CFG Portrait - Brussel Airport Cargo’s Steven Polmans Up Close

After being in the aviation industry for two decades, of which he spent 15 years in cargo, Steven can be called a true veteran, although still fairly young, aged 43. He is a restless doer, a chap that thinks cargo 24/7/365 and a strong believer in team playing and networking. Right from his start at Brussels Airport Cargo on October 1, 2010, first as head of marketing and since 2012 as the cargo helmsman, he continuously strives at bettering BRU International’s position in air freight. Mostly with success.


Steven is a guy who radiates pure energy, vividly evidenced during the interview conducted some days ago in his office at Brussels Zaventem airport. Instead of sitting down on a chair and debating, he prefers standing up, walking back and forth in order to quickly deliver his views on the topics touched during the meet.  
For instance, his perception of daily leadership: “This recognition you only get by constantly delivering and positively showing the way forward. I don’t expect my team to respect me just because of my title but by presenting visions and aims, by my daily doing or the way I try to solve conflicting issues,” resumes Steven.

Steven Polmans heads Brussels Airport Cargo since 2016  - photo: hs
Steven Polmans heads Brussels Airport Cargo since 2016 - photo: hs

No lame compromises
Another example illustrating his forward-thinking attitude is his view on teamwork: “If I were put in office without a team I would die. Collaborating closely with other people, inspiring them and getting inspired conversely, is a huge driving force and constant source of motivation.”
Having said this Steven admits, however, that working together with him is not always an easy task for his team, since he’s extremely demanding. Lame compromises are not part of his understanding how the business should be conducted, a basic attitude that implies not shying away from conflicts if necessary. He admits, however, his inclination to see things either black or white with not much in between, when finally deciding on future projects or strategic issues following a thorough analysis of the case. This should not be confused with stubbornness since Steven is known as manager that’s always open for reasonable proposals provided air freight matters at BRU are driven forward. 


BRUcargo taking the pole in pharma 
This is anything but pure theory but evidenced in August of 2014 when Brussels became the first airport worldwide to be CEIV pharma certified by IATA, taken the pole position in this field. In an earlier effort, under Steven’s stewardship the local cargo community was invited to join forces for upgrading, aligning and standardizing the ground handling processes for setting new standards in the throughput or storage of temp sensitive products.
Another medal he can pin on his and his team’s chests is establishing the new air freight organization Air Cargo Belgium in 2016 by grouping all relevant stakeholders, following a period of persistent persuasion. Since then, BRU is a big player when it comes to processing cool products. But in the same breath he warns that stagnation is regression. “In 2010 we said that by 2020 we want to be at Amsterdam’s level of recognition in the segment of temperature critical products as they are in flowers.”
The effort seems to pay off. In 2016, Brussels reports a 35 percent increase in pharma exports. “Once you are recognized as a leader in this sector you can table convincing arguments and get the industry to follow.”

According to the masterplan (image), the cargo area at Brussels Airport will be completely rebuilt  -  company courtesy
According to the masterplan (image), the cargo area at Brussels Airport will be completely rebuilt - company courtesy

Shift of mentality was key
Revealing much of his thinking is shown in words he adds to this: “Our approach, we try to spread implies a shift of mentality from MY tonnage to OUR tonnage. This, because offering shippers, forwarders, airlines and consignees a state-of-the-art product as cargo community leads to the benefit of all, contrasting traditional proceedings when players used to handled their shipments individually, thus fragmenting and atomizing the business.”
He understands his and his team’s role as business driver by inspiring the local cargo community to constantly optimizing practical solutions. “Instead of just selling the amenities of our aerial gateway we figure out how to improve the flow of goods, be it through utilizing a cloud system for sharing information or by offering local firms cargo dollies in sufficient number.” It’s BRUcargo’s obligation to look beyond the horizon to spot areas that can be improved, Mr Polmans states.  

Industry needs positive upbeat mood
Touching the general state of the global cargo industry, Steven has a rather skeptical view. “During the last 30 years not much has developed. Surprisingly, we were able to survive without much change. If we were in other industries we’d be dead by now because of lack of innovation.”
Harsh but necessary words, hopefully waking up some of the actors. Being himself a TIACA board member, he advocates a strong lobby for the global logistics industry to set standards, pushing forward innovations and promoting entrepreneurial mind-set. One particular development pleases him: the fact that an increasing number of airports are becoming more active in cargo matters. “That’s an encouraging sign,” reasons Steven.


Heiner Siegmund

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