Jet Freight: This three-decades old legacy business is shaping the future of airfreight

One out of the many family businesses in the logistics arena is Theknath’s and its three-decade old legacy airfreight forwarding business- Jet Freight. Which is now operating on a multi-model logistics framework to serve the agile needs of their customers. After taking cognizance of the importance of air cargo, Gatishakti and other similar initiatives, the company is now working on expanding itself into an all-cargo airline.


It might be a little late in the day to be telling you this, but it is a fact that you can’t say ‘I love you’ without them on Valentine’s Day!

Every year, amidst the fading winter season, in the first week of February, air cargos full of cut flowers reach the western parts of the world to gladden hearts full of love. “It’s a tradition in Jet Freight,” says Richard Francis Theknath, Chairman and MD of this leading logistics company in India.

“It is one among many of the interesting stories that we have about us. Every year Jet Freight does a shipment of cut flowers weighing approximately 100 tonnes within the 1st week of February, from Bombay and Bangalore to London & Amsterdam, and it’s incredible,” says Theknath, further adding that the company has been very constant in maintaining this tradition.

Established in 1986, Jet Freight is amongst the many Indian family businesses that contribute their fair share to the logistics cynefin in India.

“In the Indian economy, family businesses hold the largest share. The landscape is volatile and changing dramatically. Those who aspire to learn from the world and grow, will definitely not perish. The technology and management practices have changed drastically, and without adapting to the new work paradigms, any business can fail, be it a family business or otherwise,” he comments.

Being one of the largest IATA agents in India, last year in December, Jet Freight announced its main board listing on the Indian stock exchanges i.e., the BSE & the NSE.

Over the years, as India’s logistics arena has transformed, this organisation has also evolved by adapting newer technologies and by making themselves into more of a platform driven/aggregator driven business. “Jet Freight is now operating on a multi-model logistics framework to serve the agile customer needs,” he states. In other words, the company’s growth mirrors the evolution of the Indian logistics industry.

Today, the company manages over 150 tonnes of air cargo daily with all the leading global airlines. In this series on family businesses on SME Futures, Theknath opens up on his legacy business in the logistics sector.

Jet Freight: yesterday and today

“The business started with the purpose to promote the agricultural and perishable businesses in India via exports in 1986,” says Richard.

Richard’s father Francis Theknath started this business more than three decades ago. But it was the brother’s involvement that enabled Jet freight to reach the skies. “Around 24 years ago, I joined the business under the guidance of our dad along with my younger brother Dax Theknath,” he reminisces.

As of now, Jet Freight excels in air import/ export and ocean and surface shipments, and this year they have added sustainability to the mix by deploying electric vehicles for last-mile deliveries.

The company’s growth numbers show that the company has had a revenue growth of 47 per cent and EBITDA has shown a 65 per cent growth for the December 2021 quarter. Richard added that the company continues to deliver a strong revenue performance, especially across e-commerce, pharma and international freight forwarding.

Inside article2-Jet Freight-Three-decades old legacy business shaping the future of airfreight
Richard Francis Theknath, Chairman and MD, Jet Freight

It’s a dual effort

The company is flourishing under the purview of both the brothers as its committed leaders.

Richard says, “We have come a very long way now, we started with 20 employees and today we are a proud family of 200.”

The brothers attribute their success to their complementary natures. Richard, an FMBA is an avid learner. Having too much on his plate never stopped him from learning new things. He has completed FMBA from NMIMS and is currently pursuing the Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) Programme 2021-2022 from IIT Bombay and Washington University in St. Louis. He is also pursuing a course in Artificial intelligence & Data Analytics. “It’s only going to contribute to the business,” he asserts.

Meanwhile Dax is seven years younger than Richard, is a commercial pilot, and is the full-time director of the company since 2006. He is currently involved in marketing and the maintenance of operational excellence in the organisation.

Inside article1-Jet Freight-Three-decades old legacy business shaping the future of airfreight
Dax Theknath, Full Time Director, Jet Freight Logistics Ltd

“We share a very strong bond within and outside the organisation. My wife is running an NGO that focuses on female empowerment,” Richard tells us.

Do they ever face conflicts, we ask them? “We debate,” he says.

“We don’t usually face conflicts per se, but difference of opinion is always a possibility while making strategies. We prefer to bring our best debate as per our beliefs, based on which we take decisions together. If a scenario comes where we still prefer a different approach to achieve the same goal, we take the opinion of our extended Jet Freight family or at least of our core team, in order to reach a clear and comprehensive conclusion,” he elaborates.

Challenges and growth go together

At the time that the brothers entered their legacy business, automation was new. They introduced new technologies and business strategies to it. “We worked upon the tech aspects, incepted new business ideas, took the extensive marketing opportunities and worked on different ways to approach prospective clients and vendors. I believe that these were some of the most significant changes that both of us brought into our organisation,” Richard asserts.

But being in this fast-paced business, where every trip is a challenge, the company has seen its fair share of ups and down. Talking about the biggest constraints that they have had to deal with, Richard says that money matters the most but having a great rapport with all the stakeholders is also equally important.

He then lists the challenges, saying, “Being an India-based logistics company, working capital is the biggest requirement. Also, maintaining a good relationship with the airlines and shipping industry leaders and timely customer payments are a very important part of the business and sometimes come with their own set of challenges.”

But despite the challenges, the prospects are plentiful.

As of now, his company is undergoing a business transformation which will not only bring multi-dimensional growth to the business but will also digitise the operational process and minimise the operating costs.

“We want to be at the forefront of this technology-driven logistics revolution and leverage our strengths to have key footholds in both B2B and B2C. It will be our endeavour to share the fruits of our growth and the exponential opportunities that India provides for logistics with our shareholders. Jet Freight is also focused on advancing the Jet Freight app, a technology-driven application accessible to clients for integrated logistics solutions,” Richard informs us.

Jet Freight is actively working on technological advancements like the adoption of robotic automation, artificial intelligence and so on to improve efficiencies and optimise their operations, while streamlining their processes.

On this note, Arvind Talan, the CFO of the company informs SME Futures that Jet Freight is focusing on growing domestic logistics and aims to achieve at least a 30 per cent growth year on year with good volumes of sea freight and last mile deliveries.

And the pandemic has a lot to do with their current efforts, he tells us.

Inside article3-Jet Freight-Three-decades old legacy business shaping the future of airfreight

The pandemic spurred their growth

Richard tells us, “During the pandemic, we became more attentive to employee well-being and strengthening the employer-employee relationship. We were growing our business, but the growth catapulted upwards during the pandemic. This compelled us to add more services and serviceable locations to meet the ever-changing demands of our customers.”

The pandemic has been a watershed moment for every business, irrespective of the industry that it belongs to. And Jet Freight was no exception.

“In this whole scenario, Dax was also involved with me in the process to a great extent in managing the operations,” he adds.

Jet Freight was also involved in the logistics of vaccines during this period, which only paved the way for their continued growth.

“We are known in the industry for our perishable products and vaccination shipments under the central government’s Twenty-Point Program. Despite the constraints, we were the first from the industry to re start our business operations due to the adaptability of our technology and the committed efforts of our team. Of course, I must thank my team who were there to support the business in every possible way. This created a huge value among our customers too,” elaborates Richard.

Navigating ahead

With any Indian legacy business, it’s automatically expected that the coming generations will be involved in it too. Being the father of three children himself, Richard believes that the decision to join the family business is up to them, “My children are planning to study in the United States for now. And I would like them to make the decision to become an entrepreneur on their own or join the business hands-on. Currently, it’s too early to surmise about who is the next in line for succession,” he states.

At the same, when it comes to Jet Freight’s growth and expansion, besides technological interventions, it also has an extensive plan for expanding its business in running air cargos. In the future, you will see Jet Freight involved in more elaborate air cargo services.

For this, the company is actively working to complete all the required procedures. And as of now, they have successfully got the NOC certificate from the Ministry of Civil Aviation to start their scheduled air cargo services.  It was at the same time that the Rakesh Jhunjhunwala backed Akasa Air also secured its NOC.

Richard’s involvement in the certification process to get the NOC was major, as it is a necessary requirement before proceeding to launch a scheduled airline. “As we navigate ahead, we are very excited about the new journey of our air cargo business, and we are in extensive talks with investors and partners for our air cargo business model,” he tells us.

To put its plans into motion, the company is in talks with several aviation media platforms and fundraiser partners as this project requires a large investment. Richard says, “We have seen and shown our strength in the volume business, in filling up the aircraft. We would need partners for the operation and financing of this business. We are actively planning to start our backward integration in the air cargo freighter business.”

The roadmap of Jet Freight is to focus on agile sustainability in supply chain management, while focusing on becoming a global integrated leader. “Jet Freight’s vision is to be a growth-oriented company in total logistics management and serving the global customer by becoming the indisputable choice for total logistics management companies,” says Richard as he signs off with a flourish.

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