Steve Jordan interviews Keith Meader from Asian Tigers Mobility – Thailand, on his retirement from the industry.
Keith Meader from Asian Tigers Mobility Thailand retired on 30 November, 2019. It brings the end of a 42-year career in the moving business and heralds the start of new challenges and different sorts of excitement for one of the industry’s much-loved sons. As one door closes, others open.
Keith can remember the day he joined the moving business. It was 11 July, 1977 with Jenkins Van and Storage in California. 14 years later he got the chance to join Bill Reinsch at Transpo in Thailand and headed off to Asia in a leap of faith that he now believes was one of the best decisions of his life. “My friends all thought I was crazy,” he said. But it was in cosmopolitan Asia that he found his true home amid interesting people, working with international customers, and living life without the strong national bias that characterises life in the US.
It was that too that kept Keith in the moving industry for so long. He did try to escape but, like many of us, failed. In 1995 he left to work for Brinks in Thailand, then returned to the industry with Santa Fe three years later. In 2005 Brinks called again, making Keith its regional president based in Hong Kong, the job of a lifetime … but the old business dragged him back.
I asked him why. Without hesitation he said it was the people. “People in this business are well educated, interesting, flexible, culturally aware, worldly and fun to be around,” he said. “You don’t go to school to learn how to do this job. You must be a customer service person. If you forget that you are not doing the job anymore.” Despite a few diversions, Keith now leaves Bill’s company 28 years after he joined it.
I wondered why he had chosen now to take his leave. “If it’s about money, there’s never a good time to retire,” he said. “But if it’s physical or mental health, are you going to wait until one of them leaves you?” Keith and his wife, Kendra, are both blessed with good health and he wants to indulge in his love of the outdoors while he still has the physical strength and mental energy to do so. Who would blame him?
I wondered, from a business point of view, when was the right time. “We think we know a lot after 42 years but maybe that knowledge is not all that applicable to what’s happening today,” he said. “The younger folks that come in, who are maybe 15-20 years younger, are still very accomplished, they just need a chance. I have a good successor in which I have a lot of confidence and I am really happy that he’s following me.”
Unlike many of his generation, technology has not held any fear for Keith. Quite the opposite. “I probably enjoy the tech thing the most,” he said. “Technology is only beginning in our industry; we are probably behind the curve. You don’t have to be a tech-head to lead other people. Sometimes it’s better you are not. Tech people are full of information but don’t always see the bigger picture. That’s our job. We need to direct the technical people to do things that benefit the business or the customers, not just develop things that are cool from a technical point of view.
“That said, you need to have the technology foundation available so you can take the opportunities when they come along. I think a lot of companies in our industry don’t have that.”
Keith and Kendra have many interests in common including a place at Lake Tahoe and some holiday property in Thailand. They also have their children, including their new granddaughter, and many friends in the USA so there’s plenty of vising to do. Boredom is unlikely to be a problem. “When I think of all the people around the world I want to keep up with, that’s half the year gone already.”
Keith has also taken an interest in finance recently, just for fun. “Financial news and events have dominated our lives for years, so I wanted to know more about it,” he said. Of course, knowing your way around the financial markets also helps make a fixed budget spread a little further, something everyone needs to consider when saying goodbye to the monthly pay cheque. Would he ever consider taking on a new job? “I am not trying to find another job,” he said. “If one came up I’d listen to anything, but it’s not my plan.”
When good people retire, the industry is left a little impoverished. The wisdom that has built over 42 years can never be replaced. So I asked Keith about his thoughts on the industry. “I would say that the industry has people in it that are a lot smarter than a lot of big companies,” he said. “Big companies are too bureaucratic and are often driven by highly egotistical people. Quarterly reporting is mostly a waste of time, a straight-jacket and mostly absurd. Big companies spend too much time reporting and not enough with customers. I think our industry is very smart that way. Even a big company in our industry is a small company in any other, so we can be fast on our feet. We have a lot of challenges but that’s what makes it exciting.”
“Bureaucracy kills initiative. Wherever we see too many layers of reporting it just doesn’t work. Generally, we are pretty clever that way. Asian Tigers maintained that strategy all along. It didn’t load up with big corporate overheads. The leadership has been the same for many years. Some would say that’s bad, but I think it’s a good thing. Others around us are beginning to struggle.”
Finally, Keith returned to the subject of people. “It’s a business built on relationships,” he said. “It’s the relationships that drive it. Some think that’s a waste of time. They are wrong. It’s customer service that drives the business and that’s all about relationships. How you do something is just as important as what you do. We live in a very different universe from other service providers. Forget that at your peril.”
After my interview with Keith ended, I reflected on what he’d said. We had talked at a small table in a hotel corridor. We had been constantly interrupted by friends passing by who couldn’t resist the opportunity to pass a moment together. Why are relationships so important? It’s simple if you think about it. You have the closest relationships with people you like. If you have a choice you would always choose to work with someone whose company you enjoy, someone you trust, someone that you think your customers will like too? Of course you would. The people who do best in this industry are those who make friends easily, who care about others, who understand people and are utterly trustworthy. Is it any wonder people tend to stay?
I have known Keith for a while and I cannot recall a time, no matter how dark the outlook, when his beaming smile didn’t brighten the room and his infectious laugh carry joy on the air. He was made for this business.
Good luck Keith and Kendra. Don’t be strangers.