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Air Cargo legend Mark Olney chews the fat with the Meantime team and reflects on 40+ years in logistics

Mark Olney and the Meantime team

A note from Emma, Meantime’s Founder and CEO

 

Now that Boris says we are all allowed out to play, our new Meantime HQ is open to visitors, and one of the first was one of my favourite people, air cargo legend Mark Olney, erstwhile of Air Canada and Cathay Pacific, now retired.

Before we went to lunch to put the world to rights, my young team plus talented intern asked him for advice and reflections on a 40+ year career in logistics.

Here’s what they asked him and what they found out.

Needless to say, they were all left inspired, there was much laughter, and Mark and I have solved most of today’s burning issues, something he pointed out we have been doing for 30+ years at lunches and dinners all over the world. Thanks Mark!

 

First up, intern Hannah Brown

 

When speaking to someone successful, it is difficult to imagine them in a position anywhere but at the top. I struggle to picture Mark Olney, the (now retired) General Manager of Cargo for Europe, Middle East, India, and Africa at Air Canada, ever being a lowly intern like myself! Yet, as you will discover from the story of Mark’s career – he really did start at the bottom and made the daunting climb up the ladder.

When I sat down for our interview, I was determined to tap into the wealth of knowledge Mark had gained throughout his forty-four-year career. I asked him what wisdom he would like to pass on to the next generation, in the hope of receiving a golden nugget that would pave the way for an easy ascent to greatness, success, and a healthy pay cheque.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality of Mark’s opening gambit, “It took me forty-four years to get to where I am, I worked hard, and took tough decisions,” quickly put a stop to my fantasy. While this disheartened me slightly, upon reflection, Mark’s advice was far more constructive than a trade secret guaranteeing a promotion (though, Mark if inspiration strikes, you know who to call!).

Below I have listed Mark’s top five pieces of advice:

  1. Instant gratification is false, you can’t expect rewards on day one
  2. Don’t avoid difficult decisions
  3. Provide fresh ideas, but don’t be disheartened if not all your ideas are taken on board
  4. Expect setbacks and keep going when you encounter them
  5. Finally, work hard, be enthusiastic, and enjoy what you do

Mark’s advice clearly shows that if you want to succeed, you’re going to have to work for it. But crucially, what needs to underpin a good work ethic is being passionate about what you do. If you’re reading this and don’t fit these criteria – here is Mark’s parting piece of advice, “if you don’t like your job, find a new one!”

 

Next, let’s find out what Executive Assistant Ebele Nwakude found out

 

Mark regaled the Meantime team with tales from his stellar career and answered our burning questions.

I told him that, what I have found, is that a lot of people fall into logistics and supply chain and there seems to be no one route to join. How did it happen for him?

It started on a scorching summer’s day, much like the day he visited us in Borough.

It was the summer of 1976; the heat was overbearing, and a young Mark found himself in need of a job. At the time he had his hopes set on becoming a fighter pilot for the Royal Navy in a smart uniform, but it didn’t pan out.

His Mum told him to stop moping and get a job, so he looked at the classifieds in the Slough Observer and spotted a position in a warehouse, which looked OK, and, as they say the rest is history.

Mark joined the warehouse team as “something to do”, but he quickly found it was not only great fun, but he also really loved it. He found he was learning loads, having fun, and dealing and working with all sorts of different people. Instead of being just a job, it kicked off a 40+ year career in cargo. He was going to be in aviation after all!

His first employer was good at investing in young people and was extremely passionate about the next generation of industry leaders, a mindset that Mark carried with him throughout his career.

He was quickly poached by Austrian Airlines, a job with the added bonus of a uniform. He become the first employee from the UK to come top in the airline’s training programme.

Mark moved on to work for Cargolux and then Cathay Pacific. He took his passions and beliefs with him and made the bold step at Cathay of banning the transport of shark fins on his planes as he has a major passion for the sea and marine life.

Air Canada asked him to join, and he rose through the ranks to become General Manager for the Middle East, Africa, Europe where he remained for 22 years.

Mark’s story is not only about hard work. There were plenty of tales about good times (some of which may not be fit for print), working with great people and travelling the world.

He is living proof that if you work hard, play hard and stick to your convictions, you will succeed, and maybe even get a uniform.

 

Last but definitely not least, here is Account Manager Alex Roberts

 

Everything becomes clear with hindsight, which is why it is essential that new blood in logistics businesses speak with the old hats that can pass down years of experience, wisdom, and (hopefully) some revelations.

As Mark had just embraced retirement, I asked him if there was anything specific he would want to tell fresh faces as they entered the world of supply chains.

The first piece of advice was that the initiatives and new ideas brought forward by new members of staff are invaluable. It is essential that new people make their voices heard and don’t fall into the trap of “well this is how we’ve always done it”. Take the initiative and prove the doubters wrong with your new and experimental ideas. Don’t be scared and put yourself out there.

The second was that you need to take risks. Calculated risks, but risks nonetheless. This is how developments are made in businesses and how new ways of operating are discovered. Invest in new tech, try a new system, stock the biscuit tin with new types of biscuits – make a change. Sometimes risks don’t work out but learn from it and use it to your advantage the next time a risk comes along.

Finally, attitude is one of the most important things to have. Mark explained that people starting in logistics need to manage their expectations (no one starts at the top of the tree), be prepared to put in the hours and work, and understand that compromise is a big part of working in a chain. If you have the right attitude and work ethic, you will reap the rewards, particularly with partner businesses who will continue to champion you and your skills rather than anyone else.

But retirement is also the end of an era and the start of a new chapter.

I quizzed Mark on what he thinks he will miss from the industry and being involved in the day-to-day, and he said immediately it will be the people. He freely admitted he won’t miss the travel (a terrible price to pay for being an air cargo leader), nor the hectic schedules, but that was to be expected.

I’m sure others have had this too, but people seldom seem to know what working in logistics and supply chains is like, and they often assume it’s very dry and boring. Time and time again I will explain to individuals outside of our little logistics world that the people involved make it incredible, exciting, and enjoyable. Mark confirmed this point and said it will be the aspect he misses most – but he has made life-long friends who he was going to be seeing at the pub in a couple of days anyway.

If I can put in my time, make my mark, and reach my retirement feeling fulfilled and with a handful of close friends, I think that will be a great success.

 

Finally, a few parting words from Mark

 

“It was such a pleasure and a privilege to meet Emma’s young, dynamic and brilliant team.

“On my next trip South, I would like nothing more than to spend time with Ebele, Hannah, and Alex and maybe take the opportunity to delve a little deeper into the fantastic world of logistics.”

 

 


About the author

Emma Murray

Emma was born in the year the Beatles broke up. She set up Meantime in 2008 after a 15 year career reporting on the supply chain and logistics industries. She is an NCTJ-trained reporter and an award-winning editor. She studied Middle Eastern Archaeology and Akkadian, although she has to admit her cuneiform is probably a little rusty these days. She was once an archaeologist working in Syria and Jordan, and has been an English language teacher. She has lived at one time or another in Jerusalem and Aleppo, as well as Paris and Brussels, where she went to school and learnt to speak French.