By John Golob, Winmore CMO and Founder

May 4, 2020

Thanks to the team at Stifel, I was fortunate to attend this year’s Transportation and Logistics conference from February 11-12 in Miami. Thoughtful speakers, candid discussion, insightful panels, and a generous agenda that left plenty of time for catching up with friends and colleagues all made for a flawless, world-class event.

I stayed through the closing lunch, the bookend of an action-packed few days. As some attendees had early flights or begged off across town to another event, the auditorium was only half-filled, the mood languid. Then Noel Perry stepped to the stage to deliver the closing keynote. For those of you who don’t know Noel, he is the principal of Transport Futures, a heavy freight consulting firm, and one of the most insightful transportation economists in the nation.  An industry veteran of decades, Noel presents with such clarity and vigor that one might imagine oneself watching an Operations Professor at Harvard Business School. Think John Houseman in Paper Chase—but discussing freight across The Charles in Baker Hall.

True to form, Noel delivered the first half of the keynote with his usual blend of insight, humor and wit. Then he paused, just for a moment. When Noel continued to speak, his words were more measured. He warned us that the thin line on the horizon was no mirage, but a tsunami. Barreling toward us.

Bear in mind that February 11 was a milestone in the global pandemic. On that day, the World Health Organization announced that the novel coronavirus sweeping through Wuhan, China would be called “Covid-19.”  At that point, less than 900 people in all of China had died from the disease.

Noel warned us that the disease would likely result in a pandemic that it would disrupt supply chains (which we expected) and wreak havoc on demand (which we didn’t), delivering a two-hit punch to the global economy.  He predicted that the worst would be over in 90 days—just like the SARS epidemic from twenty years ago which tended to follow an arc.

True to Noel’s words, our arc began—a full five weeks later. By now, we’re all familiar with the events that followed: economic collapse, sheltering-in-place, three hundred and fifty-eight thousand death worldwide as of this writing—waiting for the invisible hurricane to pass.

Now, as I consider Noel’s remarks, as restaurants, cafes and shops slowly begin to reopen, I see the wisdom of his insights. Many sources told us point-blank with pinpoint accuracy what to expect, so why was it so hard for many of us to act? Why was it two weeks later, only after we saw the tragedy unfold in northern Italy that we realized the severity of this threat? How many thousands of lives could have been saved by acting sooner?

How much we have to learn from economists such as Noel who not only pattern-match and recognize the similarities in arcs and troughs with uncanny precision, but more fundamentally, from such individuals who, like Noel, possess such respect for data that they have the courage to ring the warning bell—even when its chime will likely be met with denial and suspicion.

Thank you, Noel, for making the call. Next time, we’ll not only listen, but act sooner.

– John     [email protected]