A Series of Epiphanies: How Simon Kaye Went From Farm Hand to Freight Industry CEO

A Series of Epiphanies: How Simon Kaye Went From Farm Hand to Freight Industry CEO
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Coming from a family involved in the transportation industry for three generations, it seemed a given that Simon Kaye would enter the same business. However, it wasn’t as straightforward as expected, and he took a detour that helped shape how he looked at life and business, eventually becoming president and CEO of New York-headquartered Freight Architect™ and NVOCC Jaguar Freight.

Kaye’s grandfather started a trucking business in the UK and was soon joined by Kaye’s father, who left school at 15 to join him. That business evolved from domestic UK trucking to European trucking and short sea shipping, which is shipping goods between England and Continental Europe. It then moved into deep sea shipping in the 1970s, operating its shipping line that chartered ships carrying conventional cargo from Europe to Iran and Iraq via Turkey. 

After graduating high school, Kaye took a gap year and worked at a kibbutz, or collective farm, in Israel. It was here where he almost died in a tractor accident, an incident that he says shaped the trajectory of his life, inspiring him to live life more purposefully and giving him the drive to push on despite encountering adversity.

While Kaye was recovering from his accident, things weren’t looking so great in the family business. The 1979 Iranian Revolution drove the business to collapse, and Kaye’s uncle was taken hostage in Iran. It took six months before he could be smuggled out into Pakistan so he could return home safely. Kaye’s uncle and father decided to start a new business: container freight forwarding from Europe to the US.

After recovering from the accident, Kaye studied accounting at university but says he hated it, so he dropped out and worked for a commercial property company in London instead. After a couple of years, he was invited to join the newly formed logistics company. Later, Kaye and his father parted ways with his uncle, leading to the establishment of Jaguar Freight in 1993.

“I was actually living in New York at the time, while my father was in London, so we established Jaguar Freight on each side of the pond before I went back to the UK. Running the company, I realized very quickly that we weren’t in the shipping and transportation business – we were in the information business, and we had to focus on technology,” Kaye says.

In the days of dial-up internet, Jaguar Freight initially developed its own track and trace program, specifically for its largest client, a major beauty and cosmetics company. But that program began evolving to encompass the entire client base, later becoming Jaguar Freight’s internal operating system and then a full end-to-end supply chain management solution for its clients. The system handles purchase order management and shipment visibility, and it’s also a document repository, a communication tool, and an analytics tool.Kaye shuttled between New York and London in the first ten years of Jaguar Freight. He then realized that he needed someone to handle the New York office full-time, and his business coach suggested that he stay in New York for a year to hire someone and train them before returning to the UK. However, Kaye ended up staying in New York permanently to take over the US operations, together with his wife and two sons, with the entire family eventually becoming US citizens.

“So my first major epiphany came after my accident, giving me a renewed perspective on life. The second one is that we were in the information business rather than in the shipping and transportation business. This was followed by the realization that, while our clients absolutely love our technology, they understandably don’t want all their eggs in one basket,” Kaye says.

To spread the risk, many clients work with two, three, or even more logistics providers, so they jump from platform to platform to get a holistic view of their shipments, which is difficult because everything is reported differently. This led Kaye to transform Jaguar Freight’s system to be carrier-agnostic, integrating other logistic providers into their technology, providing a single holistic view of their supply chain and the ability to manage everything in one place.

At one point, Jaguar Freight had physical offices in London, Paris, Hong Kong, Philadelphia, and New York, but its focus on technology made it unnecessary to have multiple offices. The locations were gradually folded until only the New York office remained. Jaguar Freight already had a hybrid work program in place even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed it to transition seamlessly to remote work once lockdowns were in place. By July 2020, Kaye announced that it would permanently shutter its New York office, resulting in a completely distributed workforce.

“It worked really well, and it was a real benefit for our clients because we never missed a beat, even with the lockdowns. As we all know, the supply chain went crazy, but we were the constant, as far as our clients were concerned.”

Aside from focusing on technology, Kaye and Jaguar Freight put a huge emphasis on culture and serving its clients, resulting in a more than 90% client retention rate.

“We have 31 Fundamentals at Jaguar, and one of those fundamentals is to walk in our clients’ shoes,” Kaye says. “We want to see things from the client’s perspective and provide them with the appropriate solutions. In 2013, I joined a  global CEO group called Vistage, where groups of 15 or so CEOs meet once a month to collaborate, discuss business issues and challenges, and listen to guest speakers. Working with them has been incredibly helpful to me and my business, helping me realize, amongst other things, that having a strong business culture is more important than anything. Internally, we’re mainly focused on developing our culture, supporting the staff, and providing them with the environment and resources to succeed, as they are a major contributor to our growth.”


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