Keeping the fire in your belly burning, says FIDI Senior Vice-President Rob Chipman

Former merchant banker and budding internet entrepreneur Rob Chipman may not be your typical mover, but the senior vice-president of FIDI is passionate about the industry, as we discover during our continued focus on board members.

What is your role on the FIDI board? And how did you come to work in moving?

I’m senior vice-president and completed my first year on the FIDI board in May. Before that I was president of the FIDI Asia Association, and have been actively involved with FIDI for the past six years. My company, Asian Tigers, has been a FIDI Affiliate for a long time. My career is probably not typical of the industry. After graduation, I worked in merchant banking, at Manufacturers Hanover Trust on Wall Street, as a loan syndicator. I was interested in working in Latin America, which I did, and through a happy coincidence I was later posted to Hong Kong. My assignment was extended from five to six years, but I didn’t want to go back. I loved being in Hong Kong so I looked for something else – a leap into the unknown. I worked for another small bank for a year and then came across some people in the moving industry and was invited to work for them to help turn their company around. Twenty-one years later, here I still am! That company was sold and I moved back to California, where four of us tried to set up a business-to-business website matching buyers in the US with sellers in Asia, around the time of the dotcom boom. Conceptually, this was a good idea, but events moved so blindingly fast, it took way too long to execute our idea. Eventually, the company was sold and made a little money – a life lesson in how not to be an internet entrepreneur. In 2001, I came back to Asia to join Asian Tigers. The moving company I had first worked for wasn’t so great, to be honest, but in contrast Asian Tigers is so professional; good quality people, the offices are 40-50 years old, and we have a big market share. What an upgrade. It was a defining moment and great turn of fate in my favour. As a small business, it’s ‘you versus the world’ and you have a fire in your belly, making decisions and trying to build the business up. That doesn’t last forever, you need to mature and develop into a larger organisation which, unfortunately, is often bureaucratic by its nature. That wouldn’t work well for us at Asian Tigers. Most of our operations are individually owned, they operate independently and we have tremendous passion. We get together and talk about this business and its people until the cows come home – it never grows old.

Tell us something about yourself that FIDI members don’t know.

I’m right-handed and do everything with that hand – except deal cards. I have no idea how that started. I play with my poker group every Friday night.

Looking at the FIDI board, what is your portfolio of responsibilities?

I have two and, I believe, introducing portfolio specialities for the board was a smart move on the part of our last president, Rupert Morley. Firstly, FIDI congresses: when you look where this organisation has been in the last 40 years it is just fantastic, with great venues, fantastic people, great programmes, and the superb camaraderie we have. We mix that with amazing business sessions – we’ve just had six great Greek speakers, all significant people, and in Boston last year we had around five Harvard business school professors. The congress is a well-oiled machine in terms of the formula; there isn’t a lot that needs to be done. However, it is a very complex and high stakes endeavour. So much rides on this congress being successful for FIDI and its membership; it is the one occasion each year we come together. It makes people feel good and lets them reconnect to FIDI. Next year, Singapore will be the first one to be organised by me. There are thousands of little things you never think of before you get involved – even working out coffee breaks between sessions down to the minute. With communications, my second responsibility, there are many problems, and yet so many opportunities. Our single biggest accomplishment so far is getting the new FIDI Focus launched, but we are getting around to other challenges. We need to step back, plan and develop our strategy, then we will get down to specific tactics. We need to address this in a coherent manner; an overarching strategic approach has been needed for some time. If we get this right, I think we will speak to our membership in a more cogent, clear way. Looking across all the portfolio areas, what do you see as the most important projects for FIDI? RC We’ve got FAIM 3.0 off to a good start and have made much progress. However, there are worrying signs with some of the early audits, which have shown some non-compliance. This has caught us a bit by surprise because FAIM 3.0 is less onerous, yet clearer than previous versions. Moreover, the stakes are considerable. Lose FAIM and an affiliate loses their FIDI membership – an outcome nobody wants. Most of the problems are with the International Moving Service Criteria, the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the quality system. The good news is that the FAIM Co-ordinating Centre and FAIM ‘superstar’ John Prooij are equally committed to helping those affiliates that need it and are genuinely interested in achieving FAIM 3.0 certification.

Finally, what are you looking forward to most in the next two years?

The biggest issue is to get affiliates successfully through the FAIM process. We need to get them FAIM certified and then know that we have a core of solid, quality-driven companies. Beyond that, I’d like to see the suite of financial services – PPP, Payment System, Slow Payers and so on – repackaged, rebranded, streamlined and made easier to understand. If we could get greater take-up within our membership, that would be a tremendous accomplishment. Finally, our website has served us well for the past few years, but it’s well past time for a major revamp and upgrade – so stay tuned for further developments.

Source: FIDI Focus July/Aug 2013