Malca-Amit is not a company to beat its own drum, or to reveal the inner workings of its very sensitive work and methods. An exception to the rule, within reason, was recently made by Malca-Amit UK’s Operation Manager Kevin Miles, who is about to retire after many years of service. During an insightful interview, Kevin described the many challenges a logistics provider like Malca-Amit UK has met during his years with the company.
The expression "time flies'' is often used by people who are looking back on their lives, wondering how the years have gone by, at a time they are about to sit back, relax and smell the flowers. There is little chance, however, Kevin Miles, the outgoing Operations Manager of Malca-Amit UK, intends to sit back after his 18 years with the company. "While I am retiring from this position, I certainly am not done yet. I will most probably do some consultation on preparation of customs documents. as there are so many other challenges 'out there, with Brexit looming,'” he said.
In terms of leisure, travel will always be on his agenda. Having been in the industry for over forty years, Kevin loves to get away and see the world. He also enjoys the garden, insuring that the flowers indeed will be blooming…“I doubt I will have or take much time to reminiscence and ponder my past achievements," he adds. But that is exactly what we asked Kevin to do, as he will be officially leaving his position at the close of October 2017, during an interview at the Malca-Amit offices at Heathrow Airport.
You started at Malca-Amit UK in 1999. Where did the company headhunt you from?
Previous to my fantastic years at Malca-Amit, I worked for almost two decades as cargo agent with El Al Airlines, at Heathrow. Before that, I worked for Her Majesty's Customs Authorities.
What did you find when you started working at Malca?
In 1999, Malca-Amit had a small office at Hatton Gardens, which is London's diamond, gem and jewellery district, close to Charterhouse Street, where until recently were, and apparently soon will be again, the headquarters of the De Beers company and its parent Anglo American.
Of course, our offices’ proximity to London’s High Street was and remains most significant to our business. Bond Street is another-important area where the important high-end jewellery retailers are concentrated. These locations also reflected pretty much the clientele that Malca-Amit served at the time.
Coming from an airline, El Al, working predominantly with cargo, we were always competing aggressively for shipments with the other airlines flying from the UK to Israel. I came to Malca-Amit equipped with this competitive spirit, looked at the existing business model and I soon came to the conclusion that if we did not grow, we would be pushed out of the market. Brink's and Regency, that later was absorbed by Ferrari, owned a good chunk of our market and we were also dependent on third parties to do our customs clearing. This was not, at that time, a healthy situation and a good climate for growth! So, yes, my first and chief priority quickly became to cast off the chains -- the dependence on third party services -- that were holding us down, and consequently diversify and grow.
We're conducting this interview in what looks like a pretty large building that seems to be completely customised and fitted to Malca-Amit's needs, with an impressively sized team and a dozen armoured trucks parked outside?
Kevin smiled his signature wide, toothy smile. "We'll get to that in a bit. Back in 1999, we just had five employees at Hatton Gardens, and only two vehicles that ran on London City Airport, and only intermittently on Heathrow. This basically meant that, with our physical presence in the City of London, we were not able to develop any significant services on the western side, particularly in the many vibrant business parks in the western parts and surrounding Heathrow. Coming from Heathrow and with 20 years of work experience and networking under my belt, the first thing we did was the opening of an office at Heathrow, as early as in October of 1999.
But that was not enough. As I said earlier, at that time Malca-Amit had no customs authorisation to either import or export high valuables, making that the firm's weakest link. So, the next, most urgent target was to obtain our own, independent customs clearance authorisation; to have installed a customs authorised computer system; to start our own entries; to install software to be able to create import records and to cut our Export House Airwaybills and Airline Masters. I am glad we got it fully operational within a few months!
A new beginning in a new century?
You can certainly say that! Fact is that by passing these first hurdles, we had changed the terms of engagement for Malca-Amit. We suddenly could compete, and -- being a niche company almost solely dedicated to the diamond, gem and jewellery industry and trade -- bring more added value to our customers than our competitors. We soon applied for own deferment for imports, meaning that we could act on our customers' behalf, pay their bills and complete all formalities. This 'turn-key' service was and still is an important pillar, but at that time it was a big turnaround for us.
You said, 'more added value?' What does that mean?
With the deferment status in our pocket, as a niche operator in this special industry with a unique USP, we simply decided we could and needed to be more flexible than our competitors, i.e. the immediate delivery of goods, offering of better payment terms, wanting to make the process simple, without too much bureaucracy and formality, more Israeli, if you will, but without compromising on the services themselves.
So Malca-Amit UK’s development is one of adding 'layer after layer?'
The next important layer was added in 2005, as we moved to bigger premises and acquired more armoured vehicles. In the process we expanded our Heathrow operations, bringing them completely up to par with the services offered at City Airport. By showing our faces more in the west-end of London, along with Heathrow and the vicinities, we now had a two-prong strategy and approach. The west end of London, as we said earlier, has potential big customers located in the Bond Street area. We had some of the business with the most prestigious and exclusive jewellers, but wanted to expand.
And then there were the De Beers’ Sights?
Right. Our relationship with De Beers further developed when during Sight weeks we would fly out the sight boxes to Belgium the same night on a chartered aircraft. We did that until last year when the sights moved to Botswana. Of course, we continue to work with De Beers also in Botswana, both in Gaborone and London.
Another big transition took place in 2009. I obtained for Malca-Amit a special dispensation for Temporary Admission. This basically means we were given customs' permission to bring goods into the country for inspection, without all the import fees and taxes. This removed a great deal of bureaucracy and major costs to the clients. We then introduced hand carry operations, which means the carrying of special stones, for private clients as well as auction houses – when we had these two combined -- special services for high value stones and special dispensation, temporary admission, the business went pretty nuts, with many specials coming in. That gave Malca-Amit UK an exclusive position! We then acquired the AEO – Authorised European Operator- to work in conjunction with the C-TPAT, an authorization which is now a must within the airfreight industry, affecting everybody in Europe.
That kind of status requires a very tight relationship with the authorities and a great deal of mutual trust!?
Correct. It is all about compliance and reliability is key to success but an absolute sine qua none with the government. It's reputation, reputation, and reputation. But do realise that this in not only good for our clients and for us, it is also good for the government. These dispensations we enjoy mean less work for the government, and with bureaucracy tamed while all rules are upheld, we see more business coming in.
Is this status unique to Malca-Amit UK? Could this also be the reason that, reportedly, when parties want to buy really big rough diamonds, they often find them in London, rather than in Antwerp?
I want to believe that is so, although I cannot offer statistical proof to back that up. But that sounds logical…
Our last big move happened in 2009. We bought the building in which we are conducting this interview. We completely adapted and customised it to fit our needs. More value was added with the installation of our own completely secure vault. So now we could offer vaulting facilities and services, and, of course, we are part of the UltraVault network! This meant we could offer overnight vaulting and soon we expanded to offer special event organisers comprehensive logistics, for displaying high valuables at hotels and halls, gala evenings etc. This in turn made the insurance companies happy, and we kept generating business this way. We now have ten armoured vehicles and are still expanding!
The offering of guarding services came next. When you have events like described earlier, you need guarding services. We provide the guards, and following the Israeli model, as the overwhelming majority of our pool of guards is ex-military, and hails from elite units.
And what are the most recent achievements?
Getting permission to get onto the tarmac, driving our trucks right up to the designated aircraft to offload high valuables. It is not easy to get permission to do that and it is very easy to lose it. But we, unlike others, always come through the tests and surprise check-ups with flying colours.