Until such time teleportation – “Beam me up, Scotty!” – becomes a reality, we will just have to keep making use of courier services and freight forwarders.
Which is just fine for logistics czar Ulidrico “Rico” V. Brizuela, chairman of AAI Worldwide Logistics (AAI) and his sons Arnie and Allan, heirs to the company he founded 37 years ago on the premise of reaching for something higher than plain employee-hood.
“When teleporting finally becomes a reality,” the Bicolano-born Brizuela chuckles, “we will be the ones doing the teleporting.” Such wit, more importantly, foresight is what has kept Brizuela ahead of a pack whose all-consuming aim is to move goods and services from point A to point B in the most efficient manner.
In an intensely crowded marketplace poised on the cusp of an exciting digital economy, AAI has been quickly and surely sharpening its competitive edge. Brizuela recalls: “Sometime ago, we looked at the the logistics landscape and we saw the dawning of e-commerce. We thought that that was going to be the future.”
Realizing that adding an express courier component to the group, which already included third party logistics services and b2b logistics solutions among others, vendor managed inventory solutions, heavy movement for large-scale equipment and corporate social responsibility projects, was vital to creating a comprehensive menu of customer services, Brizuela created “Black Arrow.”
He said: “We were already handling customs clearance for Fedex Philippines, as well as pickup and delivery to export zones, and so we thought, why don’t we do this also for other customers. With that, we would really be a total logistics provider.”
Allan R. Brizuela, the second of Brizuela’s three sons, was assigned to produce the business plan in 2015 and the company was incorporated in 2016.
Black Arrow’s launch client was the online flower shop Island Rose. From then on, public response has been overwhelming, says the Meridien International College (Taguig) graduate, who adds that leveraging on AAI’s track record in the business community, has boosted orders. “Our earlier projection was to hit 5,000 parcels a day by 2020. As of December 2017, we have been doing between 40,000 to 45,000 a day.”
To cope with the onslaught of packages, the company recently invested in a new sorting machine that still relies on manpower to monitor the assembly line. “It’s still people power here,” says Brizuela père, who reveals that when they decide to fully automate – thus requiring reduced human intervention – “we will just reposition people; there will be no layoffs.”
Arnie R. Brizuela, the youngest of the Brizuela brood, who heads AAI, predicts they will need a bigger facility with the expected boom in online commerce. “We’re still not close to this, but one company in China alone does between 14 and 15 million parcels daily. So out of a population of 1.5 billion, only about 1.5 percent are sending parcels. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as it is in the Philippines. The next six months will be interesting for us.”
Future in logistics
Rich in opportunities is the best way to describe the life of Arnie and Allan’s father, Rico. In addition, he possessed the knack for spotting these and acting upon them. The second of 11 children of a Shell employee knew hardship first hand, although his parents made sure their youngsters enjoyed the best education offered in Camarines Sur by the Ateneo de Naga. Brizuela moved to Manila and was completing a degree in Electrical Engineering at Mapua in 1966 when scouts from Philippine Airlines hired him to fill in personnel gaps caused by an industrial strike. The working student was first assigned to the supply and maintenance section before handling cargo sales, a job that was to define his professional career path. He lasted 10 years with the flag carrier before joining logistics institution Delgado Brothers in 1976, supervising their freight forwarding operations.
During his tenure with the Delgado group, he started to develop the itch. “I realized I wasn’t going to get as far as I wanted by just being employed.” The gateway to entrepreneurship arrived in the form of an offer to invest in AAI (Airlift Asia Inc.), set up by Saturnino Belen, who had made his fortune in software design and manufacturing. Brizuela and an American partner in San Francisco put up a joint-venture and bought a 50 percent share of the company. He assumed the post of managing director of AAI in 1981.
In 2012, AAI was rebranded as AAI Worldwide, reflecting how far it had journeyed, from handling the logistics needs of the then fledgling local semi-conductor industry to now boasting a wide raft of logistics services, transporting anything from five grams to 5,000 tons, not only by air but by land and sea as well.
Meanwhile, Brizuela’s drive for his company to do better – he says: “Call me OC” – has never wavered. In 2007, the company was one of the first logistics outfits in the country to receive the Department of Trade and Industry’s “Philippine Quality Award (PQA) Level 1 Recognition for Commitment to Quality Management,” an adaptation of the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award of the US, following the same criteria in assessing organizational performance. It also gained distinction in 1997 for being the first wholly owned Filipino freight forwarder to be awarded by the Yarsely International Certification Services of the UK an ISO 9002 Certificate, and has since received similar certifications in recent years.
Raising the service bar is a constant theme Brizuela has drummed into his children’s psyche, and AAI’s Arnie believes this is what has differentiated their operations from their competitors. “We’re up against a lot of multinationals in the traditional logistics area but I think it’s our quick responsiveness to customers’ needs that help us win bids. Being a local company, we can decide faster and don’t have to wait to refer to a regional office, especially if there is some investment involved.”
Brizuela is certainly a tough act to follow, both his sons agree. “It’s hard catching up with him,” says Arnie. “But the business was already there for us. It would have been difficult to start up another business. And so, we joined.”
Allan of Black Arrow adds: “He never forced us to join the company. We did it on our own.”
Their proud dad, however, admits that he was rather obsessed with work in his heyday and now has more time to spend with his boys. “Parang magkabarkada lang kami (We’re just like buddies).” The eldest son Ariel was once connected to AAI, but has since moved on to do other projects more to his nature of not being office bound. “He’s a free soul,” Brizuela observes.
While supposed to be in retirement mode, Brizuela still derives sheer joy from monitoring AAI’s growth spurts. “I enjoy mentoring the children and the team,” he says.
Having experienced uncertainty and meager resources in his youth, the businessman is smoothening the path for equally deprived youngsters. The AAI Charity provides scholarships and donated land to Gawad Kalinga, which works with the urban poor to create a community for 96 families near the AAI hub in Parañaque. But it is for his employees that Brizuela feels the most concern. “I was an employee before myself, and one Christmas we didn’t receive our bonus. I thought that if I ever did employ people that would never happen to them.”
AAI employees are all members of a co-op that hands out dividends from managing businesses such as a lending facility, a gasoline station and a trucking concern.
Leadership by example has always been his main management principle. “I won’t ask anyone to do something that I myself can’t do. If my staff told me that an airline wouldn’t accept a shipment because they were full, I would go down to the receiving area and talk to them until they accommodated it, labelled it and loaded it onto the aircraft. You have to be persistent to get things done. And you can’t get things done just by sitting down.
“If you tell customers you can accomplish the job, you have to accomplish it. It’s what they expect of you. And that’s why AAI has been able to hack it out with the big guys, and why it’s been around all these years. People, here and abroad, are looking at us and like what we do.
“In everything I do, I always try to inject quality into it. I want things to be organized and in their right places. If that’s OC, what’s wrong with that? That’s being disciplined. It works too in one’s personal life. That’s the culture we’re trying to develop in the group.
“Hindi puwede na ‘puwede na yan (It can’t be allowed this attitude of that’s okay, let it go)’ or ‘Okay na yan’ (That’s okay, let it be).”
Now, if all of the Philippines thought like that, perhaps, we might certainly be one step closer to fulfilling our vast potential.
PHOTOS BY HARVEY TAPAN