Spotlight on Ian Stewart – Customs Clearance Manager
6 minutes to read
Customs Clearance has always been a vital part of our service to importers and exporters, becoming especially important when the Brexit grace period ended and the administrative burden increased. Clients have come to depend on our dedicated Customs Clearance team for the smooth transit of their shipments into and out of the UK.
We caught up with our Customs Clearance Manager, Ian Stewart, to get his thoughts on his role and insights into the current main issues.
How would you describe your role at Hemisphere?
My role is anything and everything relating to customs. I work closely with clients to explain processes, regulations, and documents required to ensure that we can complete customs entries compliantly and in a timely manner.
I also keep up to date with the latest rules and procedures to inform both our teams within Hemisphere and our customer base. This has been somewhat of a challenge during the last year, with Brexit and the changes to the customs industry as a whole to deal with. However, with what was learnt over the last year, the process seems to be running smoothly within Hemisphere, and for our clients.
What sparked your interest in logistics?
On my 13th birthday my mother, who worked in shipping at the time, arranged for her colleague to take me on board a vessel in the Port of Richards Bay, which ultimately sparked my interest in ships and shipping as a whole. After school, I tried to get into shipping by doing additional courses, but it was a rather tight-knit community. Only a very few got the opportunity to get into it. I didn’t give up, and was eventually lucky enough to get the opportunity to become a Junior in a small shipping company in Richards Bay, working as a clearing and forwarding agent. A clearing and forwarding agent handles all aspects of looking after cargo and the customs clearance thereof.
Richards Bay has the largest coal export terminal in the world, exporting approximately 65 million tons of coal a year. In addition to this, Richards Bay has a few large companies within a few miles of the port which export commodities such as aluminium, paper, zircon, rutile, pig iron and various other commodities in large quantities.
Within my three roles in Richards Bay, I handled quite a number of different cargoes via all modes of transport: rail freight, road freight, air freight and ocean freight, with cargo coming into Richards Bay from various locations like Zambia, DRC and Mpumalanga, loading out in bulk, containers or air freight (ships’ spares for the ocean vessels). Imported bulk or bagged products from various parts of the world went to various importers within South Africa. The varied roles I had pleasure in performing in Richards Bay set me up very well for the future, giving me the confidence to take on most situations in my stride.
Logistics has always been a really good industry to get into if you want a fulfilling, interesting, long-lasting career. I had the opportunity and here we are!
How have you or your career and role developed since starting at HFS?
I started on the Export Sea freight team as an Exports Coordinator and then moved to Projects as a Projects Coordinator due to my prior experience of handling breakbulk cargo in South Africa and the operational experience I had gained in export ocean freight. I had the opportunity to prove myself within Hemisphere by successfully handling all the department’s operational functions along with taking care of a number of project shipments, both large and small.
Smaller projects included flat racks and open top container shipments to destinations such as Yangon in Myanmar or Colombo in Sri Lanka, while larger tasks involved importing 55 Out of Gauge (OOG) brewery tanks from China on flat racks. Other large tanks – in some cases 15 x 4 x 4 metres – were shipped to destinations like UAE or Qatar via a RORO vessel.
I believe this work set me up for the next stage of my career; management saw the potential in me and offered me the opportunity to head up and manage a new Customs Department. They really valued my operations experience, but also my attention to detail, organisation and enthusiasm to learn, be compliant and stay up to date with procedures.
What’s been your biggest highlight or achievement?
In all honesty, getting through the last year with all the new legislation, rules and regulations without many disruptions to our customers. I think leading the team through this time, whilst challenging, has been a success I am very proud of.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Understanding all the new processes that Brexit has created. The changes were introduced in stages over the last few years, to allow people to adjust, but we have to handle a lot more paperwork and admin than we did before.
What do you enjoy most about Customs Clearance?
Whilst I perform a number of customs clearances, it is not really what my function is. My function is more to understand the necessary processes and then to lead my team in teaching and guiding them – on how to do the clearances themselves and how we as Hemisphere offer customers an added value service. I enjoy investigating and understanding the processes that we need to follow and then implementing them.
What do clients appreciate most about what you do?
I believe my customer service is one of my stronger points. I try to be as thorough and detailed as possible when it comes to explaining processes to the customers, but when they understand what’s involved they appreciate the information and my time. It also helps us when they understand the processes as clients are then far more motivated to give us the documentation we need to be able to do the job. It is really important that we work with our clients as a team in order to help them comply with the regulations and processes in order to help ensure a streamlined, efficient supply chain.
What makes Hemisphere unique?
Hemisphere’s customer service is second to none. Everyone in the organisation will help and guide customers through whatever challenge they have. With the amount of experience we have within the organisation, there are not many challenges we have not faced and worked through.
What are you excited about for the future?
Continuing to grow the Customs Department and perfecting the processes that we are tasked with in this ever-changing world of logistics.
Want to join the team?
If you’re looking to advance your logistics career, or simply want to take your first step in the industry, check out our latest vacancies. Alternatively, please feel free to send a CV to firstname.lastname@example.org.