Q — QSL operates in 50 ports and terminals in Canada and the USA – this past year has been unprecedented in its impacts on the world, including essential services like marine transportation. How has the pandemic impacted QSL and its workforce?
Values should always be the starting point of strategy to navigate the business world. When facing a crisis, personally or professionally, aligning decisions to values is, in my view, critical. Consequently, the first actions taken were aimed at providing our people and partners with the best health and safety processes and ensuring adequate contingency plans were made based on the most recent information gathered daily.
Second, we took the decision that, despite potential short-term financial consequences, we needed to minimize the financial impact on our people. If more pessimistic scenarios were to occur, we would first look for salary freezes and reductions before layoffs.
Thanks to our state-of-the-art new integrated management system, financial and operational information was flowing in real time to management offering the best possible outlook on the business.
Third, in time of crisis we all know that cash is king. Investments and purchases were reexamined and capex and opex were reviewed daily by senior management. Since our business is well diversified geographically and by product/ client portfolios, we always felt we could face this crisis, or any other economic downturns with confidence. Our relationships with our customers are closely knit and based on their success. Therefore, all focus was put on multiplying internal process audits to find new innovative solutions to drive improvements and a better service offering. This crisis brought the best out of our people. Our people, QSL’s greatest asset, did a fantastic job.
Q —The pandemic’s impacts have required innovative approaches and new ways of doing things — what has QSL had to change that will endure post-pandemic?
This crisis first confirmed to us the benefits of having heavily invested in digitization. Innovation has always been part of QSL’s DNA, and this crisis put it to a great stress test. Among others, virtual training and improved communications are here to stay.
Indeed, the implementation of our new system was coming to its ultimate phase last March. This phase was the deployment of the operational module across more than 40 port terminals in Canada and the USA. We decided to pursue the implementation despite the pandemic. Training sessions were remastered and offered online. The recent acquisition of an internal video communication system allowed us to easily reach all our people in real time. News updates were done regularly, and this also proved to be really appreciated.
Transparency was delivered better than ever. Improved communications will remain post-pandemic for sure. The project TC3 won 2 awards one for best of projects (ELIXIR) and the other for digital transformation 4.0 (Innovation Gala). This is true recognition when candidates included Fortune 500 companies from the technology and medical industry.
Q — As we move forward in 2021, how do you see the post-COVID recovery future for terminal operators such as QSL?
Our values are always at the forefront of our decisions and our mission and vision remain unchanged. The strategy map we have deployed has been updated and what has come out is us accelerating our portfolio of services.
We have essentially doubled the company in the last four years and expect to do so again by 2026 through organic growth in both greenfield and brownfield projects as well as M&A opportunities that fit our business model.
The future will undoubtedly bring a need to serve our clients in new ways as we all adapt to a new normal. Our people are ready for the rebound. We have focused intensively on training, technology, engineering and our product and service offering to bring innovative tailor-made success to our customers, a great place to work for to our people and an unwavering commitment to making a difference in the communities where we operate.
Q — What can Canadian and U.S. governments do to help with these efforts?
In our view, the role of government is to ensure a predictable business environment as well as supporting much needed investments in maritime infrastructure. These investments will help us to actively participate in the growth of the Canadian and U.S. import and export markets.
Q — Through the years, QSL has expanded its presence in the U.S. and Canada, with a Texas unit recently joining U.S. operations in Chicago, Illinois and Ogdensberg, NY. What has driven this expansion and contributed to its success?
The addition of QSL Texas Terminals, in the Gulf of Mexico, is now offering our customers access to the central part of the United States via the Mississippi River, the key transportation artery of the U.S. economy. This highly strategic presence is the first phase of a deployment on the East Coast of the United States. This expansion is mainly driven by our customers who wish to benefit from QSL’s offering an expanded footprint.
The same motivation is fueling our expansion on the St. Lawrence River with the addition of a second port terminal in Sorel-Tracy.
In late January, we also announced the acquisition of Empire Stevedoring of Montreal. This further spreads our footprint in North America and enables QSL to round out the range of its services by adding the extensive containerhandling expertise developed by Empire Stevedoring.
Q — Well before the pandemic, the marine sector was facing skilled labour shortages and working to increase awareness of marine careers to diversified audiences. What has QSL been doing in recent years in this area?
We focus intensively on attracting and retaining talent among our workforces. This is achieved by offering our people better work-life balance, competitive compensation package, appropriate training, and career growth opportunities.
Innovation is also the key here. As an example, years ago we created flying teams, a concept offering full time work to employees located at less busy port facilities. However with Covid we needed to re-engineer the approach to align ourselves with all the safety requirements around traveling, therefore we have a department which is focused on offering the support to our operations.
All these efforts paid off as we were awarded Most Admired Corporate Culture in Canada in 2020. At QSL, we feel it is a unique opportunity to be able to rely on an experienced team that allows us to meet challenges and increase our performance.
Q — Sustainable development has long been a focus for QSL. What are the company’s environmental priorities for 2021?
At QSL, we know that operating at exceptional sites comes with considerable social and environmental responsibility. Doing a good job is not enough; we must constantly strive to excel.
As part of our sustainable development efforts, we implement innovative measures to mitigate impacts, protect the environment and ensure harmonious cohabitation with the surrounding communities: water cannons, settling basin, use of electric conveyors, local production of equipment, weather station, white noise backup alarms, citizens’ committees and circular economic business practices.
Above all, we are committed to continuous improvement with the goal of minimizing the impact of our marine operations on the environment and on the health and safety of our people and communities. In 2020, we finalized our Green Marine certification process by adding the port terminals located in the USA.
We have reduced the usage of disposable water bottles by 50%. Together, we saved 100,000 bottles to date. Our goal is to eliminate all disposable water bottles on our premises by 2023. Finally, we are undertaking the ISO 14001 & 45001 certifications across our network. This process should be completed in the upcoming months and is an additional tool to ensure continuous improvement in environment, health & safety to offer the next generations a legacy that we can be proud of.