Stuck in Dry Dock: Keeping a Ship’s Panama Repairs on Schedule

A Horizon customer’s ship was in dry dock in the Balboa Shipyard in Panama, and they needed our help to get the vessel back in the water, back to work.

The ship was an articulated tug barge (ATB) that had won several awards for safety, reliability, and environmental responsibility. But with the ship delayed in dry dock for critical repairs and maintenance, that reliability would be put to the test.

The customer needed a large delivery of spares, including a sealant module, crimpers, stop ball valves, and a wide variety of electrical equipment including wires, conductors, and adapters. A total of 9,085 pounds of freight.

Horizon Project Manager Pixie Gibbs took the call from the customer on a Wednesday. They needed everything in Panama… immediately.

“So many times we get calls,” Gibbs says, “and they tell us they need it there by yesterday. I’ve been trying for years to find a time machine, but I haven’t found it yet.”

But she did get the message: They needed Horizon to pull out all the stops and get the delivery to Panama without delay. Gibbs immediately started making calls.

Three Trucks Converge on Miami

The suppliers were located across three U.S. states, in:

  • Harvey, Louisiana (New Orleans metropolitan area)
  • Riverside, Missouri (Kansas City metropolitan area)
  • Jacksonville, Florida

Getting the parts delivered to Horizon’s consolidation warehouse in Miami via standard truck freight would have taken too long for the customer’s needs. The ship was waiting.

So Gibbs reached out to one of Horizon’s trusted trucking partners and arranged for three dedicated trucks: one for each supplier. Each truck would drive directly from the supplier to our warehouse, no stops along the way.

By the end of the day Wednesday, all three trucks had picked up their deliveries and were on the road, driving straight through the night to Miami. 24 hours after the initial call, we had all the equipment in hand in Miami, consolidated and cleared for export.

Chartering a Plane to Balboa

The consolidated delivery filled six crates. At four and a half tons, it would have to fly on a cargo carrier, but the next regularly scheduled cargo carrier to Panama — an Amerijet flight — wasn’t departing until Sunday. That delay would put the ship’s repairs badly behind schedule.

Gibbs reached out to several cargo chartering companies, air carriers we turn to whenever we’re in a rush. One had a plane available to fly the equipment to Balboa the very next day. Gibbs confirmed the flight, then let the customer know the spares would soon be on their way.

“On Friday, I was on the edge of my seat all day,” says Gibbs, “checking in with everyone.”

She was in constant communication with the charter plane, wanting confirmation from the carrier every step of the way, then passing updates along to the customer. When the charter confirmed that they had finished loading the freight, she told them, “As soon as the wheels are up, I want to know.”

The plane took off on time, at 8:20 p.m. Gibbs informed the customer, then immediately got back on the phone with the charter. “As soon as you touch down, let me know,” she told them.

The plane was scheduled to land in Panama at 11:00 p.m. When Gibbs hadn’t heard confirmation of the landing a few minutes after, she called the charter plane again.

“Did you land?” she asked them.

“We still need to taxi in,” they replied. “Can you please let us taxi in?”

“Too funny,” Gibbs says, “but when you’re taking care of a delivery like that, you watch it closely all the way through.”

The Feeling When a Plan Comes Together

Gibbs waited to confirm that the customer’s agent in Panama had received delivery of the cargo, then finally allowed herself to feel a sense of relief and satisfaction at another job well done.

“It feels great when a plan comes together,” she says.

The customer was very happy with the quick delivery, and their vessel was soon sailing again.

“They were very grateful for our services,” says Gibbs. “They said that, whenever they’re in a jam like this, they’ll come to us right away.”

Vessel in a jam? Need a fast, reliable solution? Contact us anytime. We’ll get you sailing again.

Expanding Horizons

Featured in “Inside Marine” (M45 issue, March 2021)

During its 50-year history, the landscape of marine freight forwarding has changed for Horizon Air Freight. For this forward-thinking business, moving with the times is part of this company’s modus operandi. Laura Watling finds out more.

Horizon Air Freight has grown from humble beginnings. Founded in 1970 by Anthony Leondis, the founder built the business from just $600 borrowed from a friend. What started out as Mr. Leondis driving to customers and filling out orders on a typewriter, grew to an international marine logistics service by air, land, and sea.

Today, the business helps to keep more than 3,500 ships safe, able, and sailing across the globe, servicing over 350 ports.

“Anthony came from a very international background,” explained Global Sales Director Alex Durante. “Hailing from Sudan but with Greek ancestry, he was able to use his international understanding to inform Horizon’s global approach.”

After 50 years in business, Horizon culture is still very much family-oriented with Anthony’s son Steve now at the helm as the CEO. However, all four of Anthony’s children have played key leadership roles over the years to shape the company into the leading marine logistics provider we see today. Steve’s son, Alex Leondis, has also recently taken on a role within the business under the CFO.

Family isn’t purely by blood, however. It’s clear that for Horizon Air Freight, all its employees fit under the wider Horizon family.

“Many of our employees have spent much of their professional life at Horizon. The average longevity of our management and team leaders is over 25 years,” said Mr. Durante. “We have a very low turnover of staff, but we understand the next generation of colleagues will also be at the forefront of the next 50 years in business.”

Employee driving a forklift

A Military Operation

Horizon Air Freight has grown to become a relied upon extension of its customers’ businesses. Operating throughout the global marketplace sees the company support customers operating all manner of vessels; from container vessels and RoRos through to cruise liners and military support vessels.

The military sector is an area in which Horizon Air Freight has a notable history. During the Gulf War, operations in 1990-1991 required a massive mobilization of military equipment and supplies to Saudi Arabia. Much of the operation was handled by Military Sealift Command (MSC) — Horizon Air Freight became a critical partner, providing the marine logistics support to keep the fleet of 125 MSC ships running and supplied.

“We pride ourselves on longstanding relationships with our customers,” said Mr. Durante, “and 30-years on we are still supporting Military Sealift Command to ensure they are fully operational and ready to respond to the military’s time-sensitive demands.”

Warehouse with high industrial racking

Above and Beyond

Horizon Air Freight prides itself on its dedication to always going above and beyond for its customers.

“We have partnered offices across the world, and if we need to open an office in Germany in the middle of the night for an urgent ship stopper, we have the ability to do that,” said Mr. Durante.

This can-do ethos is neatly explained using an anecdote from Horizon’s past. When a customer wanted to show their gratitude after purchasing a ship in Tokyo, George Savich, an employee based at Horizon’s offices in the US, purchased $150,000 of gifts (from Tiffany and Cartier, no less) on their behalf, boarded a plane and flew it to the client the same day. He was, of course, back home the next morning — he had a softball game to attend.

Not only does the business itself have a 50-year experience and foothold in the industry, but many of its employees have experience of working on ships.

“Our customers don’t need to spend time explaining why they need a particular shipment delivered urgently – our staff’s experience means that they already know,” explained Mr. Durante. “Some of our employees have even worked on the very same ships we deliver spares to; it’s easier to teach logistics than it is to learn a lifetime of experience in the field.”

For the past 15 months, Horizon Air Freight has been expanding into remote ports across the world.
“Shipowners typically keep away from these ports due to logistical challenges and customs issues,” shared Mr. Durante. “We vet and seek partners in these areas using our industry knowledge and experience.”

By expanding into these ports, Horizon makes it easier for customers to work in these regions. It’s also given customers the opportunity to expand their own businesses into these ports, which they would have otherwise avoided.

Acquisitions are also a focus for the business, with the aim to acquire other logistics firms that will complement and expand Horizon Air Freight’s existing service.

Two employees in a meeting

Technology of the Future

Another key area of attention for the future is developing technology, with the recent hiring of Horizon’s first Director of Technology, a clear indication of the company’s commitment to staying ahead of the game.

“As part of Horizon’s technological development, 2021 will see the launch of Horizon 2.0, an updated version of the business’ current PO track and trace platform. HAF’s web-based World-Track customer portal is specifically designed and catered for marine purchasing and technical departments. Horizon 2.0 will provide even more visibility over every order,” said Mr. Durante.

“We offer complete visibility and transparency for vessels and shore-side staff to track the status of their purchase orders from the time they are issued to suppliers, until they are delivered onboard. We differentiate ourselves from our competitors by tailoring our system to a client’s specific needs. It will put the steering wheel in the hand of our customers and bring the portal into more than the present day – the future.”

Employee on a computer

Passion Above All

What is clear above all is the passion Horizon Air Freight and its employees have for its industry.

“Horizon Air Freight doesn’t have a small sub-division that works in marine the way many of our competitors do; our whole company solely focuses on freight forwarding for the marine industry. We eat, breathe and sleep marine,” Mr. Durante proudly exclaimed.

What sets Horizon Air Freight apart from its competitors, said the Global Sales Director, is its ease of contact, its value-added services, and 50 years of experience. Despite being a global business, Horizon offers customers one point of contact to call to get the job done.

“Many of our customers see our office as an extension of theirs,” said Mr. Durante. “As our customers evolve, they take us on the journey with them as they know we are an integral and vital part of their business model. When they thrive, we thrive, so it’s our duty to build long-term, valuable relationships with them.”

Having just celebrated 50 years in business, it’s evident that Horizon Air Freight is well set for a healthy future. As Alex Durante said: “The sky’s the limit for Horizon.”

Horizon Air Freight employees

When You Must Deliver in Remote Regions: A South America-to-Mexico Success Story

It was a relatively small and inexpensive spare — a 20-kilo part for the main air compressor, worth about $700 — but what a journey it had chasing down a vessel making its way up through the Americas.

When the call came in, there was plenty of time. The vendor assured Horizon routing specialist Nick Scotto that the part would be ready for pickup in Singapore on a Friday, giving us ample time to meet the vessel in Chile the following Wednesday. But that timeline was not to stand.

“The vendor was unable to give us the freight until Tuesday of the following week,” says Scotto, “so we had to urgently airfreight it to Chile where one of our agents was ready to collect it, clear it, then deliver it onboard the vessel.”

There were no direct flights available from Singapore to Chile, so Scotto routed the part through Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, COVID-related delays put the flight to Chile three hours behind schedule.

“With our new timeline, those three hours were crucial,” says Scotto. He alerted the agent to the situation, then got on Google Maps to see how long the drive from the airport to the port would take. The vessel was due to depart about three hours after the plane was scheduled to land in Chile, and the drive would take almost exactly three hours… without traffic.

Scotto kept searching and discovered there was some road work along the way, creating about a 15-minute traffic delay. He got on the phone to the client, telling him, “You’re going to have to delay your departure maybe 15 minutes in order to get this piece on board.”

In what would prove a fateful decision, the vessel’s agent declined to wait. Their main air compressor was currently running fine, they just didn’t have this spare onboard should something go wrong. He asked Horizon instead to simply connect the part to their next port.

The Risks of Running Without Spares

Scotto knew how important the spare was to the ship. A graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, he had worked on three vessels before coming to Horizon: the car carrier GREEN COVE, the bulk carrier OVERSEAS MYKONOS, and the container ship APL GUAM.

On the ships he worked, the chief engineers made sure to carry crucial spares for the main air compressor. “We always had anything that was important,” he says. “You have two or three of them. It’s never, ‘If this breaks, we’re floating around.’ Engine emergencies are very common on most vessels. You can’t let it stop the operation.”

“You can run without the main air compressor,” Scotto says, “but you’re playing around with a dangerous situation. It puts a lot of pressure on the other parts of the engine. And when you put pressure on where it’s not supposed to be, you have things break that would usually operate fine. It would be a series of events of main engine pieces failing.”

Not wanting that to happen to the client, Scotto quickly got to work rerouting the crucial part.

Out of Chile and Onward to Ecuador

En route to Ecuador, the vessel’s main air compressor failed. Without the spare, they were unable to repair it.

“So they were limping along,” says Scotto. “They didn’t want to stop. This vessel loses about $20,000 a day when they’re behind.”

Unfortunately, with the part already in Chile, export customs would take another three to four days.

“We were pushing our way through export customs,” says Scotto. “I think I made three or so phone calls every day, to multiple people in the region, getting an understanding of what was going on and how we could speed things along.”

The customs process in Chile is not very efficient. Multiple people needed to stamp the paperwork, all of them in different areas. Horizon’s agents were carrying the paper back and forth between offices to move things along as fast as possible.

“They worked in shifts,” says Scotto, “and they would wait 24/7 at the customs agency offices, getting whatever they needed to expedite the export.”

By the time the part was finally cleared for export, Horizon had three to four days to get it to Ecuador: once again a very workable timeline.

Scotto arranged for a courier service to pick the part up in Chile and deliver it to Ecuador. Because of the low monetary value of the spare, the courier service wouldn’t have to get import cleared. The schedule was looking good.

An Early Departure from Ecuador

“And then, the next morning, I get a call from the client,” says Scotto. “‘The vessel’s in Ecuador now and leaves in a few hours. When’s the piece arriving?”

It turned out that there had been a miscommunication between the vessel’s charter and management companies about the main air compressor problem.

“Instead of waiting at anchor for a couple days as planned,” says Scotto, “they were bumped up in their schedule load. They brought them right in.”

The good news: Scotto got on the phone to the courier immediately and managed to get the part pulled in Panama for rerouting to the vessel’s next port. The bad news: The next port was the Port of Manzanillo, in Mexico.

Navigating Mexico

“In freight forwarding,” says Scotto, “Mexico is a bad place to go.”

In Mexico, it typically takes one to two weeks for spares to clear customs, with capricious decisions by government officials making it difficult to predict how long it might take or how difficult it might be.

“In most countries, you can deliver something in bond,” says Scotto, “which is an agreement that it’s leaving the country, so you don’t have to pay duty on the value. That’s common practice in just about every other country we’ve delivered in. In Mexico, they don’t have that. Wait three weeks and then fork over 30% of the value to the Mexican government. I don’t understand why they operate like that, but that’s just the understanding.”

It’s why Horizon typically advises clients to take delivery in neighboring countries. But with each day’s delay putting the vessel’s main engine at further risk of catastrophic failure, we had to find a way.

We didn’t have an existing relationship with an agent in Mexico, so Scotto reached out through his network and connected with a trusted agent. Over several phone calls, they discussed how to move the spare through customs as rapidly as possible.

When the piece arrived in Mexico City, the agent explained, “We either get lucky, or we don’t.” Customs randomly chose what to inspect, and inspection would come with delays.

“And of course,” says Scotto, “it got picked.”

But after a short delay, the part was cleared and the courier service took it to Manzanillo, where it was released to Horizon’s agent.

It was late on a Wednesday afternoon, and Scotto was driving home from work. Notified that the spare had finally been cleared, he called up the agent in Mexico.

“He was very happy to finally get this piece,” says Scotto. “I asked him, ‘When are you delivering?’ And he said, ‘I’m going to drive it to the port myself right now, and it should be onboard tomorrow morning.’ The vessel’s departure was scheduled for Monday morning, so it was perfect. We had plenty of time.”

“So I let the client know. And then I got another call from the agent that night, and he said, ‘Unfortunately, the customs here is requiring more paperwork in order to expedite this delivery.’”

Government officials were holding the spare at the port. A tense few days followed, with Scotto in constant communication with the agent. Then, on Sunday night, they finally released it. The agent delivered it onboard with only hours to spare.

The vessel’s main air compressor was soon repaired, and it sailed out on schedule once again.

After finally bringing a 26-day routing to a successful resolution, Scotto got right back to work on the next delivery.

Don’t be caught without critical spares. Whatever you need, wherever in the world you need it, we’ll find a way to get it onboard. Contact us anytime and let us know how we can help.

Suez Canal Statement

Steve Leondis, CEO of Horizon Air Freight

As I write this, there’s some great news coming out from the Suez Canal.

The container ship Ever Given ran aground on March 23 during a storm, completely blocking passage through the Suez Canal. For nearly a week, two salvage teams have attempted to dislodge the ship, with CNBC reporting that the blockage is delaying $400 million an hour in trade.

Earlier today, the Suez Canal Authority announced that the Ever Given had been partially refloated and its course corrected by 80%. Then, just moments ago, the Associated Press reported that the ship had been completely set free by a “flotilla of tugboats” which are now pulling the ship toward the Great Bitter Lake.

We don’t yet know with certainty when the Suez Canal will reopen, but this news gives us hope that it will be very soon. Nevertheless, a backlog of about 300 ships is presently waiting in or near the canal. As Maersk said in a statement earlier this morning, even if the canal reopens today, it could take a week to clear the queue.

At Horizon, we’re not in the salvage business, so we couldn’t do anything to free the Ever Given any faster. But for the past week we’ve been monitoring the situation 24/7 and helping our customers keep sailing safely while adjusting to the delays.

We’re fortunate to have several graduates of the Merchant Marine Academy working at Horizon. They have classmates sailing on U.S.-flagged ships in the canal, and through them we’ve been receiving on-the-scene updates as the situation develops.

Three of our customers have seven ships currently delayed by the Suez closing, and we’ve been in regular contact with all of them. Many had plans to pick up spares for scheduled maintenance at major equipment supply hubs such as Rotterdam. With their ships delayed, chief engineers have been monitoring engine hours, concerned they won’t reach their planned supply ports in time.

Some ships have been waiting out the delay, while others turned around, exited the canal, and headed south for the Cape of Good Hope. For those still waiting, we’ve rerouted and expedited their spares to Port Said, Egypt, for delivery just as soon as they exit the canal into the Mediterranean. For those heading south, we’ve rerouted and expedited to Durban, South Africa.

With delays of this scale, we’re also anticipating longer-term ripple effects across the global shipping fleet that could delay the shipment by seafreight of critical spares. We expect to reroute many of these spares via airfreight to get them on time to the ships that need them to keep sailing safely.

We know this has been a challenging time for many shipping companies, with this crisis costing you dearly for each day your ships are off-hire. Please know that we’re here for you and ready to do whatever it takes to support you in this critical time.

For fifty years, we’ve been helping our customers recover from vessel delays, engine failures, failed Coast Guard inspections, and anything else that might delay a vessel sail. Not a week goes by without us leaping into action to help keep a vessel on charter schedule.

Whatever you’re struggling with, during this difficult time or any time, please give us a call and let us know how we can help.

How to Keep Your Deliveries 99% On Time

In the best of times, the global shipping network is extraordinarily complex. Hundreds of ports in hundreds of countries serve tens of thousands of commercial vessels. Yet through capricious weather, political conflicts, multimodal transit delays, and more, the shipping fleet weaves the world together.

The past year has not been the best of times. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed borders, grounded planes, and sometimes overwhelmed the capacity of ports and commercial vessels. Yet the world relies on shipping more than ever to transport critical medical supplies, food, fuel, and all the equipment we need as we adapt to this new reality.

So much can go wrong, and, so often, so much does. Suppliers fail to deliver to one of our hubs on the promised date. Clearance and delivery issues in problem ports result in delays or lost freight. Direct service routes from origin to destination become unexpectedly unavailable.

In global marine logistics, we don’t hope that nothing will go wrong. We plan ahead for all that can go wrong, so we can still get deliveries wherever they’re needed, on time. We do it all while maintaining Horizon’s longstanding 99% on-time delivery rate.

As we enter the second year of this pandemic, with hopes that the end of it is now near, we’d like to share with you some of what we do to keep your deliveries on time, and some of what you can do to help us keep your fleet on schedule.

How We Keep Your Deliveries On Time

Assume Something Will Go Wrong, Then Prevent It

The name of the game is being proactive. We never assume any stage in a shipment will go as planned. In fact, we operate as if something WILL go wrong — after 50 years in the business, we can usually anticipate the problems — then we figure out how to keep the delivery on schedule.

For example, we contact suppliers a few days before an order is due to be ready. Can they confirm that the order will indeed be ready as promised? If not, we start making a back-up plan: a different supplier, an expedited route, a private charter… whatever it takes.

Constant Communications

We stay in constant contact with airlines, ocean carriers, and trucking companies. Is high demand reducing their capacity? Are prices fluctuating? Are transit times slowing? We get the answers straight from the sources, all day, every day.

We pass this real-time intelligence along to you, so you can make well informed decisions. And we advise you on the best routings to get your deliveries where you need them, on budget and on time.

How You Can Keep Your Fleet On Schedule

Plan Ahead

We know that some emergency needs simply can’t be anticipated. But whenever it’s possible, book your deliveries as far in advance as possible, or even alert us that a booking is coming soon, so we can prepare. This puts some extra time in our pockets to solve whatever may go wrong along the way. With a tight deadline, even a few extra hours can make the difference between an on-time delivery and a critical delay.

Time is also often the difference between a cost-effective solution and blowing your budget. There’s not much we can’t rush around the world in a hurry, but chartered planes don’t come cheap.

Never Chase Your Vessels

If a deadline is too tight, it’s usually best to arrange delivery to the next port of call instead. Assume, as we always do, that something will go wrong. If the deadline is too tight, your delivery could easily end up one step behind your vessel, running up extra costs as we try to chase it down.

EDI System Integration

As you may already know, Horizon offers robust EDI integration with your procurement systems. Two-way transparency saves us time and gives you instant access to the real-time status of your deliveries. It allows Horizon to work as a fully integrated extension of your purchasing department.

Contact your Horizon representative if you’d like to learn more about EDI integration.

Together, We’ll Keep Moving the World

This has been a challenging year for the shipping industry. We’ve been honored to partner with you during this crisis, supporting your vital operations as you move the world.

Like you, we’re not big on “can’t.” With the right expertise, determination, and hard work, every problem has a solution. That’s how we operate, and we know you do too. Whatever the challenges the future may bring, we’ll solve them together and keep your ships on schedule.

How can Horizon help you keep your fleet shipshape and on schedule? Contact us anytime to discuss the possibilities.

Getting a Gear Assembly from Gujarat to Busan in Seven Days

The call came in over the weekend.

A vessel needed a new gear assembly for its engine. The 2600-kilo part was in a remote area of Gujarat, India. The ship would be in Busan, South Korea in one week.

Rosemarie Susino took the call. Recently promoted to executive vice president, she had long been Horizon’s terminal manager at our headquarters near JFK. She knew that getting the gear assembly out of India in a hurry was going to be a challenge.

“The service from India is very slow,” she says. “There are so many customs regulations and a lot of red tape.” The paperwork could easily delay delivery for days, so she and her team started making calls.

From the Supplier to Abu Dhabi

Susino immediately called the supplier in Gujarat to make arrangements while Horizon’s partner in India got to work on clearing the delivery for export.

By Monday morning, the gear assembly was ready for pickup, and Horizon had a truck waiting to load it at the supplier’s facility.

By Tuesday, we had cleared the export through customs and transported it to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, in Ahmedabad, where our partner loaded it on a plane to Abu Dhabi. In Abu Dhabi, we coordinated transfer of the gear assembly to a flight to South Korea.

From Seoul to Busan

“The flight service from India to Busan is horrible,” says Susino, “so we flew it to Incheon,” the international airport serving Seoul.

Flying to Incheon instead of Busan got the gear assembly into South Korea much faster, but its journey wasn’t over yet. Seoul is about 200 miles (325 kilometers) from the Port of Busan, in the opposite corner of the country. So after clearing customs at Incheon on Saturday, we loaded the part onto one of our trucks and headed for Busan, arriving early Sunday morning.

A Stop by the Shop, Then Shipshape and Ready to Sail

Given the marine background of the members on the Horizon team, we know that is not always as simple as delivering an urgent spare part that gets installed as is. Technicians and specialists are often needed to inspect and install large critical Main Engine components, adding to the time it takes for the part to be put into service on the vessel. In this instance our customer needed the gear assembly inspected and prepped at a Busan maintenance shop before it could be installed, so we delivered it directly to the shop.

From there, the technicians took over, preparing the gear assembly then delivering it to the vessel. The ship’s crew soon had it installed and ready to go. They set sail the same day, right on schedule.

For Susino, it was just another week on the job. “For all of our customers,” she says, “we do whatever it takes.”

Do you need help getting your critical spares delivered on time from any vendor worldwide? Call us today at 800-221-6028 or contact us anytime. We’ll do whatever it takes to keep your fleet on schedule.

Horizon’s First 50 Years: Part Three

A look back at Horizon’s first 50 years, and a vision of what the next 50 may hold for the shipping industry’s gold standard for marine logistics.

Horizon Air Freight has thrived for 50 years due to its unyielding emphasis on innovation and growth, for the betterment of its clients. That continues today as the company focuses on its future, with goals that include expanding services into remote areas, partnering with and acquiring complementary companies to better serve its customers, developing even more products and services, and more.

In this, the third of three installments, we take a look back at how Horizon Air Freight has spent 50 years focused on its future. (Read part one here, and part two here.)

A Third Generation Joins Horizon

The people of Horizon tend to stick with the company for decades; there’s not a lot of turnover. But with ambitious plans for growth and an eye to the company’s future, Horizon has been hiring a new generation of employees.

Among the new hires is Alex Leondis, Steve’s son and the third generation of the family to work in the business. He came to work full-time with Horizon with a degree in economics from Harvard University and about three years working for investment bank Morgan Stanley. Like his father before him, Alex showed leadership at an early age by starting all four years as a defensive back for Harvard’s men’s soccer team, with an honorable mention for the All-Ivy League Team.

Alex has learned the ropes in the warehouses and on the trucks, and he is now working as Horizon’s business analyst.

“I liked Morgan Stanley, didn’t love it, and I was looking for a change,” says Alex. Around that time, his father told him that Horizon had raised substantial capital from an investment group and was poised for dramatic growth over the next few years. It was a good opportunity for someone with Alex’s analytical and financial skills to join and be part of a strategic growth initiative.

“His skillset is to help us analyze our business and drive value, look to increase EBITDA, examine things we’re doing, and help make changes,” says Steve of his son. “He’s working directly under our new CFO, Dave Rector. It’s been a pleasure having him here.”

“We’ve always had an extremely close relationship,” says Alex. “I never thought I’d be here working with him, but I really enjoy it. He’s obviously the best guy here, if I have any questions about the business. But it’s also just rewarding to see where he’s been putting in all this really, really hard work for the past 35 years, and to want to do the same.”

Recruiting from the U.S. Merchant Marines

Many of the other new hires are graduates of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, located in Kings Point on Long Island, not far from Horizon’s global headquarters

“We’ve seen the value of hiring these young cadets when they graduate,” says Steve Leondis, “tremendous speed ramping up to understand our business. When we hire someone who understands the maritime industry, understands ships, then learning pure logistics is very easy for them. So we’re developing this young talent which we think is the future of the business.”

“When they come on board, they already understand the importance of what we do,” says Alex Leondis. “Most of them have been on a ship. They know what it’s like when a ship doesn’t have that part that it so desperately requires. So when you tell one of them, ‘Hey, this shim, it needs to be in Dubai by the first,’ they know better than anybody why it needs to be there.”

“They’re very bright young adults and great assets to have, though there is a generation gap,” says George Savich, laughing. “I had to explain to them what a fax machine was.”

Ambitious Growth Goals

With the investment capital secured in 2019, Horizon is now pursuing aggressive plans for growth, with a goal of tripling revenue over the next few years.

“We’re going to be expanding our last mile services,” says Alex Durante, “handling customs clearance and onboard delivery into many more ports of call. We’ll be expanding into many more remote areas and areas that are troublesome for a lot of ship owners.”

“Acquisitions are my primary focus,” says Steve Leondis, “acquiring other logistic companies that will complement Horizon or allow us to include services that we currently don’t offer our customers.”

“I’m working on and thinking about new product development and services,” says Alex Leondis. “We’ll also continue to make our client transparency even better. There’s plenty of opportunity, and I think Horizon has an extremely optimistic story to tell in the next three to ten years.”

Staying True to Their Founder’s Spirit

Horizon is pursuing those goals headquartered in the same building where Anthony Leondis founded the company 50 years ago, though they own the whole building now and have a reach that spans the globe. Even as they grow, they’re staying true to their founder’s spirit.

“I’m proud of the culture at Horizon,” says Alex Durante. “We all feel like we’re one big family. I’m proud that our people understand the industry, understand the consequences if the job doesn’t get done, and don’t want to let our customers down. If there is ever a problem, when we call our clients to notify them, we also already have a solution.”

“I’m proud that we’ve provided a steady job for scores of families,” says Steve Leondis. “People who have been here 20 to 40 years, they thank me for helping them afford a house. They’ve raised their families, with this business as a consistent provider for them. We’ve navigated many crises over the years, the current pandemic included, and we kept on providing, held on to those people who have been with us all these years.”

A big picture of Anthony Leondis hangs on the wall of the Horizon conference room. Alex Leondis looks at it as he reflects on his grandfather’s legacy. “It is incredible thinking I’m working in the place where he started out 50 years ago. Unfortunately, I never got to meet him, but I’ve asked my dad a lot. I’ve heard how hardworking he was, how straightforward, how he came to this country and was all about hard work and doing the right thing.”

“I’m excited for what’s to come,” continues Alex. “I joined at a time when we have an extremely interesting opportunity. It’s up to us and how far we could push it, and that’s the best part of it. The sky’s the limit for Horizon.”

Horizon’s First 50 Years: Part Two

A look back at Horizon’s first 50 years, and a vision of what the next 50 may hold for the shipping industry’s gold standard for marine logistics.

Horizon Air Freight has thrived for 50 years due to its unyielding emphasis on innovation and growth, for the betterment of its clients. That continues today as the company focuses on its future, with goals that include expanding services into remote areas, partnering with and acquiring complementary companies to better serve its customers, developing even more products and services, and more.

In this, the second of three installments, we take a look back at how Horizon Air Freight has spent 50 years focused on its future. (Read part one here.)

Investing in Technology for Global Connection and Customer Transparency

The same forward-thinking mindset that first inspired Horizon’s global approach to marine logistics has also kept the company at the forefront of technology.

Horizon’s global reach depends on communications and information technologies. Anthony Leondis’ manual typewriter and his Delta 88 worked fine when all Horizon’s customers were located within a few miles of JFK airport, but coordinating customer needs from Seattle to Singapore required something more.

“We didn’t even have computers when I started working here,” says Rosemarie Susino, who joined Horizon in 1984 as a part-time receptionist and is now one of the company’s executive vice presidents. “Back then everything was manual. We would write shipping labels by hand. Now everything’s computer automated.”

Throughout its history, Horizon has been an early adopter and innovator of technology that gave customers superior visibility and transparency into the live status of their purchase orders and door-to-deck deliveries. Where other freight forwarders often left their customers in the dark, Horizon has sought always to shine a light.

Horizon WorldTrack, Horizon’s proprietary customer portal, empowers customers to track the live status of all their shipments, from the time they issue purchase orders to their vendors, up to final delivery to the vessel. In addition, Horizon’s unique portal provides an in-depth, statistical analysis of many different areas of the business such as vendor compliance, on-demand financial and performance reporting, inventory controls, and recommendations for potential cost reductions. It’s a unique, value-added service to customers who work with Horizon. The company continues to invest in new features and innovations, all driven by customer requests as well as Horizon’s commitment to distinguish themselves as an industry leader.

“Technology has taken us from the telex machine to the fax machine to email and EDI,” says James Gassert, who joined Horizon in 1982 as an export coordinator and is now an executive vice-president. “Long gone are the days of critical information and know-how residing with a limited number of resources. Now we benefit greatly from a shared platform that allows our global team to address any need at any time, anywhere in the world.”

As Steve Leondis pursues ambitious goals for Horizon’s future growth, he continues to invest in technology as a key supporter of that growth. He also recently hired the company’s first director of technology.

“We’re reinvesting to improve our systems and investing in new technology,” Steve says. “There are a lot of off-the-shelf cargo programs, but that doesn’t really work for us because we respond to customers’ needs so quickly. So we’re developing Horizon 2.0, positioning this business to handle three times the volume over the next three to four years.”

Supporting Desert Storm Through Military Sealift Command

Founded by an immigrant, Horizon played a crucial role in supporting U.S. national security during the Gulf War of 1990-91. Operation Desert Shield, and, later, Operation Desert Storm, required a massive mobilization of military equipment and supplies to Saudi Arabia.

A Business Week story at the time described the Gulf War as “the largest military logistics operation in history.” (The story is told at length in the book Moving Mountains: Lessons in Leadership and Logistics from the Gulf War.)

Much of this historic operation fell to Military Sealift Command, which currently operates approximately 125 civilian-crewed ships that move, pre-position, and replenish military cargo used by deployed U.S. Armed Forces and coalition partners. During the Gulf War, Horizon became a critical partner to Military Sealift Command, providing the marine logistics support they needed to keep their ships running and supplied.

It’s a relationship of trust that continues to this day, with Horizon helping ensure that Military Sealift Command’s vessels are always fully operational and ready to respond to the military’s time-sensitive demands.

Strategic Growth Brings New Industries and Facilities

Horizon started out supporting ocean freight shipping companies, later adding military support to the mix. As the company grew, they gradually expanded to take on other sectors of the maritime industry, including tankers, cruise lines, fishing vessels, research vessels, offshore rigs, and even shipyards. To better serve a growing number of clients in the Gulf of Mexico, Horizon also opened a new facility in Houston, now the company’s second-largest.

Alex Durante joined Horizon in 2007 and now serves as the company’s global sales director. He was instrumental in opening up several new sectors, including automobile shipping, cruise ships, and, in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, PPE supplies.

Durante saw an opportunity to enter the cruise industry when Horizon handled some emergency overnight deliveries from Germany to the Bahamas to keep a major cruise ship overhaul on schedule. The supplier knew Horizon due to previous urgent shipments the company had handled for them. They recommended Horizon to the cruise line as the forwarder who could get the parts there on-time.

The same cruise line’s logistics department then asked Durante if Horizon could help with their food deliveries. Horizon put together an arrangement with a refrigerated and frozen warehouse in California, then set up weekly consolidated delivery schedules of food and beverages from various West Coast vendors. More than three years later, Horizon is still shipping 7,000-10,000 pounds of food via air for them each week.

That initial opportunity led Horizon to launch its cruise ship division, with a dedicated team and facilities, including new state-of-the-art refrigerated and frozen warehouse facilities in Miami and L.A. Horizon is now shipping food to cruise ships all over the world: millions of pounds of it each year. That eventually led to keeping cruise ships supplied with everything else they needed, from engine parts to watches and pearl necklaces for their onboard jewelry stores.

(The story continues in part three.)

 

Horizon’s First 50 Years: Part One

A look back at Horizon’s first 50 years, and a vision of what the next 50 may hold for the shipping industry’s gold standard for marine logistics.

Horizon Air Freight has thrived for 50 years due to its unyielding emphasis on innovation and growth, for the betterment of its clients. That continues today as the company focuses on its future, with goals that include expanding services into remote areas, partnering with and acquiring complementary companies to better serve its customers, developing even more products and services, and more.

In this, the first of three installments, we take a look back at how Horizon Air Freight has spent 50 years focused on its future.

A Delta 88 and a Typewriter: Horizon’s Humble Beginnings

Anthony Leondis started Horizon Air Freight in 1970 as a one-man operation, run out of a closet-sized office near JFK airport and behind the wheel of his Oldsmobile Delta 88. He’d borrowed $600 from a friend to get started, and he drove to his customers with a manual typewriter to fill out their orders.

Leondis had immigrated to America from Sudan with his wife Agnese and their three children. (Their fourth child, Steve Leondis, was born in Brooklyn and is now Horizon’s CEO.) Anthony, although born and raised in Sudan, was of Greek ancestry. His wife was from an Italian family but born in Libya. This international understanding of and perspective on the world would later inform Horizon’s global approach.

When he first arrived in America, Anthony worked a series of blue collar jobs to support his family while his wife took a job at the post office. He loaded luggage for KLM and worked for a while with Overseas National Airways, a once storied international charter airline that liquidated in 1978 after the U.S. airline industry was deregulated.

It was demanding physical labor, but Anthony never minded hard work. And through the work, he learned firsthand how international air freight was managed. He began to see how his growing expertise could translate into a valuable service.

Anthony had made some connections to Greek shipping companies with affiliates in New York City. He reached out with an offer to handle air freight forwarding for their marine spares, supplies, and equipment. The shipping companies were impressed with the value he offered, and Horizon Air Freight was born.

Horizon Expands Into Full-Service Maritime Logistics

After about a year and a half during which Anthony ran the company on his own, Horizon grew enough that he had to hire help. He also expanded Horizon’s services to provide more comprehensive maritime logistics support for customers.

Over the course of a few years, Horizon earned its FMC and NVOCC licenses, allowing the company to consolidate maritime cargo. Horizon also became a licensed U.S. Customs broker in order to expedite import and export clearances for customers.

This growing suite of capabilities allowed the company to provide shipping companies with full-service maritime logistics, both efficiently and reliably. Anthony’s work ethic and expertise were also rapidly building Horizon’s reputation as the freight forwarder that would always go above and beyond, doing whatever it took to get parts and supplies to ships, wherever in the world they were needed.

The Second Generation Joins the Company

Anthony Leondis’ oldest son, John, joined Horizon in 1973 after graduating from Columbia University. His second son, Joseph, joined in 1977 after graduating from Harvard University. (Giving his children opportunities to get the best possible education was a key reason Anthony moved his family to America.) His daughter Irene later joined the company as controller.

Then in 1983, Anthony’s youngest son, Steve, joined the company after graduating from Yale University. A star college basketball player — he was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 1980 — Steve had majored in history, with a particular interest in the period of European history between World War I and World War II.

Steve had worked for Horizon during summer vacations since he was a teenager: loading cargo in warehouses and driving trucks. But with all three of his siblings already working at Horizon, he considered striking out on his own after college. However, during his junior year, Anthony came and asked his son to work at Horizon for just one year.

“He told me, ‘Hey, we could really use your help,’” remembers Steve. Knowing how hard his father had worked to put him and his siblings through college, Steve agreed to give it one year. “And now it’s 2021, and I never left.”

Tragically, Anthony Leondis died less than two years later, of stomach cancer, at the age of 58. His oldest son, John, initially took over as president, and in the years that followed all four siblings took on various leadership roles. The three older siblings have since retired from the company, while Steve remains as Horizon’s CEO.

Horizon Builds a Global Network

“When I came to the business,” says Steve. “I saw a lot of opportunities to expand our capabilities. The nature of shipping was expanding, and we needed to be forward-thinking.”

As the world economy globalized, the shipping industry adapted to support it, and Horizon did the same.

“One of the most meaningful opportunities I saw was to develop our foreign agency network,” says Steve. “A lot of our clients at that time were U.S.-based, but there was much more opportunity to serve their foreign base needs as their ships traveled the world.”

So in his first few years with Horizon, Steve spent a lot of time traveling, establishing Horizon’s foreign agency networks throughout Europe and Asia, and all around the world. He then approached Horizon’s existing customers, offering to handle their marine logistics needs overseas.

“Today,” says Steve, “65% of our revenue comes from foreign agency activity.”

George Savich, who joined Horizon in 1988 as a messenger and is now the company’s domestic manager, is emblematic of the can-do spirit that developed Horizon’s reputation as the global marine logistics company that would always find a way.

When a customer wanted to show their gratitude after the purchase of a ship in the Tokyo shipyards, Savich purchased $150,000 of gifts on their behalf from Tiffany and Cartier. He boarded a passenger plane with the gifts and flew the same day to Tokyo. He turned around and flew back the next morning. “I had a softball game that day,” he explains.

Another time, a Horizon customer needed to get boiler pipes to Ivory Coast through Paris. However, Air France workers were on strike. Horizon chartered a plane to carry the pipes, but there was no one working at the airport who could load them up. So Savich flew to Paris, where he met up with two Horizon partners from the UK, and the three of them spent the next three days loading planes.

(The story continues in part two.)

An Overnight Rush to the Port of Houston Keeps a Heavy Lift Vessel Safe and On-Schedule

The call from a purchasing manager came into Horizon one Tuesday midday last winter. A heavy lift vessel, recently flagged into the United States, had arrived in Houston in ballast for a bulk grain load-out. The ship was scheduled to start cargo operations in less than 24 hours, then head across the North Atlantic to deliver the grain as food aid to a developing country. But there was a problem. Actually, there were two problems. The ship needed burlap and a new start air compressor before cargo operations could begin.

Burlap may seem a humble material to be threatening a ship’s on-time departure from port, but our routing specialist who took the call — a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy — immediately understood the need. Before the ship’s crew loaded the grain, they would need to cover the bilge pump rose boxes with burlap. Without it, grain could get sucked into the bilge pump, clogging and potentially ruining this critical equipment designed to pump water out of the cargo holds.

The need for the start air compressor was obvious. While the ship’s existing start air compressor was still working, the crew had been having major mechanical issues with it. If they didn’t replace it in Houston, their next best option would be to replace it at their foreign port of destination, where we knew freight deliveries would be more complicated and costly. The shipping company would save a lot of money if we could deliver it to them in Houston.

Worst case scenario? The old start air compressor could fail during the ship’s crossing of the North Atlantic, leaving them at the mercy of the rough winter seas. Unable to restart the engine, they might be stranded or even sink.

We weren’t going to let that happen. We leaped into action on two parallel operations.

Getting the Goods by Nightfall

To preserve any possibility of transporting the burlap and start air compressor to the Port of Houston in time for the next day’s cargo operations, we had to take possession of both by nightfall. From our New York office, we immediately called the domestic vendor of the burlap and asked them to prepare the delivery for immediate pick-up.

Meanwhile, we had our partner in Germany call the German supplier of the start air compressor and ask them to stay open late. Our partner works with this German vendor very frequently and, due to their very good relationship, the vendor agreed to remain open until 8 p.m. The ability to collect that evening allowed us to transfer to the first available flight the next day into the United States.

Two Horizon trucks on two continents made their way to the suppliers. One loaded up the burlap, the other the start air compressor, and each headed directly to the nearest airport to put their deliveries on overnight flights. For the start air compressor’s flight from Germany, we arranged for wheels-up clearance so there would be no customs delays once it arrived at the airport in Houston. Both flights were soon loaded and in the air.

All Coming Together in Houston

Overnight, two flights sped toward Houston, the critical deliveries of burlap and a new start air compressor in their cargo holds. On the ground, an agent from our Houston office drove a truck to the airport and awaited the flights’ arrival.

By 3 a.m., both flights were on the ground. Our agent soon had both the burlap and the start air compressor loaded in his truck, and he departed immediately for the Port of Houston. Less than an hour later, he delivered the burlap and compressor on deck.

The ship’s crew wrapped the rose boxes, installed the new start air compressor, and proceeded to cargo operations. The grain loud-out began on schedule, and the ship was soon on its way.

Afterward, we received several calls from the purchasing manager and other leaders at the company, thanking us for our work. “Thank you for always going above and beyond for us,” one said. We were glad to do it. It’s just what we do, every day for every customer.