At Frotcom our values transcend beyond physical boundaries
What was the first decision you made when the state of emergency was declared?
The advantage of being a tech company is that it was already normal for us to work remotely. Both the support staff and everyone in management would regularly work remotely at least two or three times per month before the crisis. It was motivating for them and performance was the same or better. During the lockdown, we kept working with our regular tools, which we use
to stay connected in real-time. The most interesting thing is that I didn't make any big decisions in the first days, besides requiring the team to work from home. It was time for analyzing data, not for making rash decisions.
When did you notice that the situation was getting really bad?
That same Monday, March 16th, we canceled over 1,000 vehicles at our clients’ request, especially in the passenger transport sector. The graph of active devices in our system looked like the Grand Canyon in Colorado. That’s when I understood that curves were ahead, and we were going non-stop. There were a lot of virtual meetings with headquarters in Portugal. The rate of infections and deaths in Spain and Italy was soaring, and yet in our neighboring country, the situation seemed to be under control, but we were very afraid. Spain is always a reference for Portugal in everything and worries were increasing. A black swan had entered our lives and nobody realized it—a tragedy.
Did you have to make drastic decisions?
No. Stay cool-headed, above all else. Years ago, I had a boss who told me, “I don't want you to be preoccupied. I just want you to be occupied. Always take the ‘pre’ off that verb.” And that's what I did (and always do): occupy myself with taking care of the team and clients who were asking us for help. I didn't want to stop the marketing and communication projects that had already started either. In fact, at Frotcom Spain, we created an internal campaign at the end of March among the company's subsidiaries throughout the world. The campaign was called “Stay Safe.” We made a corporate video with everyone and shared it on social media. It was very encouraging to see the whole Frotcom family in over 20 languages saying, “Stay safe. Everything will be alright.” It was essential to see our colleagues, feel close to them, and see them smile. Companies are made of people. I never get tired of saying that. Just thinking that we won't be able to see each other next year either makes me sad. We'll see.
Have you kept the team intact?
Yes. We've kept them. That was our goal as a company. Not only Frotcom Spain but none of our European subsidiaries, at least that I know of, have let anybody go. At Frotcom, we have values that transcend beyond physical boundaries. The purpose of Frotcom's shareholders is not distributing profits but to create jobs with wages that motivate people to live happily in their cities. It's precisely that motivation that makes employees feel like an important part of the company they work for, and the innate values they bring to the company are what they convey to our clients and suppliers on a daily basis. They are the foundation for building a solvent, future project. It's a company, city, and of course, a social project because we live in society and we can't forget that even though they sometimes make us think we are the center of the universe and the rest doesn't matter. From my position of responsibility in the company as a team manager, I just try to convey values that make people honest, humble, and respectable. I believe that finding people who connect with Frotcom's values and understand the company's mission and vision is very enriching.
Going back to the COVID-19 crisis, how has it affected our industry?
I'm sure that CETM (Spanish Confederation of Goods Transport) would have more data than I do to delve into this topic, but what's clear is that nobody went out to applaud the drivers who, thanks to their efforts, got the essential goods to the supermarkets. Nothing was lacking. Freight transport of essential goods and merchandise is a basic need for a State to function, and the best part is that we have demonstrated this. Yet we still read every day about many drivers who felt abandoned and left to their own fate on the roads. What's clear is that we've come out stronger because recognition for drivers’ work, even though there was no applause, is better now than it was six months ago.
Besides the freight industry, Frotcom works in other sectors where the crisis has been even more serious. What can you tell us about that?
It's been very hard on the passenger transport sector. Fleets with over 100 vehicles were stopped for months. It was a disaster for the companies and for tourism. Empty airports, hotels without clients, closed museums... It was catastrophic for a main driver of our country's economy.
How does the last quarter of the year look for the freight industry? Any forecasts for 2021?
Despite the bad omens and media that only talk about terrifying statistics and graph curves, at Frotcom, we also have plenty of statistics and graphs, but they are on the rise. Due to data protection, I can't give more details but the total kilometers driven by our clients in the last three months has been more than the total kilometers driven for the same quarter last year. By this, I mean that things aren't as bad as they seem. We should be optimistic and use the data to be optimistic for 2021. At least in the essential goods and merchandise freight industry.
From what’s been said, Frotcom has continued its new developments during the pandemic. What new things are you working on or what will be improved?
Since the beginning of 2020, we've had a lot of interest in integration with more software through APIs than what we have already integrated with, and we are very happy with the results. We've integrated with the toll road system in Bulgaria, where Frotcom is the first fleet management service provider. We’re also doing it with the toll road system in Hungary. This is an important step for our clients in those countries. We've also made a deal with Continental for Europe and its TIS-WEB tachograph data analysis program to integrate the tachograph files. We've been working with Timocom for many years, as well as Gefco, LKW Walter, Sixfold, and DHL. Fuel management has also been one of our clients’ obsessions, so integration with Repsol to manage that has been vital. As far as new tools, our App keeps improving and growing thanks to suggestions from our clients. The truth is, without them, the work would be much harder.
What projects are you working on now?
On complicated things, like always. We always like researching about route optimization with our technology partner Garmin for the freight, passenger transport, and other sectors that are more specialized in routes. If you ask me what project has motivated me the most over all these years, I would say that one, without a doubt. The fact that a GPS navigator takes a driver on a predefined route, and knows they need to stop, wait a certain amount of time, wait for someone in particular, or reroute due to an external incident is something that has always fascinated me. It's very complex. Route optimization is talked about a lot, but only a few really know what they're talking about.
Lastly, why Frotcom and not other systems?
All systems are equally valid, and some are very good, I’m sure, but ever since the first text message with GPS coordinates that we could get from a truck in 1997, we have been building a very solid project at the worldwide level with a very clear mission: be an active part of our clients’ daily lives. It's been 23 years, and the vision we had so many years ago is still the same: to be a worldwide reference in our industry and do it all with our same values as always: social responsibility, commitment to our clients, constant innovation, and teamwork, but above all, humility, honesty, and respect, which dignify the people who work at Frotcom, their clients and suppliers. That's what tips the scales in our direction in many cases.