An interview by Steve Jordan with a man who does not wait for approval, does not play it safe; he believes in his instincts, takes a lead and is delighted when others follow.
It was an iconic film from 1989: Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner. Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer, is inspired to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield with the absolute conviction that when it’s done, the ghosts of his hero players, especially Joe Jackson, will come. Spoiler alert! They do.
It seems that the moving industry too has its own Ray who has spent much of his 40-year-long career driven and fuelled by a similar conviction. Ray daSilva believes that if you really want to achieve something extraordinary, you better get on with it. Others will follow in good time.
So, let’s start with a little background. Ray daSilva was born in Korea and moved between there, Hong Kong and Taiwan as a child with his family. In 1973, at the age of 18, he moved to California, carrying just a suitcase and a $500 loan from his old boss in Taiwan. Ray was an expert in Taekwondo, a sport that had not only kept him fit and safe from the school bullies, it had also taught him an important lesson: the mind gives up before the body. That principle of perseverance, perhaps against apparent unassailable odds, has carried him through the many challenges of his business life.
At 21, Ray tried his luck in Alaska and initially found work as a warehouse foreman in Montgomery Ward, a major retail store. His next job was as program director of the Boys Club of Alaska, teaching Taekwondo and helping raise funds through major companies for sponsorships. “It was here that I learned to sell,” he said. When his boss was fired for political reasons, Ray also left out of loyalty to him.
His first foray into the moving industry was as a move consultant in Alaska Orient Van Service, the state’s United agent. He was later headhunted for a sales job by Worldwide Movers in Alaska, a Mayflower agent.
In 1982, Ray was ready to leave Alaska’s cold temperatures. On a holiday in Hawaii that year, he tried his luck and enquired at Transpacific Moving & Storage for any sales job openings they might have. It turned out they did and were also looking to hire a general manager. Never one to hold back, Ray said, ”I can do that too,” and after a few days of intensive interviews, the job was his. The company was owned by Jim Thompson of Crown Pacific. “That got me started with Crown,” said Ray.
It was the beginning of a fine career with Crown. Ray spent 11 years in Hawaii, then moved to Singapore to oversee Crown’s southeast Asia operations. During the next 12 years, Ray expanded his responsibilities and joined the Executive Board of Crown which was undergoing its major global expansion. After assignments in Europe and the US, he left Crown in 2004 and after a brief divergence into the marine insurance business, he joined Security Storage Company in Washington, DC (SSCW).
Although the company didn’t survive long term, it was a life-changer for Ray. It was there that he met and later on, married April Stewart, one of the company’s international move managers at the time. It was also there where Ray would have his first “build it and they will come” moment through the quite ambitious project that would later be known as RedSky.
Ray immediately identified that SSCW’s computer systems were outdated and in urgent need of an overhaul. Rather than buy into an existing proprietary software system, none of which Ray considered suitable for Security, he set about creating something new. With his industry knowledge and his partner Rajeev Jain’s technical expertise, Ray’s idea for a new, innovative system went into full development mode.
Ray was able to leverage many of the lessons he learned at Crown where every branch was able to provide shipment information to a central hub that could be accessed by everyone in the group. Except Crown was a closed network and what Ray wanted was to create the agent-to-agent model equivalent. A much harder, more complex undertaking.
At a time when nobody else had a comprehensive move management product that could be used by the whole supply chain, not just the origin agent, Ray had the instinct, the competence and the sheer tenacity to build one. Back in 2007, it was the holy grail. Ray built it (RedSky is a system that aggregates all the information about a move into one single file and provides appropriate access to every stakeholder in the move) and they came (soon after its launch, Star Worldwide in India joined in as a shareholder partner, then Voerman in The Netherlands, and Harmony).
Ray has always believed in the power and potential of collaboration. Branching out as an industry consultant in 2008, he came up with the idea of Mobility Exchange: a universal directory of service providers for the entire industry. “In a fragmented business where we rely on each other’s capabilities we had no single place to go to efficiently look up a service partner’s capabilities and then efficiently connect with them,” he explained. “That’s what One Exchange – Infinite Connections is all about. We all have relationships based on trust, but when you are entering new markets or starting new product lines, who do you partner with?” Ray knew that this information source was needed in the industry and if he created it, people would begin to use it. Reviving his partnership with Rajeev Jain to develop the technical structure, he set about building Mobility Exchange without waiting for approval or outside financial support. Just as he predicted, once the IAM (International Association of Movers) saw the demo, they agreed to an exclusive partnership to develop IAM Mobility Exchange to its full potential.
These days, Ray is also working closely with the IAM on the IAM Learning programme. Ray understands that while large companies have the resources to run their own training programmes, small and medium-sized companies may not. IAM Learning started last year and already the first modules and webinars are available to use throughout the industry. Once again, Ray did not wait for a guaranteed customer base: he knew it was right, so he just did it. “I believe there are times when it is better to consider all the options carefully and then having considered them, come to a swift decision. You can then spend your energy on making your decision the correct one.”
Encouraging and facilitating cooperation is the prime directive and theme for every project at Mobility Exchange, LLC. This spirit of cooperation can also be seen in other industry projects like FIDI’s Professional Cooperation Guidelines (PCG) which have now been shared with IAM members. Ray’s efforts to use the Mobility Exchange platform to promote acceptance of the PCG have resulted in over 480 IAM Members documenting their agreement to abide by its guidelines.
Mobility Exchange is also providing support to encourage the adoption of the IAM-led ISO 17451 Standard for codification of inventory information by software companies. Industry-wide adoption will facilitate the interchange of digital inventory information between the various software systems used in the industry.
Still, Ray is interested in a much bigger idea: Data Interoperability. This creates the ability for disparate software systems to exchange data in an efficient, standardised way. “There is no other initiative that can deliver the efficiency and service improvements that our industry so urgently needs,” he said.
The universal service provider directory of IAM Mobility Exchange is a foundational requirement for data interoperability, Ray believes. “Once you can accurately select each stakeholder into a moving transaction file, we can control view access and edit controls using role-based security. This will be a game changer for the industry.”
This is not science fiction. IATA (The International Air Transport Association) has had great success with its e-Waybill initiative and shipping lines are already working on it with their Digital Container Standards Association. “The moving industry is not alone in dealing with the inefficiencies related to the lack of data interoperability,” said Ray. “If we move quickly, we can ensure that we anticipate and facilitate the data bridges required to connect with clients, underlying transport, governmental agencies and suppliers.”
I asked Ray how long he thought it would take. Ask Ray daSilva a question like that and you will always be surprised by the answer. You see Ray understands the concept of exponential growth. He knows that when you are halfway there, you are almost done. “The good news is that it is already underway,” he said. “The IAM has organised a Data Standardization Summit in Chicago this October to bring key industry stakeholders together to frame the discussion and outline next steps.” Ray feels that the IAM is in a unique position to lead the effort but the initiative requires collaboration with other industry associations, major customers and other key stakeholders. “More good news,” said Ray, “There seems to be new spirit of cooperation and willingness to collaborate.”
I asked Ray if he focusses on potential problems and pitfalls when embarking on these ambitious projects. “You have to be pragmatic and understand the road ahead, but you need clear vision of your end objective,” he said. “It makes the small decisions along the way quite clear.”
I have always subscribed to the principle that if you don’t know where you are going, you probably won’t get there. Ray has a slightly different take on it and smiles as he quotes George Harrison: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Except Ray absolutely knows where he’s going. And it’s my guess that we are all going there with him.