In the Spotlight – Keith Blackie

In the Spotlight – Keith Blackie
June 24, 2024 Hannah Marshallsay

This month, we speak to PFE’s Operations Manager, Keith Blackie, about how he’s enjoying working for a smaller, family-run company and why he finds meeting PFE’s customers so rewarding.

Number of years in the industry?

I started in November 1990. So that’s coming up for 34 years.

What’s your journey been getting to PFE?

I left school at 16 without much direction, but fortunately, my mum’s connection with a director at a freight forwarding company opened up an opportunity for me. I didn’t even know what freight forwarding was back then! That was my starting block into the industry with Haniel Transport, where I started helping with handling imports from Germany. 

After gaining experience across different departments, including a stint in ocean freight exports, I realised my preference for imports. Eventually, Haniel Transport was acquired by DFDS, a significant global Danish company, which further shaped my career. I transitioned to DFDS’s ocean freight department, navigating through several acquisitions until the company evolved into DSV, where I spent a good 31 years managing imports and eventually rising to Import Manager.

My journey to PFE began with a pivotal conversation during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was working long hours and not particularly enjoying work. My wife, who has been working with PFE for 24 years, mentioned that I was unhappy with my situation at DSV to Adam. I received an invitation to interview, met with Adam, Aron, and Dave, and from there, I joined PFE in June 2021. The transition from a global corporation like DSV to PFE, a smaller family-run business, has been refreshing. At PFE, the pace is quicker, decisions are made faster, and I appreciate the hands-on involvement across all aspects of operations, from freight logistics, customer interactions and industry insights.

Moving to PFE has allowed me to expand my role beyond management to being actively involved in strategic decision-making and sharing industry developments. It’s been a rewarding shift that has enriched my understanding of the freight forwarding industry and enhanced my day-to-day enjoyment of the work.

What does your role at PFE entail?

As the Operations Manager at PFE, my role involves overseeing several key departments within the company. While I’m not directly involved in processing customs entries, running the Warehouse or planning loads like the LCL and FCL teams do, my experience in the industry allows me to support them by providing guidance and making decisions when needed.

I also act as a point of contact for departments and team managers who report to me. It’s part of my responsibility to ensure smooth operations across these areas. People management is a significant aspect of my role, something I’ve had experience with since my earlier days as a supervisor and manager at DSV. Over the years, I’ve learned to balance adhering to company policies with maintaining a positive work environment and addressing personal or professional challenges my team may face.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I’ve been in this industry for a long time, and what I love most is the unpredictability. Every day brings something new, whether it’s navigating through a global pandemic or dealing with the aftermath of a ship stuck in the Suez Canal! These challenges keep things interesting and make the days fly by when we’re busy. 

Working at PFE I’m really enjoying the interaction with customers. It’s fascinating to learn about their businesses – understanding their products, how they operate and the challenges they face. I have a genuine interest in what they do. Whether it’s visiting a local customer or traveling across the country, like I did in the north of England and Wales recently, meeting face-to-face helps build stronger relationships. For instance, I spent a few days driving around, visiting different clients, staying in hotels to cover more ground efficiently. Some customers really appreciate the effort, even if it’s not always feasible to visit regularly. It’s these personal interactions that I find rewarding, despite the occasional workload backlogs it creates for the team. Finding that balance is key, but overall, I find meeting customers in person incredibly fulfilling and essential to what I do.

I consider myself to be lucky that I’ve never woken up dreading work; I enjoy the thrill of problem-solving and the satisfaction of working with customers. It’s this dynamic nature of the job that has kept me in the industry for over three decades.

What makes PFE different from the rest?

From my experience working with a big global company, the focus is more towards automation whereas PFE emphasises regular, personal interactions with our customers. We aim to be more connected and responsive. 

Our professionalism is another key factor. We are very customer service-focused. Every time I meet with customers, they speak highly of PFE. Our commitment to putting customers first is deeply ingrained in our ethos. We prioritise what the customer wants, rather than dictating what they should do. This approach ensures we meet their needs effectively and maintain strong, positive relationships.

PFE stands out due to its agility. Being a smaller business allows us to make quick decisions and react swiftly to changes. We can be very responsive and adaptable. Unlike rigid global companies, we have the flexibility to tailor our approach. Here, we can make decisions that benefit long-standing customers. This freedom allows us to maintain strong, personal relationships with our clients. 

Personally, working at PFE feels different because it’s a smaller, family-oriented company with an open-door policy. I can directly approach the directors to resolve issues promptly, unlike the layers of hierarchy in larger corporations. Decisions are made quickly here, giving me a broader understanding of business operations compared to just performing tasks in a corporate setting.

What are three words that describe PFE?


Do you have any future ambitions for PFE?

I’m quite happy with my current role. There might be potential for my role to evolve but it really depends on how things unfold over the coming years. 

To be honest, what is more important is that you make the best of what you do. Every day is about doing the best you can and making your mark within the company. It’s not about sitting back and taking things for granted.

I’m enjoying no longer feeling like a new person working here. I’ve been here for three years now, since June 6th. When I first started, I’d often need to look things up or ask around. Now, I know the customers and processes well. It was definitely a transition, especially after working somewhere else for a long time, but I’ve loved it.

Who was your childhood hero and why?

I can’t say I had a particular childhood hero. I had a great childhood, my dad worked hard to provide for us, we had a good life and didn’t go without.  My mum worked part-time and was always there when I got home from school. 

I have worked with a lot of people who have helped and mentored me from managers to colleagues who have all played a part during my career.

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

I love Turkish food, but if I had to pick just one meal, it would be Jen’s pasta bake, I could eat it all day. But honestly, as a type of cuisine, Turkish food is my favourite. We often order from a great Turkish restaurant which the whole family loves. While I also enjoy Chinese and Indian food, Turkish is definitely the best.

What’s your favourite movie?

My favourite movie is ‘Goodfellas’. I like gangster theme movies. I also enjoy other films based on real events and people, like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Dunkirk’, and even the recent Elvis movie. I often look up the real people the characters are based on to learn more about their stories. Goodfellas is my go-to film; I’ve seen it so many times. I like Goodfellas because again, it’s based on a true story.

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