Impossible is Nothing


Muhammad AliGood way to end a good week. Sorry for how long this is.

For those of you here in Union Station, I’m sure you noticed a bunch of hubbub and (barely controlled?) chaos in the hallways the past couple of days. Here’s why:

In the early hours of Wednesday, March 1st, 2017 we received a request for advice from WeWork. The CEO, Adam Neumann, wanted to send a “piece of custom artwork” from his New York office to a business in Tokyo and he wanted it to arrive by Friday. It was 15” x 10” and weighed around 150 lbs. ***Important note: at the time of the initial email, it was already 3:30 PM on Wednesday in Tokyo.  So, basically we had 48 hours to get this off the wall in Manhattan, wrapped and crated, trucked to JFK, put on a flight that would get to Tokyo Friday morning, cleared through Japanese customs and delivered by close of business Friday.

At 6:03 am, Craig responded that the team was working on options, but questioned the size and weight (15” x 10” at 150 lbs did not make sense to him).  The next thing we heard was that it was actually 10 Feet by 15 Feet (“Cancel that Sprinter van, Colin!”) but someone at WeWork actually measured it out at 4 feet by 8 feet. Doable. “Keep that truck coming!”

Something this large would not arrive Friday by routine cargo service, (and today’s flights had mostly gone. And tomorrow’s cargo flights (Thursday in NY/Friday already in Tokyo) would not get there until late Friday night/too late.  So we investigated a number of charter flight options, but those are around $300,000-$400,000, so that’s pretty nuts. Back to finding something else.

We called out good friend, John Khodov, down at JFK who jumped all over this. He knows what planes go where and when (plus how reliable they are) and was looking at ALL KINDS of options. Passenger plane as cargo. Passenger plane as luggage. Thinking “out of the box” as they say. Juggling three phones at once trying to find an answer.  In the meantime Gretchen is helping get the piece bubble wrapped (VERY damageable and valuable) at WeWork HQ while Craig and Colin have sent a Santini truck on its way over there to  “white glove” the piece to JFK (“Where in JFK? Which airline?” they rightly asked. But we did not know yet. But we DID know, however, that WHATEVER airlines could get it there on time would be flying out of JFK and not W. 18th St in Manhattan  ?)

Meanwhile the team is scrambling to find a timetable that will get this piece into Tokyo sometime Friday morning so it can clear customs and get delivered into the city (over an hour from the airport) by 5 pm Friday(Tokyo time, remember. It is now ALREADY 2 pm Thursday in Japan). There are no direct flight options, so it was finally decided to ship it via Helsinki on a Finn Air flight (yes, kids, there is actually an airlines called Finn Air ?) leaving JFK at 5:45 pm.  Cutoff for freight for the flight is 11:30. We get it pushed to 1:30/no later. Clock is ticking.

Meanwhile WW has encased the piece in several layers of bubble wrap so it can make the trip to the airport safely.  It is loaded into a cargo van in NYC at 12:07.  T minus 37 hours.

The van gets to JFK at 1:03 pm.  John calls and says “I won’t be able to crate this and get it to the airline by 1:30. No way.  Can we send it bubble wrapped only?”

Now, stop here…

For anyone who has flown, you’ve seen how stuff gets handled by airlines. This is a very fragile, expensive piece with a thousand items on it.  It is a gift from the CEO of our newest customer to a friend of his in Japan.  It has to get loaded into the belly of a passenger plane (with all the other cargo/luggage. It’s late getting there. It has to land in Helsinki and then be transferred onto the next leg to Tokyo.  Will it get damaged if not crated? Possibly/probably yes.  Can we live with that? Definitely not.)


Tick tock tick tock. The late closing is in 20 minutes. Decision time.

Decision: better NOT to make the flight than to put it on there uncrated, have it damaged in transit and have Adam give a “broken” piece of expensive art to his newest office.

So…we tell John, “Crate it.”  He says “No way we have time. We will miss the flight.”  We say, “Understood. Do your best. Then do what you can to get them to take it, even though we’re late. We have faith. You can do this.”

John and his guys do an utterly miraculous job crating it in less than an hour, runs it over to the airline at 2:23 where the plane is already fully loaded and closed out. But, at the same time, lots of other things need to happen to get this cargo into the air.  One important piece is the documentation:  we need house and master airway bills, details on the artist for customs, the value and composition of the piece, insurance certificate, name and address of the importer of record, etc., etc.  Then the cargo must pass through TSA X-ray, get manifested for a flight, and deliver to the airline at least three hours before take-off. A whole team of folks here in Union Station are working like crazy getting what we need (thus the chaos mentioned above ?)

WeWork-Painting-CrateLet me digress for a minute and talk about the artwork itself.  It is a mixed media piece, entitled “WeWork”, created in 2015 by an Israeli artist called Lovka Lev.  You have to take a close look at it to appreciate its detail: it has pieces of chain, screwdrivers, paintbrushes, telephone keyboards, cassette and VHS tapes, batteries (luckily old batteries, not the lithium ones), old calculators. VERY cool piece (and very “WeWork”).

John gets it screened and loaded (thank you, John) and now it can be on its way. Sort of like when Aaron Rogers runs around for awhile on one of his patented Hail Mary plays. He’s avoided the rush, the line has held, the receivers are all downfield and he gets to make his throw (But as we know, that is just the first part of the equation. A LOT still has to happen to score ?).

Thus, it was determined that someone from LP should accompany the freight, to assist with the cargo transfer in Finland and the customs and delivery issues in Tokyo. Gretchen happens to be working onsite at WeWork in NYC so she got “volunteered” to go (Thanks for volunteering, G ?)!  As Emily  worked on booking her tickets, she threw some stuff into a bag and headed for the airport.

So now the cargo is with the airline, the documents have been created, and all is well, right?  Wrong!  We still have to change planes in Finland, alert customs in Tokyo, send them documents ahead of the arrival for their review and approval, arrange pickup from Narita airport to site, book the freight elevator in this office building, deliver it to the 26th floor, AND ensure the delivering company has the tools to open the crate upon arrival in the conference room!  All of this was ably handled by our old friend Mike Scally from DSV, who worked late into his night with his Tokyo team to keep things on track.

The flight took off from JFK on schedule at 5:45, and 8 hours later it arrived in Helsinki (9am local time).  The connecting flight was not until 5 pm, so Gretchen had plenty of time to bother the very nice folks at Finnair Cargo about loading “her” artwork onto the Tokyo flight!  They took off again on time, but were delayed into Narita, arriving at 9:30 am local time.  Looking good for Friday delivery, BUT still have to deal with unloading and with customs clearance and delivery to the building. Not so easy sometimes.

WeWork Painting JapanThis is where LP shines:  Customs was busy with several cargo flights, and told us it would be a minimum of three hours before they would be releasing the freight, unless they decided to inspect it, which would take even longer.  DSV told us that it was highly unlikely they could deliver before 5 pm.  But we kept pushing everyone, in our traditional LP way (not demanding, but trying to get them all to feel our pain!).  And Chiaki san, a lovely lady from DSV, GOT it!  She got the cargo released from customs AND the airline within an hour of each other, and had the truck rolling to Tokyo by 3:20 pm.

The truck arrived at destination at 4:47 pm, and after uncrating the piece inside the truck, it was placed onto a dolly and whisked it up to the office and presented at 4:54. 6 minutes to spare. PLENTY OF TIME.

There were a lot of other details, and lots of support was received from many LP’ers and their friends on this project.  The bottom line is, in the words of Winston Churchill, is this:  “Never, never, never, never, never give up”.

Way to go Gretchen and Craig and Colin and Emily and Yuriy and Santini and John and G2 and Mike and Chiaki and all the other folks who made this happen.



Jim Berlin, CEO, Logistics Plus