Relaxed and inclusive

Annie Meyer has been an integral part of Australian-founded international logistics business Transtar International Freight for her entire career. As CEO of Asia, she heads up 12 offices around the region’s most important trading ports. HRM Asia asks about her strategies on retention, engagement, and people development

You are famously a one-company leader. Can you tell us a little about Transtar and your career journey within it?

Transtar is a service-driven and performance-based logistics company. We do more than just move the freight; we offer other support options for our customers, including documentation services and tracking. We’re in the business of integration and change, with a proven ability to help our customers manage their new acquisitions, new suppliers or perhaps their internal innovations.

It’s been a fabulous journey for me. I joined  in 1991 when there were a total of five Transtar staff. I started in import operations before moving to exports and commercial documentation to name a few functions. It’s fair to say I have pretty much sat in every seat in the business.

I was appointed Transtar’s first female branch  manager in 1997. That was pretty out there in those times. And I was appointed CEO of Asia in 2007. The role really includes responsibility for all the business development across Asia and it has led to an aggressive expansion plan which now has 12 offices and 130 staff across the region. As part of that, I established Transtar’s regional headquarters in Hong Kong, and a data centre in Shanghai, among others.

What does a typical day as CEO of Asia entail?

I don’t really have a traditional 8.30 to 6:00 role, and never have. But that is part of leadership in the logistics sector. It gives you a great platform to travel around the world if that’s what you desire. So for me, I’d always had a childhood dream of living in Asia and it is great to have been able to realise it.

Although these days, I hardly spend any time in Hong Kong. I spend most of my time 30,000 feet above sea level.

I travel through all our offices in China, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore but I also have board commitments in Australia so I travel there regularly too.

If there’s a typical day, it would be to meet with my Hong Kong-based Asia office manager – she’ll brief me on the status and the challenges and the opportunities for improvement. I’ll do a lot of meetings with clients and carriers, and I’ll also be studying reports to understand the local markets here and identify trends and opportunities for Transtar.

Me  Myself  I

I love: Passion! Whatever you do, do it with passion.

I dislike: Wishy-washiness – that’s not a personality! Have an opinion!

My inspiration is: My son. His enthusiasm and energy is contagious and motivating. He always has a smile on his face and is never too scared to deal with obstacles that come his way.

My biggest weakness is: Time. There’s never enough time in my days in Asia.

In five years’ time, I’d like to; Doing what I am doing now but with an even bigger, stronger Transtar.

Favourite quote: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”. Winston Churchill

Are there recruitment and retention challenges for Transtar in Asia?

HR challenges are forever a moving target in the logistics industry. Let’s be honest: walking around a warehouse, counting cartons, and talking standard operating procedures is not exactly a glamourous vision to inspire university graduates. But I love what I do, and it shows. And once you are in logistics, it gets in your blood and it’s hard to walk away.

The game changer is how does one inspire or entice great people to join?  Potential new recruits nowadays are razor sharp and know they have  a lot of options to choose from. As an employer of choice, it’s important we offer a real solid structure, a clear vision of what our company is and where we are going, and an opportunity for individual growth, not only professionally but also personally. How can I help them to help me, by me meeting their needs?

Retention is an issue that comes up at this time every year. We have a strong reputation in the industry, and a lot of our operations team members get offers from competitors that are sometimes too good to refuse.

I will never match a salary offer. That is a pretty strict rule. If staff want to leave, that’s OK. I can’t stop that. They should and do leave with integrity. But it shouldn’t be about the money. You spend so much time in the office and with your colleagues – it’s the culture that you need to think about and Transtar has an awesome, fun culture to be part of.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I am relaxed and inclusive. Rest assured, I don’t have all the answers. But my goal is to have everyone working closely together to keep the cogs turning and the clients’ needs fulfilled – and hopefully the answers reveal themselves through that.

My mantra is to lead by example, always. If I want people to follow my dream, I have to lead them. I am the first in in the morning and often the last to leave at night. Anyone that knows me, knows not to be surprised if they receive a few 2.00am emails. But I also always reply within the hour, unless I am traveling. We are in a very competitive industry and we rely on our communication skills. That shows the company is forever moving forward, is proactive, and is responding to client needs.

Transtar directors and senior management, and I are all hands-on, integral parts of the daily business. The energy comes from the top because if you can see top-tier management getting involved in the day-to-day, then I think that that vibe and feel flows through to everybody.

What other strategies do you have for keeping staff engaged?

Transtar is a fun place to work, and after more than 30 years of growth and trading, that’s part of our true DNA. We publish an internal newsletter, called MyStar, which includes updates on all of our talent’s wins and milestones. It is delivered throughout the company, in every country and every office.

I always know when MyStar is being published, because whatever office I am in, the staff all gather around one computer and you hear all of the “oohs” and “aahs” as they read about their colleagues.

It’s a simple HR strategy, but we don’t need to overcomplicate it.

It’s really important to also have a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy. I let each office nominate what they’re going to dedicate their time to. I am always quite intrigued each time one of them has to nominate what they are doing. And when they nominate, they are always more passionate about the cause.

For example, the Hong Kong team has gone out to talk to, read, and cook for the elderly.

CSR is a great bonding tool. When you do something good for the community – you are getting a lot out of it. And the photos are always phenomenal, and always published in MyStar.

Transtar boasts a large percentage of women in its senior management ranks.  Is that a deliberate policy?

A highlight of my leadership strategy has certainly been the identification and promotion of talented women throughout the company. This has been really strong not just in Australia, but throughout Asia. We have a powerful diversity policy that says that the right person for the job is selected for their passion and experience. Talented women are finding themselves great success through that.

As a group, we can train new team members with the knowledge they need, but what I can’t instill in them is the passion and positive energy that Transtar is about. Personally, I also like stability in a candidate’s history. Job swapping and changing makes me super-nervous.

The women who have succeeded at Transtar have all been attracted by the strong maternity leave provisions and that added degree of stability. They all support each other, whether it is covering leave or working together on common tasks – it’s great to watch.

The Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency says one third of companies there have no women in key management positions. To me, that’s scary. Our management personnel comprises of about 80% women, including myself.

And this trend is also really changing in Asia at the moment. There are some phenomenal business women here, and sometimes still underestimated. I’m looking forward to watching the change over the next five to 10 years – I think it’s going to be an exciting time.

You also work with the Young Presidents Organisation. How has that network boosted your development as a leader?

The Young Presidents Organisation, or YPO now, is a global platform for CEOs to engage, learn, and grow. It has over 24,000 members in over 130 countries. It’s about life-long learning and leadership. I’ve received a massive amount of support and growth from my membership.

I am proud to be the longest-serving female member of the Pan-Asia chapter, and in fact this year, I was appointed as the chair of that chapter; the first female Chair and also the first Australian Chair.

The global leadership conference takes place in Vancouver at the end of February this year. This provides another exciting chance to meet CEOs from all over the world, who you just have an instant connection with. Everyone wants to learn more about leadership, and everything to do with business, family, and community.

Bio Brief

Annie Meyer is a Group Board Director and Asia CEO of Transtar International Freight. She joined the company in 1991 and rose rapidly through the ranks and across a range of functions to become Transtar’s first female branch manager in 1997. In that role, she was responsible for a number of major customer and supplier relationships in Australia and Asia.

Meyer was appointed to her current role as Asia CEO in 2007, when she relocated to Transtar’s regional headquarters in Hong Kong. There, she is responsible for all business development across Asia and has led an aggressive expansion plan throughout the region. As part of that, she has overseen the establishment of 12 new offices at some of the region’s most important trading ports, including Kuala Lumpur and Guangzhou.

A highlight of Meyer’s leadership has been the identification and promotion of talented women and she has been recognised in the Australia Unlimited Global 50 Achievers List (2013).


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