In our second interview of our Women in Maritime series, INFORM’s Matthew Wittemeier caught up with Inna Kuznetsova, CEO of 1010data, to discuss what’s like to be a woman in maritime, but also a senior woman in the technology sector.
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MW: You’re presently CEO of 1010data and have an extensive background in the IT industry. How did you find yourself in the maritime industry?
IK: Yes, I began my career in the IT industry. I was a vice president at IBM when a recruiter showed up and talked to me about a Chief Commercial Officer position in a large logistics company, but he conveniently omitted that it was a logistics company. He said it was business services, and he gave me the size and the job description: to turn the 1,500-person sales organization around and bring it to solution-selling. It was exciting.
Then, after two hours of interviewing, he said, “Now I can disclose the name.” It was CEVA Logistics.
And I said, “What’s logistics?”
I ended up being the top candidate for the position because the CEO wanted to bring many of the best practices I was familiar with into logistics. The role required forecasting and professional development of salespeople, adjusting sales compensation to fit the sales strategy, solution-selling, and global accounts planning. The CEO figured he had 50,000 other people who knew logistics, and he also figured that between my PhD and MBA, I would probably like to learn a new industry. I did and fell in love with it. That’s how I found myself in logistics services, including maritime.
After that role, since I was missing IT and since maritime was the area I wanted to fix the most in terms of technology adoption, I went back to IT within the maritime industry as the President of INTTRA, the booking portal for ocean containers.
MW: When you started in maritime, in logistics, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
IK: Of course, the first challenge was learning the business. No matter how many manuals, white papers, and maritime terms you learn, your understanding is not the same as that of people who have worked in the industry for a long time. You have to have tremendous respect for that and appreciate the fact that the industry doesn’t do certain things that may seem obvious to IT people, and for good reason.
For example, it’s very fragmented. It has certain historical preferences and P&Ls, and you have to find your network of experts who won’t mind sitting with you and explaining. That was the first challenge.
The second challenge was accepting that technology in this industry is in the Stone Age. I recently read a quote from Andy Grove that said, “Not all problems have a technological answer, but when they do, that is the more lasting solution.”
I believe maritime has a lot of problems that can still be fixed by technology. My first brush with maritime and technology was with a large contract outsourcing a major ocean shipping business for a big CPG company. We had to meet certain criteria on volumes by trade lanes or allocations, and we failed the first year. After the COO and I left the CFO’s office, bruised by the P&L results discussion, I rang the COO and asked him, “So what software do we use to plan allocation by trade lanes?”
And he replied, “What do we use? We have a conference call once a week.”
That was one of my first hints that certain things could be automated and optimized – but unfortunately, they wouldn’t be. Then I realized that before optimizing something that complex, you have to automate something basic, and even before that, you have to standardize it. That was a big part of my learning journey at INTTRA.
MW: You noted that many existing problems can be fixed. What’s an example?
IK: One of the most visible problems in maritime is the predictability of arrivals. If I had a dollar for every start-up that tried to solve this problem, I would have retired a long time ago in Hawaii. Unfortunately, too many factors complicate the solution, and it’s not only because of technology. A big part of the problem is the customer’s lack of desire to pay for the knowledge. It’s considered a “good-to-have” functionality, not a necessity.
When we consider other forms of transport, the aviation industry understands that a five-minute delay for a commercial passenger airplane is a delay. I can track a train, arriving five minutes late, from New York City to New Jersey, and I’ll know it’s late using just my phone. But in our industry, locating your container is a real problem, and a big part of it is the lack of processes and enforcement of processes at terminals around the world.
As I mentioned, the industry is very fragmented, and all kinds of vendors and providers convey this box from the manufacturer to the receiver. The whole chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and there’s always a weakest link. It’s not always a problem of technology, but fixing it is possible. However, fixing it is currently so expensive that customers aren’t prepared to pay for it.
Those are the most common problems, but some are already being fixed every day on a much more manageable scale: the availability of rates, including online quotes, which the industry resisted for quite a while; simple things like access to medical doctors for personnel on ships; and better planning for container leasing return to maximize profit. A lot of areas in different sections of the industry can still be improved and optimized.
Industry Challenges and Opportunities
MW: What are the biggest challenges holding the industry back from achieving those fixes in the short term?
IK: The short-term issue is the lack of data standards in so many different ways. Even a year ago, containers with sensors traveling on another carrier’s ship couldn’t talk to that ship’s server because there were different communication standards between the sensors and the servers. With carrier alliances, this arrangement is common, and that lack of communication between the server and sensor presents a challenge. The good news is that this standard has been developed, and a lot of work is still going on in the industry around it.
Another issue is container tracking. A lot of fields have to be filled in every time a container enters or leaves a terminal. Most carriers have adopted those standards, but the industry at large still often tracks different fields or delays the transmission of data to the shippers. Last year, the Carriers Association started cracking down on that part of the standard, but those are just some examples. Until you have standards, you can’t properly integrate and harmonize the data and then automate decisions.
After standardization, there’s automation. For example, over half of containers today are booked online rather than by phone, and this number is growing. Once you automate, you can optimize things like the return of empties or street turns. As you accumulate information about the working scenarios, you can apply machine learning and move to a predictive intelligence supply chain, and then to artificial intelligence, which will competently handle all the standard decorations. Humans are much better at handling exceptions than machines are, and our industry is full of exceptions. Humans won’t be put out of a job, but instead get more rewarding jobs and improve customer care.
MW: Let’s pivot a bit. You’ve moved out of maritime in your day-to-day role to take up another challenge in data at 1010data. Of course, you’re still connected to the maritime industry in some of your board activities. What was that move like for you?
IK: I didn’t see it as a move out of maritime. I’ve always been focused on growing IT businesses or helping established businesses get back to top-line growth and data profitability. That’s what I did for 25 years at IBM and with the sales organization at CEVA. Even during my time at INTTRA, we developed numerous data-driven solutions. Data has always been a big part of my work. With data, a lot of the work we do today is related, if not to maritime, to the supply chain. For example, a lot of data sharing is happening between big retailers like Sam’s Club and Dollar General and their CPG communities. 1010data provides data harmonization and sharing solutions for retailers and their CPG communities, including data on stock-outs and other supply-chain areas.
We import and harmonize a high number of various data sources for granular analysis and subsequent sharing with CPGs. It helps them to improve assortments and promotions planning, get sales reports, and avoid stock-out fines.
During COVID-19, this work took on a whole new meaning because planning demand based on the last 52 weeks of data became virtually impossible. The number of CPGs that rushed to get data from their retail providers increased, which is in the retailers’ interest – not only to monetize their data this way but to better support their CPG communities and get better assortments and more stock-ins. This area of business continues to grow, and 1010data is right at the forefront as one of the top solution providers globally.
As such, I don’t think I left supply chain, but I hope we’ll eventually find more data analytics and data-sharing applications in maritime to bring it alongside retail. There’s one important similarity: lower margins. Retailers operate on a 0.6% to 5% margin per item, so they have to be extremely frugal and careful about returns and investments. Data monetization offers a highly profitable cash stream, which not only improves the business’s profitability but helps to adjust their business and the businesses of their CPG providers to fast-changing market conditions. The shipping industry will eventually embrace this, and I hope we’ll be able to help.
MW: Another similarity between maritime and retail is how they approach sustainability. Brick-and-mortar retail seems to be one of the “losers” of the pandemic. How do retail stores see their long-term sustainability, and how important is being there tomorrow versus the longer-term sustainability goals for their workforce and the environments in which they work?
IK: Not all retailers suffer the same way during pandemics. Big discount chains like Dollar General are opening new stores. Grocery chains have seen volumes going up since restaurants are closed or have limited capacity and people are working from home. As a result, they eat at home more.
If you eat, you buy groceries, and all the grocery stores have seen a huge increase in volume. The same misconception applies to the maritime industry. In the latest annual reports, the carriers did very well over the last season because prices were at all-time highs, and the carriers optimized the number of sailings. So, while volumes fell, profitability rose. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the freight forwarders and terminals, which may not always do this work. Still, the terminals that invested in innovation and better service have benefited. I’m very proud of my board service at Global Ports Investments, the technology trendsetter in Russia. They’ve benefited by automating a lot of their customer services and IT portal users.
Going forward, we will see more and more bifurcations. More companies today accept the new realities of shopper behavior and use data to revise their store layouts, prioritize SKUs, and embrace online ordering, whether for home delivery or in-store pickup.
Demand planning requires the most recent data for today, not the last 52 weeks of data since consumer behavior has changed. According to a 1010data analysis of e-commerce data, the sale of office furniture in the US jumped 70% YTY and then started declining rapidly, going beyond 2019 levels. With a wave of work-from-home consumers rushing to update home offices, the demand stabilized. Planning demand for such fast-changing categories requires daily updates.
Also, we started seeing more differences on a regional level. For example, in early June, restaurant sales went up in Florida but fell further in New York, which was still under lockdown. So, granular analysis and recent data become critical to planning demand for every business, including shipping.
I am certain that every CEO wakes up thinking about adjusting business for the new realities. Those who do it well will be very successful in the long term. Even in the industries that were hit the worst, we see some creative solutions like the famous “flight to nowhere” in air travel, which was sold out in minutes.
We will start seeing new models, new offerings, new ideas emerging. Shipping, retail, and all the other industries will continue adjusting.
Women in Maritime
MW: Let’s circle back to one of the main reasons we’re here: women in maritime. The maritime industry is traditionally very male-dominated. How do you envision inspiring more women to join the industry?
IK: It’s a two-way process. On the one hand, women have to take bolder steps and risks, including switching industries. Few of us start in maritime and we only join the industry later. It comes with great rewards and a need to learn a lot, not take yourself too seriously, and accept the constant need to establish yourself as an expert.
On the other hand, more men need to give women these chances. I am grateful to the CEO who hired me from the IT industry into logistics despite the list of male candidates with industry background. He had a vision of innovation crossing industries and looked for me to bring a different set of best practices into logistics while learning it at the same time. Giving a chance to a woman, or at least putting a woman on a slate of candidates for filling a role or promotion, goes a long way.
Of course, if you want to improve diversity, you need to measure it. One of my CEOs told me, “Look at the share of women at every level of an organization. When it starts suddenly dropping, that’s where you have your glass ceiling.” Once you realize where that drop starts, that’s where you put your efforts. The reasons will be different at different levels in a person’s career and require different measures. Often, earlier in their careers, women look for more flexibility and balance, while later they want career progression, mentorship, and development opportunities. Those things have to be taken into account when shaping diversity programs for a particular company.
MW: You mentioned role models as one of the things we may need to promote a bit more for women. Who do you see as role models for women in maritime?
IK: The maritime industry has great women role models such as Saskia Groen-in’t-Woud, CEO of Damco, and Xiang Chen, CEO of OOCL Logistics. I know both of them develop other women candidates. We just need to make them more visible.
An example in America is Hannah Kain, CEO of ALOM, a leading company in the supply chain. Hannah founded ALOM in the late ’90s, and she’s still running it successfully. They get the awards for being one of the most respectful companies to work at. There are quite a few examples of women in the industry, although they may not always be visible enough, so it’s important to have women speakers on conference and event panels. It’s also imperative that women in senior positions avoid pulling the ladder up and help more women to progress.
MW: It’s interesting. When we started this process of shortlisting women to speak with, it was amazingly simpler than I had anticipated. The other interesting thing is that there’s been no lack of women wanting to share and participate. It’s almost been an overwhelming success compared to some of the other diversity initiatives we’ve tried, or even content series when we’ve worked with third parties. There’s always a bit of pulling people along, whereas in this series, it’s, “Yeah, I’m really happy to participate. What can we do?” which is exciting to see. As a closing thought, if you had one piece of advice for women looking to succeed in maritime, what would it be?
IK: Take on hard and line jobs. Don’t hide in the areas outside the mainstream. There’s always less stress in marketing than in sales. There’s always something easier than finance in the forefront of operations. To build a proper career and get to the senior level, take on that sales or operations position or those complex financial tasks. Not all financial jobs are the same. Look at the areas where it will take effort and risk, where the reward is not guaranteed. Accept that you have to fail a few times to succeed. And rather than giving up, stand up and try again and again. Eventually, you’ll find your way.
MW: Thank you very much, Inna.
IK: Thank you very much.
Who is Inna Kuznetsova?
Inna Kuznetsova is the CEO of 1010data, the leading provider of cross-enterprise data analytics tools. 1010data empowers customers to adjust their businesses to market evolutionary events and make better decisions through activating data. It provides a data-harmonization and a granular time-series data analytics platform for large amounts of data. It enables fast implementation of retail analytics and data sharing between a retailer and CPG supplier community, as well as alternative data solutions for the retail, CPG, and financial industries. 1010data is considered the partner of choice by Dollar General, Sam’s Club, Rite Aid, Procter & Gamble, Bank of America, JP Morgan, and other top retail, CPG, and financial companies. Implementing a robust data analytics platform with predictive signals is the first step the enterprises take on their journey to become AI-enabled businesses.
Until its acquisition by E2open in 2018, Inna was the President and Chief Operating Officer of INTTRA, the largest digital network and analytics provider for the ocean shipping industry, processing over a quarter of containers in global trade. Prior to joining INTTRA, Inna was the Chief Commercial Officer of CEVA Logistics, and before that, the Global VP of Marketing & Sales, Systems Software, at IBM, where she spent 19 years in a variety of global roles.
In addition to her executive roles, Inna is an active Independent Non-Executive Director committed to strong corporate governance and a trusted advisor to CEOs and boards on innovation, accelerated revenue growth, high-performance sales organizations, transition to the cloud, and international business. She currently serves on the board of Global Ports Investments Plc (LSE: GLPR), which operates container terminals in the Baltic and Far East basins, where she chairs the Nomination and Remuneration Committee. Her prior boards include Sage (LSE: SGE), the top software company on the FTSE100 list providing small- and medium-sized organizations with business management software, and Avantida, a privately owned SaaS company in Belgium.
Inna completed her MS and PhD studies in mathematics at Moscow State University and acquired an MBA at Columbia Business School. She is a frequent speaker on technology-driven innovation and an author of two bestselling career books in Russia.
What is Women in Maritime?
The Women in Maritime initiative is a combination of a series of interviews and conference sessions brought to you by INFORM as part of its broader diversity program. The first step in increasing the scope of diversity in any industry is highlighting the diversity that exists and creating opportunities for conversations about diversity. While it is often men we think of when we consider the mental image of most logistics roles, women contribute to the industry in all its facets and at all levels of seniority. The initial aim of Women in Maritime is to show that diversity and to bring the conversation around it to life.