The container ship, freight train and 18-wheeler took Mr Kelvin Lim to places he had never imagined he would visit. They allowed him to meet new faces who would later become his best pals and, most importantly, to embrace a world of new possibilities.
"I didn't go to university and missed the opportunity to further my studies. Logistics gave me my education," says the 50-year-old founder of Pacific Logistics Group (PLG).
His first lesson began when he started PLG as a freight forwarding company with just two staff members in 2000, before it evolved into the current multi-solutions provider it is today.
This remains true for him even after 21 years. Such are the complexities of running a business that spans 11 countries and multiple modes of transportation.
Now a 240-strong company, PLG has helped clients in various sectors such as multinational corporations in energy sectors to coordinate and move goods and resources around the world. Like other local and international logistics players based here, it plays a key role in supporting global trade flows through Singapore.
One-seventh of the world's shipping container activity goes through the Republic.
"Many companies choose to transit in Singapore because our port offers the best security and efficiency. It runs 24/7 and can issue permits in minutes," says Mr Lim. "When a ship arrives, it can unload, load and disperse by the next day."
Singapore's position as a leading container transhipment hub in the world will be further cemented with the roll-out of the mega Tuas Port. When fully completed in 2040, it will be the world's largest fully automated terminal, bringing together port operator PSA's operations in Pasir Panjang, Keppel and Brani.
In line with this, PLG has moved into its new headquarters - a 700,000 sq ft logistics hub - located approximately 1km from the Tuas Port. It will be part of an ecosystem where containers can be moved directly between ships and factories, without additional delays or handling costs.
Mr Lim is excited about the development, seeing it as a rising tide that raises all boats.
"Our proximity to the port makes us even more attractive to overseas customers," he says. "In Tuas, the logistics infrastructure is built from the ground up to allow us to create more value for them."
For instance, the new port comes equipped with features such as automated wharf and yard functions to boost speed and efficiency. It is up to logistics players to seize the new opportunities and step up their service capabilities.
PLG has ramped up its digital competencies, such as developing an in-house software to consolidate all its department systems under one roof.
"It has helped us to cut down on paperwork," says Mr Lim. "Productivity has also increased because we can easily share information from headquarters to the overseas offices."
Besides digitalisation, PLG's biggest investment has been in its people. "Logistics is a complex business," says Mr Lim. "It takes time to build up knowledge of the entire supply chain. Most people only know parts of it, like trucking, warehousing or freight."
He sees employees above 60 as valuable repositories of accumulated wisdom and tries his best to retain them. His biggest concern is the lack of fresh talent for the sector. "There is an urgent need to train more logisticians because the first generation will be retiring soon," he notes.
The company will take on its inaugural batch of 10 management associates later this year, under Enterprise Singapore's Global Ready Talent Programme.
Much like Mr Lim's informal education, the focus is on real-world training. After six months in Singapore, the trainees will spend the remainder of their two-year programme in one of PLG's 10 overseas markets such as China, Laos and Germany. These locations are also where the company focuses heavily on rail freight as an alternative transportation option to strengthen regional connectivity.
The trainees will be immersed in the country to eventually lead PLG's expansion there. With exciting partnerships and the Tuas Port in the pipeline, Mr Lim sees a bright future ahead for the logistics industry, even with the challenges brought on by Covid-19.
"Singaporeans bring our knowledge and ability to communicate better with neighbouring countries," he says. "By building strong partnerships in South-east Asia and China, we'll be able to grow in the long term."