.
The pandemic fueled their growth
Richard tells us: “During the pandemic, we have been more concerned with employee well-being and strengthened the employer-employee relationship. We’ve grown our business, but growth has catapulted during the pandemic. This forced us to add more services and serviceable locations to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers.”
The pandemic has been a turning point for any business, regardless of the industry it belongs to. And Jet Freight was no exception.
“In this whole scenario, Dax was also very much involved with me in the process to run the operations,” he adds.
Jet Freight was also involved in vaccine logistics during this period, which only paved the way for their continued growth.
“We are known in the industry for our perishable products and vaccine supplies under the central government’s twenty-point programme. Despite the restrictions, we were the first in the industry to resume business operations due to the adaptability of our technology and the dedication of our team. Of course I have to thank my team who were there to support the business in any way they could. This has also created enormous added value for our customers,” Richard explains.
With any Indian legacy business, there is an automatic expectation that generations to come will also be involved. As a father of three, Richard believes that the decision to join the family business is theirs: “For the time being, my children are planning to study in the US. And I want them to make the decision to become an entrepreneur themselves or to go into business. At this point, it’s too early to make any guesses about who will be next in line,” he says.
As for Jet Freight’s growth and expansion, in addition to technological interventions, the company also has a comprehensive plan to expand its air freight business. In the future you will see Jet Freight involved in more expensive air freight services.
For this, the company is actively working to complete all the necessary procedures. And as of now, they have successfully obtained the NOC certificate from the Ministry of Civil Aviation to start their scheduled air cargo services. At the same time, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala-backed Akasa Air also secured their NOC.
Richard’s involvement in the certification process to obtain the NOC was significant as it is a necessary requirement before any scheduled airline can be incorporated. “We are very excited about the new journey of our air freight business and are in intensive discussions with investors and partners for our air freight business model,” he tells us.
To put its plans into action, the company is in talks with several aviation media platforms and fundraiser partners as this project requires a large investment. Richard says: “We have seen and shown our strength in the volume business, filling the aircraft. We would need partners to operate and finance this business. We are actively planning to start our backward integration in the air cargo business.”
Jet Freight’s roadmap is to focus on agile sustainability in supply chain management while staying focused on becoming a globally integrated leader. “Jet Freight’s vision is to be a growth-oriented total logistics management company, serving global customers by becoming the undeniable choice for total logistics management companies,” says Richard as he emphatically bids farewell.