Logistics and transportation conferences generally are staid affairs, filled with chart-laden presentations from experts and serious speeches about the state of the industry. But occasionally there are memorable moments of levity, as the 200 attendees at the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT) 10th Annual Northeast Cargo Symposium can appreciate.
The first sign that the Nov. 3 event would be no ordinary meeting was the venue: a private club at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., with a superb view of the New England Patriots' home field and a red-white-and-blue color scheme enhanced by bigger-than-life murals of players in action.
The keynote speaker was Dan Kraft, CEO of International Forest Products (IFP), the original business of Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his family. The younger Kraft described the privately held company's global operations, noting that it is the 30th largest U.S. exporter, sells its wood and paper products in more than 80 countries, and sources in more than 30, including such atypical locations as Croatia and Belgium.
Then the logistics-savvy CEO explained IPF's shipping volumes in novel terms. One ton, Kraft noted, is equivalent to "6.8 Vince Wilforks" (the Patriots' 325-pound defensive tackle); IPF ships "the equivalent of 14 million Vince Wilforks of pulp and paper annually, or 22 million Wes Welkers" (the considerably lighter-weight and top-caliber wide receiver).
Kraft kept the laughter going when he compared an arrow-filled map of IFP's complicated global trade flows to a page from the Patriots' play book, suggesting that perhaps the football side of the business has unduly influenced IFP's international trade operations.
Football wasn't the only entertaining subject at the conference, however. CONECT presented its annual "Persons of the Year" awards to two well-known experts: the late Donald F. Cameron, the longtime director of transportation and logistics at Cabot Corp. and Bose Corp. and the National Industrial Transportation League's 1995 "Man of the Year"; and Anne Neary, import manager for the regional retailer Christmas Tree Shops, who is retiring after a 52-year career in international trade.
What's so funny about that? Neary's nephews, it turns out, are Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the writers and producers of such comedies as "There's Something About Mary," "Dumb and Dumber," and the upcoming "Three Stooges" film. Unbeknownst to Neary, the brothers had filmed a "Two-Minute Tribute to Aunt Anne" to be shown at the awards ceremony.
Predictably, the video was rife with jokes and mischievous references to family history. There was even some international trade-related humor. First they suggested that the ocean carrier United States Lines' 1986 bankruptcy filing occurred suspiciously soon after Neary helped one of them get a job there. The brothers also said they were surprised (and grateful) that during their supposed "drug-running days" Aunt Anne never questioned why they wanted to add a few "bales of hay" to her inbound containers of giftware from the Far East.
The brothers' fictitious tale left the audience (including Neary) almost teary-eyed with laughter.