INTTRA CEO John Fay: Trading Stocks for Ships
John Fay made his name on Wall Street, at companies that operate digital platforms for trading securities and other financial instruments. In 2014, he moved into the logistics world, taking the helm at INTTRA, a global marketplace for ocean transportation. That’s not as big a leap as it might sound.
With 55 carriers and 110,000 shippers on its network, INTTRA provides the electronic conduit for approximately 24 percent of all booking and shipping instructions for ocean transportation. Its marketplace resembles a financial exchange. Instead of linking participants around the world to trade stocks and futures, INTTRA connects companies to buy and sell shipping capacity.
We talked with Fay about the opportunities posed by the accelerating push for automation in global logistics, and how he is leading INTTRA toward further success.
IL: Since you were named CEO at INTTRA, what has been at the top of your agenda?
My top priority for INTTRA is to grow its platform and service to existing customers. We want to continue to offer transactions of booking and shipping instructions, but also want to allow the platform to expand to other products, and add new features that customers want.
IL: What are the biggest challenges facing shippers who use the INTTRA platform, and how are you helping to address them?
All our customers, both shippers and carriers, are dealing with the automation and digitization of their processes. Many are rewriting their original systems to gain more efficiency, and to take advantage of new technologies such as the cloud. Quite a few of those customers were formed through consolidation and acquisition over the past decade or two. They operate multiple systems across multiple geographies, and tying those together is not a simple task.
INTTRA plays a critical role. The platform is designed to be neutral and sit in the center. Companies with the best, most modern technology can access INTTRA, and through it they can deal with all their trading partners, even those that are far behind the curve.
IL: Which recent developments in the technology world are making the biggest impact on your business and on your customers?
The cloud allows companies to change their cost base significantly. Instead of making a large, upfront investment in hardware and software licenses, they can follow a pay-as-you-go model. The cloud also enables companies to accelerate the development process and experiment with different technologies much more quickly and cheaply than they could in the past.
The other big change is the ability to access large pools of data and analyze what’s happening in the supply chain in the early stages. We’re just starting to unleash the power of big data. Today, each shipper has data about what’s happening in its own shop, but there’s no single, large pool of data to benchmark against. INTTRA has introduced several new decision support dashboard products over the past year, which customers use to evaluate suppliers in areas such as booking response time and trade lane efficiency. Eventually, we’d like to allow our customers to benchmark their data against other customers—in the aggregate and with the customers’ permission—so they can get a global view and use that knowledge to drive business decisions.
IL: What experiences in your career have helped to shape your leadership style?
I’m a strong proponent of inclusiveness, open communication, and transparency. Throughout my career, I’ve been most successful in environments that encourage people to contribute and to work together collaboratively. A command-and-control strategy can work in certain situations, but it produces far less innovation.
In the early 2000s, I worked for a small startup called Island, which developed the first electronic market for securities. It competed with the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ, which had people on phones and on the trading floor running around and waving papers. In less than seven years, Island grew from zero percent market share to more than 30 percent of all U.S. equity trades. And it had a great culture of inclusiveness and openness. It succeeded because it was able to produce technology that customers wanted, and translate customer needs into products. That’s what we’re trying to do at INTTRA.
IL: How do you discover and cultivate talent?
When I hire someone, I look for a proven record of success. It can be a series of small successes, and it can even include failure if the candidate has learned from the experience. I also consider whether the candidate will bring something to the culture of the company. I look for teams that have many different personalities—people who are outspoken and those who are quiet and thoughtful, people who love details and those who think at a higher level. It’s important to have many different voices and perspectives in the room, and that comes only from diversity.
IL: How do you stay in touch with your customers’ wants and needs?
First, I rely on my sales force and customer service people. In a technology business, they are your storefront. To get feedback from those groups, we hold regular meetings to talk about customer trends. Second, I try to stay close to those employees who speak to customers. When I visit one of our overseas offices, for example, I sit and listen to people talking on the phone with customers. Of course, I also go out and meet customers myself. That’s the most enjoyable part of my job. I always learn so much about the customer’s company and industry. I’m able to put myself in the customer’s shoes and think about how they’re trying to solve their problems.
IL: How do you spend your time outside of work?
I spend a lot of time with my wife and three kids, who range in age from 14 to 22. We love to ski. When I’m not going to kids’ games or participating in events with them, my own passion is cycling.
Time for Celebration
One of John Fay’s most enjoyable days as CEO of INTTRA came about thanks to an employee survey.
INTTRA conducted the survey in early 2015, asking for ideas to make the company even better. One suggestion was to celebrate diversity. “We have about 200 employees, but they work in seven offices around the world, with locations in Singapore, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Copenhagen, and Miami as well as our headquarters in Parsippany, N.J.,” Fay says. Staff in those offices represent a wide variety of cultures.
As part of the new diversity initiative, INTTRA held an event in honor of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, in late 2015. “Each of our offices hosted its own celebration, where employees of Indian heritage spoke about their childhoods and what the celebration meant to them and to their families,” Fay says. “At our meeting room in New Jersey, we paid rapt attention as our coworkers told stories about the holiday. To me, it was the perfect embodiment of a culture of trust, openness, and inclusion.”