Rick Campbell calls what he does "the second-oldest profession of mankind."
But in reality, freight forwarding has never been more modern, he said — focused on state-of-the-art technology as globalization feeds the need for clients to track their goods around the world in real time.
"Moving information accurately and timely is almost as important as moving the goods," said Campbell, who founded Elkridge-based ICAT Logistics Inc. in 1993. "You've gotta give [clients] the ability to manage their information in a dynamic environment, because yesterday's news is of no value today."
ICAT is now a shipping and logistics company operating around the world in all transport modes. Locally, that means it handles cargo by truck, by ship through the port of Baltimore and by airplane in and out of BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Often ICAT is hired to help another company tackle a specific logistics issue — how to get a shipment where it's needed, when it's needed — and time is always of the essence, Campbell said.
If that means renting an entire 747 to get a product shipment into BWI on time, so be it, he said.
"Sometimes there are movements or certain materials that have to be in a certain place at a certain time, and often the cost of that not being there on time far exceeds the cost of getting it there," he said.
Whatever the method, ICAT has been doing something right, having experienced substantial local growth recently. "We caught lightning in a bottle," Campbell said.
Last month, it did 35 percent more business than in February 2014, even though 2014 was the company's best year on record, Campbell said. Its BWI office saw business grow 39 percent year over year from 2013 to 2014, and 137 percent growth in international business.
Campbell agreed to answer a few questions from The Sun about how it all works.
Can you describe where and how ICAT operates locally, and how it affects the broader regional economy?
In many ways ICAT is like a travel agent for freight. We have offices across the country and affiliations around the globe. Our corporate headquarters is located in Elkridge, Maryland. We also have a Regional Service Center location in Elkridge that serves our customers in the Baltimore-Washington-Northern Virginia area. In our daily efforts we are supporting the purchasing, selling and general transportation of products and materials from anywhere into this area and from here to anywhere in the world. Our client mix is diverse, and so are their logistical needs.
You saw big growth out of your BWI office in the last year. What happened?
A myriad of things took place in 2014 that allowed us to grow at an impressive rate. One primary initiative was a focused effort on growing our international presence. We hired several key players with a wealth of experience. Subsequently, we have been better able to identify roadblocks for our client base and apply the right solutions. From that point word of mouth is a great promoter.
What have been some of the big innovations in local freight shipping since your start in the early 1990s?
Technology: As crazy as it sounds, the most urgent modes of transportation in many cases had the least amount of technological integration years ago. Today we have the ability to be in continuous contact with our customers and provide them with solution alternatives that can be identified more quickly and accurately.
What's the biggest challenge to your industry in the Baltimore-Washington region?
Competitive congestion. This is a highly populated area, which has allowed for a heavy concentration of forwarders in the market. At times, this can create an unhealthy pricing strategy for some ignoring value in place of low cost. Ultimately, the customer loses, but it may take a while for that result to surface. Often then it is too late, unfortunately, for the client.
What's the strangest thing most people don't know about how goods are moved around the country?
My guess is that most folks don't know about the depth of the regulatory process and the scrutiny that is applied by various government organizations to the logistics profession today. Our industry is a reflection of the experiences we have gone through as a nation since 2000 and as such we have many, many more levels of security today.