In the Spotlight – Adam Coulson

In the Spotlight – Adam Coulson
February 22, 2024 Hannah Marshallsay

We talk to Adam Coulson from our Liverpool Office. He tells us about how he thrives on being kept busy, and explains why working for an agile company like PFE is more appealing than being just another cog in the corporate wheel.

Number of years in the industry?

11 years in total. I’ve been working at PFE for the last 3 years.

What’s your journey been getting to PFE?

I come from a family with roots in the shipping industry – my mum was a customer service manager at Maersk, and I had other relatives in shipping too. Throughout my childhood, I’d spend my weekends in the office while my mum was working overtime so it felt like a second home. After leaving sixth form, I was unsure about going to university and wanted to explore my options. So, I decided to look for a temporary role to get a foot in the door of business, learn about the industry and then determine which career path to follow. I landed a role as a Documentation Clerk for Maersk, essentially handling incoming and outgoing mail. Over time, I took on additional tasks, like calling customers, which boosted my confidence and exposed me to different situations and scenarios.

After about nine months, an opportunity arose to join the Imports team on a temporary basis due to a significant number of staff being off sick. On my first day I broke the incoming calls record, handling 90 calls per day compared to the average of 15! While I wasn’t aiming to outshine others, my focus was on tackling each call very quickly and efficiently, to get the job done. I prefer to be kept busy; with a short attention span, boredom sets in quickly if I’m not engaged. Remaining in the imports role, I took on major accounts and eventually progressed to a customer account manager. I really enjoyed solving problems for customers, ensuring that they were happy with the resolution and the way I got things done. Several months later, I transitioned to the key client team, broadening my understanding of the shipping industry beyond imports. Learning from hard work and the inevitable mistake, after three and a half years I became the go-to person for advice and assistance because I’d had experience of every type of situation. I got to the point where I was as senior as I could go in customer service. The only options were to then look to become a team leader or go into sales, neither of which particularly appealed to me.

In March 2021, I left Maersk for PFE. I was drawn to PFE’s more agile environment and the opportunity that working here would come to me. I was already familiar with PFE from my time at Maersk, I appreciated the opportunity to contribute to a company where I could continue learning and growing, rather than being just another cog in the corporate wheel. Through my experience of working with PFE while at Maersk, including a trip to Asia with Adam, I realised the vast potential for learning in freight forwarding and was inspired by PFE’s consistent growth over the past decade. I was eager to be part of somewhere where I could work, learn, and grow, rather than just following the corporate grind.

What does your role at PFE entail?

My official title is project manager, but my role extends beyond traditional project management tasks. I focus on supporting and devising solutions for some of our key accounts, especially those involving shipping cargo from Southeast Asia and India. My responsibilities include data analysis, reporting, negotiation of allocation management, and developing new business opportunities. It’s a very varied role that involves collaboration with various departments in PFE and our partner offices at Ensign and overseeing the supply chain from end-to-end. In essence, my role encompasses both commercial and operational aspects, making it quite diverse.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

There’s a number of different things that I find enjoyable. Joining PFE during the chaos of COVID was a bit of a whirlwind, but it turned out to be perfect timing. The sheer volume of work thrown my way was unlike anything I’d experienced in my previous role. I had to quickly get up to speed on all aspects of the supply chain in a very short space of time, and as I mentioned before, I thrive on being busy!

One of the highlights for me is working closely with the people here. Building relationships with colleagues across different Ensign offices has been rewarding. Each country has its own unique way of doing things, so it’s essential to adapt to each individual you interact with. And of course, interacting with customers is something I’ve always enjoyed. Ultimately I like problem solving; when faced with an issue, I’m quick to be straight on it and find a solution that benefits our customers. No two days are alike, and each presents a new set of challenges to tackle. 

I also particularly enjoy working with the team in our Liverpool office. It’s been seamless since Tom and I knew each other from our time at Maersk, and Jack’s addition has only strengthened our dynamic.

What makes PFE different from the rest?

As PFE is a family-run business, there’s a distinct warm atmosphere here. Many people have been part of the company for years, creating a good energy as soon as you step into the office. What sets PFE apart as an employer is our relatively flat hierarchy; it’s not often you find yourself chatting with the managing director on a regular basis in most businesses. Adam and Aron’s hands-on approach with both customers and the PFE team on a daily basis is motivating, because it means that I have the opportunity to learn from them. Their dedication to customer service sets the tone for the entire company, we all know what is expected of us, as we have their example to follow.

PFE is renowned for its exceptional service, which is the cornerstone of our continued growth. Our ability to retain great customers while expanding year after year is a testament to the quality of service we provide. The fact that our growth is primarily fueled by word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied customers says it all about the reputation we’ve built. 

What are three words that describe PFE?


Do you have any future ambitions for PFE?

It took about a year to settle in and adapt to PFE’s way of working, shifting away from the mindset I had at Maersk. I’m enjoying working to a more structured plan now that the COVID years are behind us and the Liverpool office is bedded in. Looking ahead, my immediate focus is on learning all facets of the business, especially the warehouse and customs parts, which are relatively new to me. I aim to understand how different teams operate and find ways to work better together. I’ve never been one to fixate on a specific job title; instead, I approach each day as it comes. At PFE, the emphasis isn’t solely on job roles; every day brings exposure to different aspects of the business, allowing for continuous growth. I’m definitely not the finished article!

Regarding the Liverpool office, I’m excited about our potential for growth. In the 2.5 years since opening, we’ve made significant improvements, refining processes and operations. My aspiration is to see the Liverpool branch expand further and maintain that growth momentum. We’ve already taken steps forward, but there’s room for more progress. Many customers in the north are increasingly turning to Liverpool for shipping and exporting. Our objective is to prioritize our customers’ interests, and being based in the northwest helps foster trust, especially given the lingering North-South divide in England. It might sound odd, but sometimes, even the accent plays a part in building that trust. 

Who was your childhood hero and why?

I think like every young lad in Liverpool, my hero was Steven Gerrard growing up. It’s pretty clear why – he’s a local lad who went on to become one of England’s greatest footballers. When you’re playing football as a kid and someone like Gerrard comes from just down the road, he’s who you look up to. 

However, the person I’ve always looked up to most has been my mum. She came from a working-class background, one of four sisters and six brothers. Coming from such a background poses its challenges. She valued things she didn’t have growing up and was determined to provide me with a better life. Starting at a young age, she worked her way up at Maersk, eventually retiring as the customer service director for the UK and Ireland. Seeing her journey and the immense dedication she put in every day was obviously inspiring. She’d be in the office by five every morning, leaving at half past seven every night. Not many people ever do that.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?

If I had to pick a favorite food, I’d say it’s probably steak, honestly. I try to be as healthy as possible. I do love a tomahawk steak when I eat out. It’s a whole kilo of steak! After putting in hard work all week, I reckon I deserve it, although I certainly don’t indulge like that every day!

What’s your favourite movie?

I enjoy biographical films as well as films that depict real life events. One of my favorites is ‘The Big Short’, which revolves around the housing market crash of 2008. It’s based on true events. The film follows individuals who foresaw a looming crisis in the housing market and took calculated risks, betting on an impending crash.

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