Meet the Elite: Trans-Am Air Freight’s Sam Lam

Founder/president of Trans-Am Air Freight discusses client acquisitions, oil costs and karaoke

Tell us a bit about yourself

I started out in this industry in 1964. I’d wanted to join Cathay Pacific, but at 16 I was too young. I have worked in many roles and with many airlines. I was managing director of Cosmo air freight when I left in 1986 to start my own business, Trans-Am Air Freight, where I’ve been ever since. We own offices in the US, Canada, Taiwan and Vietnam and have offices across China. The transpacific market, in particular the US West Coast is strong for us.

What do you like best about cargo?

Developing new business. The more slots I have, the more clients I need. My team, including my son, and I go out to recruit clients regularly. You need to have an interest in the business, and we are in touch with clients, some of whom we have retained for many years. Our big shipments are garments, toys, phones and computers.

Challenges and opportunities?

Competition, but we’ve always had that. Lower oil costs have enabled us to make prices more competitive, but if my staff are ruled by price only, then they can’t do their job. That said, it’s hard to be competitive if the price difference between Hong Kong and China is so big.

What do you do in your spare time?

I like to play golf, and I like to have a drink in happy hour. I’m not a bad singer after a couple of drinks, and I like to get together with my friends in the industry. That’s how it is. We are competitors but we look out for each other as well, because sometimes we may need each other’s help.

Why Cathay Pacific?

Cathay Pacific is our home carrier. It has a good reputation – its planes always arrive at planned destinations, so you tend not to get offloaded in Taiwan or Japan, which can happen with other carriers. Cathay’s flights fly directly to North America, so that’s why our clients like to use it. We had four pallets of cargo on the first flight to Los Angeles and we’ve been working with the team ever since.