This commentary was written by Freight Caviar founder Paul-Bernard Jaroslawski. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to Ben Gordon, founder and managing partner at
Cambridge Capital, a private equity investment firm that acquired a majority stake in Everest Transportation Systems last year. He was in Ukraine, where Everest has employees, on Feb. 24 when the war with Russia began. Gordon is also one of the founders of The Ukraine Logistics Coalition, a group of leaders in the supply chain who are working together to provide aid from all around the world to Ukraine.
What was your reaction immediately after the war began?
“We’ve got 150 people at Everest who live in and around Kyiv. We have to make sure these people are safe,” Gordon recalled thinking.
Hoping to coordinate an evacuation, he reached out to his partners at Everest, Jake Elperin and Phil Weber. That’s when he learned about Project Dynamo, a nonprofit organization co-founded by a friend of his, Brad Cohen, to help rescue American civilians from Afghanistan.
“[Cohen] quickly moved to set up operations in Ukraine to help evacuate people there,” Gordon said. Whether it was to evacuate or relocate, he worked with Project Dynamo to get people out of harm’s way.
“The second question was: What can we do to help on a more sustainable basis?” Gordon said. “Logistics has a lot to offer when it comes to humanitarian relief.”
When he spoke to the people on the ground in Ukraine, it was clear to him that there was a great need for items like food and medical supplies. As he and his partners tried to figure out how to get these supplies where they were needed, Gordon discovered there were no organizations focused on the supply chain to get these supplies into the country.
So that’s when he set up The Ukraine Logistics Coalition.
What does The Ukraine Logistics Coalition do?
“We just started rolling up our sleeves and started doing the work,” Gordon said.
This meant talking to people on the ground to determine what they needed; finding suppliers of medical, food or other goods; and finding transportation companies that could donate trucking, air, warehousing and other capabilities.
To date, he said, “we have raised or donated over $22 million in medical supplies. It is not enough, it is just a fraction of what’s needed, but it’s a start.” His goal is to scale up in the future.
What are some American logistics companies that you work with in The Ukraine Logistics Coalition?
“We are working with Brian [Bourke] at Seko and a variety of other organizations,” including Delta Cargo, Uber Freight and Everest, Gordon said.
To view a list of partners, visit logisticscoalition.org.
What are the typical lanes for humanitarian relief?
“The most common pattern is getting freight from somewhere in the U.S. It is then taken by truck to an airport, most commonly to JFK,” Gordon said. “The cargo is first flown to Warsaw, Poland, then taken by truck to Ukrainian cities.”
Has it become easier to handle humanitarian shipments compared to the beginning of the war?
“It’s easier in some respects in that there are now some predictable patterns,” he said. “The
lifeblood of transportation logistics is being able to build predictable lanes inbound and outbound.”
At the beginning of the war, there was a consensus that there was a need for humanitarian relief. “It has less urgency in the mind of the public today than it did Feb. 24,” Gordon said. “We need more people to step up and donate goods and supply chain services.”
He added that The Ukraine Logistics Coalition needs companies to donate vital medical supplies and equipment.
Gordon said Fortune 500 companies can help by donating money and supplies and by doing business and partnering with companies like Everest that provide jobs and stability for people in Ukraine.
“Keeping these people employed is an opportunity to do good and do well,” he said.
Have you seen a decrease in the number of donations?
“Many large organizations have said, ‘We’ve got this, we’re working with the U.N.,’” Gordon said.
However, when he spoke to multiple Ukrainian groups and asked them about their experiences with the U.N., none had received any medical supplies from the organization. “I don’t know where this is going, but it is not getting to the Ukrainian people in need.”
Can you tell us about your recent visits to Washington?
“I have made a couple of trips to D.C. in the last four months,” Gordon said. On a recent trip, he met with Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, among others. In prior meetings, he met with U.S. Agency for International Development leadership, Senate leadership and staff.
He summarized the discussions as:
- There is broad interest in doing more to help.
- People in Washington are trying to figure out what they can do.
- It’s up to us to translate goodwill into good actions.
“All of us can lobby our senators and members of Congress and ask them to do more, whether
that’s supporting appropriations for humanitarian processes or defense or other purposes,” he said.
In August 2021, Cambridge Capital acquired a majority stake in Everest Transportation Systems, which had over 150 employees working from Kyiv. Have you had any regrets about investing in Everest?
“No second thoughts about investing. I think Everest is a great company,” said Gordon, who believes Everest can be five to 10 times bigger over the next few years. “By the way, the business is doing great notwithstanding everything.”
What are the plans for the office in Kyiv?
“Everest is not leaving Ukraine,” Gordon said.