Black Arrow Express President Allan Brizuela is a passionate triathlete who has been competing for the past five years. “I’ve done eight 70.3 Ironmans and one full Ironman,” Allan tells The CEO Magazine. “I can’t remember how many standard races I’ve done.”
Allan goes on to compare triathlons to his business. “In a triathlon, the last mile is the hardest. Just like in Black Arrow, the lead up to getting the delivery over the line is the most demanding period.” Philippines-based Black Arrow Express provides a broad range of logistics solutions; from express delivery to warehousing and distribution. Allan’s journey to the company began in San Francisco, where he started his career as a dishwasher at the Ritz-Carlton. “That was my first job, and it was a time when the Ritz-Carlton was applying for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in the US,” he recalls. “It was where I learned what good service should be.”
During the late 1990s, Allan moved back to the Philippines and eventually joined AAI Worldwide Logistics (formerly Airlift Asia). Starting as a junior programmer, he worked his way up the ranks to President of A2Z Logistics Inc – a warehousing and distribution services provider under the AAI group – in 2012. While at A2Z, Allan was tapped for a new business venture. “In 2015, our chairman Rico Brizuela, one of the pioneers of the logistics industry in the Philippines, asked me if I could make a business plan for an express company because ecommerce was already on its way,” he says. “So we did this little business plan of about 50 pages. The plan was approved that same year – and we started Black Arrow Express.”
Since then, the company has been going from strength to strength; it grew by 15% month to month in 2017. “The growth was really phenomenal,” Allan marvels. However, the company still had to handle its rapid success. “We are a start-up company and we had to cope with that growth,” he continues. “But because of the experience I had with logistics in the parent company, we were able to manage it. And we have since opened 32 express centres.”
The company recently launched an express app for its customers. “Previously with express, you had to bring your items to our retail store, we then ship it and it gets delivered,” Allan says. “Our strategy now, since we have the volume already, is the introduction of our express app for consumer-to-consumer transactions, or retail. It is about having the world at your fingertips.”
The app is a part of the company’s strong innovation focus and offers pick-up and delivery services at your doorstep, including next-day pick-up and express delivery. It also has in-app integration with Facebook Messenger, enabling customers to directly contact Black Arrow customer service.
In 2019, the company plans to have a fully automated sorting machine. “It would sort the goods automatically without human intervention,” Allan explains. “Right now, we’re pretty manual, but we have a conveyor, so that speeds things up a bit. Our major concern is how to be more efficient.”
Allan adds that, once complete, the machine will also benefit the company’s parcel delivery riders. “The last mile is always the key,” he says.
“I don’t believe in focusing on the routing of the rider because the infrastructure in the Philippines is not that good. Some of the big technology players are looking into routing efficiency but now is not the right time for me to invest in that. What we’re trying to do is to sort the items based on the area before they get delivered.”
Allan’s secret weapon when it comes to business is remaining anchored in the company’s core values. “We have to be customer oriented, which means putting the customer first,” he says. “Of course, we need excellence through team work – we can only win through team work, not through one person. We also focus on integrity. That is very important because 90% of our deliveries are by cash on delivery, so we have to trust our workers.”
“We can only win through team work, not through one person.”
Mutual respect is another core value Allan mentions. “Regardless of the position of your workers, you still have to respect them,” he says. “I mingle with the riders. I want to get to know them, because if you show respect, then respect will be given to you.”
In the coming years, Black Arrow plans to continue to grow, enhance internal efficiencies, and ultimately secure an IPO. But there will be challenges along the way. “There are times when you don’t know what to do or you don’t have the answers to things. In those situations, I just pray, believe and trust,” Allan says.
And having been in leadership positions before, Allan believes in taking risks when tough decisions have to be made. “When we started Black Arrow, my team asked me, ‘What are we going to do now?’ And I told them, ‘Let’s jump off that cliff and build the plane going down.’ And it meant basically that you should take risks. Sometimes the risks are scary, but you have to take them. It’s a really fast environment nowadays so either you do something or you will get left behind. And if you get left behind, you will just be a copycat.”
A passionate triathlete, Black Arrow Express President Allan Brizuela has accomplished eight half-Ironmans and one full Ironman. The Ironman began in Hawaii in 1978, coined by John and Judy Collins. Combining swimming, running and cycling, co-founder John claimed, “Whoever finishes first, we shall call him the Ironman.” The full Ironman is a 140.6-mile triathlon feat consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.9km) swim, 112-mile (180km) bike ride and 26.2-mile (42.2km) run. The 70.3 Ironman, or half-Ironman is a 1.2-mile (1.9km) swim, a 56-mile (90km) bike ride and 13.1-mile (21km) run.
Despite the success the company has had within a short time, Allan does not measure success by the amount of wealth you have. “For me, success is being a good steward of what you have been entrusted with,” he says. “We have around 600 employees and 2,000 riders. That was entrusted to me. I have to make sure their families have something to eat. I see that as success. It’s not monetary. If I see that my employees are happy, to me that’s success already.”