An overseas shipping manager is responsible for organising collection of a company’s freight from its domestic location (usually a warehouse), and then delivery on to the end customer or end user via international freight methods.
Companies who wish to export goods to other countries require staff who are skilled specifically in this branch of order fulfilment. Shipping overseas can bring many challenges in terms of logistics, order tracking, paperwork, administration and local government bureaucracy. The shipping manager is responsible for making sure the whole delivery process runs smoothly.
A significant challenge for companies who ship outside the EU is the differing legislative requirements which various governments impose upon their goods-importing and excise operations. It is imperative that goods entering a country carry the appropriate paperwork (Certificate of Conformity, or CofC), domestic tax invoice, shipping information and carriage terms (an international contract between the seller and the buyer). The shipping manager is ultimately responsible for this process running effectively, as a refused international load can cost tens of thousands of pounds to recover and re-process, all because a CofC, a single sheet of A4 paper, has not been attached to the pallet.
In large organisations, a team of shipping clerks usually report to a shipping manager, but in SMEs (Small-Medium Enterprises), the shipping manager will usually have a more hands-on role in terms of day-to-day fulfilment operations. It can be a very demanding role, where the candidate will be dashing from office to warehouse to view export pallets before they ship, and managers often have to spend significant periods of the year overseas, either at a customer’s site, or in the office in a foreign country.
The precursor to a shipping manager role is as sales co-ordinator. This role is part admin and part project management with a core focus on customer relationships and order fulfilment. Most shipping managers begin in this internal sales capacity, and the salary ranges from £16,000 (UK, Midlands) to £30,000 (3 years experience, London area). There are also attractive bonuses offered on top of the basic salary. Once the progression to shipping manager has been made, the candidate can expect to receive a salary of £35,000 to £65,000. Top performers are very much in-demand and well-remunerated, as an investment in a skilled and committed shipping manager can save a company vast sums of money per year in refused loads and unnecessary customs bills.
- Agree international shipping terms and contract wording with the client.
- Ensure goods are shipped in line with obligations to the sales contract.
- Specify a suitable means of transport (“air, sea or over-land”) and administer fulfilment.
- Ensure export paperwork is in place before the collection takes place.
- Make special arrangements for “other end” collection, such as when handling hazardous materials or large vehicles.
- Manage the complete international order fulfilment process from collection to delivery.
- Manage internal sales staff and customs clerk teams (where appropriate).
- Liaise with accounts departments to overcome billing obstacles preventing customs clearance.
- Provide financial reporting and shipping statistics to upper management.
Strictly, there are no academic qualifications which are required to be a shipping manager, although a qualification in the industry-standard INCOTERMS (International Commercial Terms) universal doctrine is demonstration of a manager’s ongoing commitment to career progression within the industry. This can be achieved with a short course (usually 6 months), although some specialisations exist which require further study. INCOTERMS is acknowledged worldwide as the “international shipper’s bible”, which lays down legislative clarification on ambiguous terms, for example, “Free On Board” or “Free Alongside Ship”, which may result in complications between the seller and the buyer.
- Must have an energetic approach, as the job requires time spent in the warehouse and at various sites (both domestic and international).
- Must be a strong communicator, with the ability to motivate sales and shipping teams.
- Must have a solid grasp of international shipping requirements and non-EU customs law.
- Candidate should have a strong ability to multi-task, and to manage concurrent projects.
- A creative approach to problem-solving is required, as is the ability to handle heavy pressure.
This is technically an office-based role, although most shipping managers find they spend over half their working day in the warehouse (checking stock), production line (checking progress) or in the shipping centre (overseeing collection). This role does not favour those with a preference for pen-pushing or a penchant for the supervisory management style.
Many shipping managers enjoy the semi-jet-set lifestyle which the job can afford. Companies with a presence outside the EU often demand that shipping managers spend time in other countries, either in a dispute resolution capacity, or to be involved with the courting process of a new contract client. This often affords the luxury of short-stay travel and the chance to see many new places.
The job can be very stressful at times, as CEOs and top-level managers tend to get involved with high-profile loading, and this can complicate things beyond the norm. The shipping manager must bring together the efforts of shipping, manufacturing, accounts and dispatching teams so as to complete the fulfilment process in an effective way.
Experience is the defining factor above all else which potential employers look for in this sector. INCOTERMS accreditation is expected, although as it is not a difficult course to complete, employers look at the CV first and foremost. Questions they are likely to ask will be: where has the candidate been stationed overseas? For how long? What was the value of freight per annum managed by the candidate? A shipping manager with five years experience within a multi-national company will be in the best position to command a senior role with a £60,000+ salary and great bonuses.
Candidates often begin with an internal sales co-ordinator role, which is best viewed as being “shipping manager light”. This will often be the first introduction a candidate has to INCOTERMS and its plethora of acronyms. Candidates can quickly progress to the role of assistant shipping manager, where the depth of their knowledge will increase exponentially, as will their personal responsibility for making sure successful international fulfilment takes place. The next step is shipping manager, and this is a role which candidates tend to work towards and then stay in, as they find it a challenging and adrenalin-fuelled job.
Major employers could be any company which ships sizeable products overseas, particularly those companies which ship large items to non-EU countries. These firms can trade in any sector or industry, as the international shipping process is largely the same in each case.
Also known as…
- Outbound shipping manager
- Freight manager
- Export clerk (non-managerial)
- Customs agent
- Customs clerk
- Import specialist
What’s it really like?
Kay Kornphech is a shipping manager for Bangkok Motor Industrial Limited, which is the trading name for Komatsu Heavy Plant Asia, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fork-lift truck and tracked-wheel vehicle sales.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I chose this career because I wanted to find a new challenge in my life. I was working in an accounts role before this and I found it quite sterile and boring. That was at the same company which I really enjoyed though, so the opportunity to move within the same organisation was something I wanted to do. The shipping manger role is life-consuming, and encroaches a lot upon my personal free time, but I’m really happy doing it.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of exercise?
Normally I don’t have a standard type of day. Every shipment has its own potential pitfalls, as it depends on how large the item is, what country it’s being shipped to, and ultimately, who the end customer will be.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
Shipment delays are a real pain. There are lots of reasons for this, but it’s usually because there has been a delay in the manufacturing process, and subsequently, a delay then in the collection. The other major issue we have is when the shipment paperwork details are not the same as on the original invoice. This is grounds for Customs and Excise to refuse the shipment on receipt.
What do you like most about this job?
My motto is “Cooperate with new people”, and I find this a nice, professional way to live. I enjoy meeting new people, especially when working at the shipping dock where we see the actual containers being brought on board the vessel. You can see the result of the last few weeks’ work.
What do you like least about the job?
I don’t like the many pressures which this job can bring; you are always working against the clock, and everything that goes wrong is due to reasons beyond your control but which you are responsible for sorting out. It feels crazy at times.
What are the key responsibilities?
To coordinate between my (selling) company and the shipping agency. Customer Services deal with the customer; my job is to get the load out and on sea freight or road freight.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, eg A levels?
I had to learn about international shipping so I completed the standard INCOTERMS course, and I have a domestic Thai Shipping Certificate, which is a professional accreditation here in Thailand.
What is the starting salary and how does this increase over time with promotion?
I remember starting on just 12,000 Thai baht per month (£250)! To Western ears, that sounds like a shocking wage, but the cost of living here in Thailand is a fraction of what it would be in Europe. My current salary is 28,000 baht per month (£560), which would probably equate to around £23,000 in the UK after living costs are considered.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
You must have great patience with people and the ability to work under significant pressure.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
The most important qualities that you must have when you work as shipping manager are a high level of personal responsibility towards your team, you must work hard, and be able to work under duress.
Any closing questions, comments or additional advice?
It’s all about experience. Never stop learning, and if you enjoy what you do, then that is the greatest satisfaction of all.