Tan Chee Hong, Chief Operating Officer of Hactl, the world’s busiest air cargo terminal, explains why he believes this is the “decade of the CIO”
“The decade of the CIO is here.” So says Tan Chee Hong, a CIO multiple times over who is now a COO. As he explains in my interview herein, the CIO is primed to be the path to the COO and CEO roles. Tan has the ideal background for the IT executive who would rise to a larger role. He has an MBA, he was educated on multiple continents, and he has worked on multiple continents, both as a consultant and as a CIO multiple times over. He was CIO of Jardine Cycle & Carriage when he was plucked by Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl), one of the largest and most sophisticated air cargo terminals in the world, which operates as a gateway for air cargo to and from China. He joined Hactl as Executive Director of Information Services (CIO equivalent) & Operation Development. He was hired as a CIO-plus at the outset of his time with the company, which is a rare feat. No one had ever had that role simultaneously, but in Tan, Hactl had found a rare leader who could connect the dots between creative use of technology to stabilize the operation, and to delight an intricate web of customers and partners.
In March 2012, Tan was elevated to chief operating officer of Hactl, acknowledging his accomplishments in his prior role, and highlighting how deep the operations part of his role had become. He is yet another example of an executive who has moved “Beyond CIO.”
(The “Beyond CIO” series kicked off with this article, and the all past interviews in the series can be found here. If you are interested in future articles in the series with executives from companies like HP, Symantec, Schneider National, Fifth Third Bancorp, Ameristar Casinos, and Aetna, among others, please return to the Technovation column in the coming weeks.)
Peter High: Chee Hong, having toured your facility, one really must see it to understand the scale and complexity of the operation. It is a colossus on an edge of Hong Kong International Airport and as one walks around and in the facility, one sees some of the largest planes on earth, a variety of machines used to carefully move freight into and out of those planes, and a particularly sophisticated web of technology used to sort out the cargo to ensure that it gets to the right place as efficiently as possible. Can you provide an insider’s overview of the operation, as well as your role in it?
Tan Chee-Hong: Hactl is the world’s busiest air cargo terminal. We have been in business since 1976, and in 1998, we built SuperTerminal 1 – one of the most advanced air cargo facilities in the world, which we own and operate. Representing an initial investment of $1 billion, and capable of handling 3.5 million tons of cargo per annum, this massive six story facility covers an area of 390,943 square meters.
SuperTerminal 1 was designed and built to do one thing: manage our customers’ cargo in the smartest way. Employing state-of-the-art logistics technology and automated handling systems to control cargo precisely, efficiently, reliably and securely.
Hactl provides seamless, integrated logistics services throughout Southern China – enabling our customers to capitalize on the highly-attractive commercial opportunities presented by the vibrant Chinese market. We partner with more than 100 international airlines and over 1,000 freight forwarders.
As for my role, I am the chief operating officer of Hactl, and my primary role is to work and lead what we refer to as the “One Operation Team” of over 2,000 professionals from service delivery, information services, and operation services. Leverage the best of our people, technology, as well as the facility to serve our customers.
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- What is the role of technology at Hactl?
- The importance of the role that IT plays was underscored by the fact that when you joined Hactl, you did so as Executive Director, Information Services & Operation Development. What was the logic at that time in having you oversee IS and Operation Development? Had those roles been combined under one person previously?
- In early 2012, you were promoted to chief operating officer of HACTL. This is a path that relatively few people have gone down previously. What do you draw from your past experience as a CIO and IT executive in your current role as COO?
- Is this a path [to COO] you think more CIOs are likely to take?