Simple and Effective Materials Handling Solutions with Iñigo Camara

Interview with Inigo Camara, Manager of Combilift, the Irish materials handling equipment manufacturer for Spain, Portugal and Latin America.

In this episode of Interlinks we talk to Inigo Camara, Manager of the region encompassing Spain, Portugal and Latin America for the Irish materials handling equipment manufacturer, Combilift.

Combilift, based in Monaghan, Ireland, is one of the most innovative materials handling equipment companies in the world and now has over 60.000 units operational in some 90 countries. The company prides itself on its innovation philosophy based on simplicity and practicality and the desire to bring tailored materials handling solutions to customers for the most diverse applications.

In this interview, Inigo provides us with a perspective on the field of of logistics and supply chain from the Spanish-speaking world, the differences in business cultures between Europe and Latin America, and how the supply chain crisis is affecting the logistics operations of businesses across all sectors.

Click to read transcript

Patrick Daly:

Hello, this is Patrick Daly and welcome to Interlinks. Interlinks is a program about connections, international business, supply chains and globalization, and the effects have on our life, our work and our travel in today’s world.

Patrick Daly:

Today on the show we will be talking to Inigo Camara, manager for the region encompassing Spain, Portugal and Latin America for the Irish materials handling equipment manufacturer Combilift. Combilift is based in Monaghan, here in Ireland, and is one of the most innovative materials handling equipment companies in the world. And there was over 60,000 units operational in some 90 countries.

Patrick Daly:

So delighted to have Inigo here with us today to talk about the world of logistics and supply chain from the point of view of the Spanish speaking world. So very welcome Inigo. Thanks for being here with us today.

Inigo Camara:

Thank you very much for this opportunity, Patrick. Thank you.

Patrick Daly:

You’re very welcome. You’re very welcome. So could you tell me a little bit about your career to date and how you came to be working for an Irish company? I understand you’re originally from Northern Spain, but maybe you’ll tell us a little bit about that. But how did you come to be work for an Irish company and representing that company in Spain, Portugal and Latin America?

Inigo Camara:

Yeah, well, it is funny because it was the company who was working for me initially. Now it’s me who’s working for the company. I used to be a customer, a Combilift customer and this is the reason.

Inigo Camara:

So I met Combilift when I needed for a family business, which was a timber and building materials warehouses in the north of Spain. So I met Combilift on an exhibition that was early 2001 when I was designing new warehouses. So I started convincing my partners about the need of Combilift for this business, and the success was incredible.

Inigo Camara:

Now after that, because that’s when I already met this Combilift family, they told me one day that they were looking for some help for the Spanish to cover the Spanish-speaking markets. And I thought it was a great opportunity because of the mentality of Combilift. So yeah, it is funny. I started working for Combilift where Combilift was working for me. Yeah. But delighted, I have to say at this point.

Patrick Daly:

I have to say, Inigo, there’s a distinct Irish accent there in your English. Where did that come from?

Inigo Camara:

Yeah, well that’s a bit of my mother’s fault, I should say. Yeah. But she’s Irish. So half of my family is Irish. Actually they’re from Dublin. So that’s where it would come from. Yeah. Yeah. Correct.

Patrick Daly:

So Spanish mother, sorry excuse me. Irish mother, Spanish father.

Inigo Camara:

Yeah. That is correct. Yeah. That is correct. Yeah. [crosstalk 00:03:03] Exactly.

Patrick Daly:

Interesting. Interesting. So what are the products and services that Combilift provides in the markets, in Spain and Portugal and Latin America? Because I know it’s a very innovative company, so what are the stand out products?

Inigo Camara:

Oh, it’s a nice question because it’s more the philosophy than the products on their own. And what I mean by that is that when you ask me about the products, I’ll say there are no limits. I mean, I can visit any type of customer and I will not go with brochure to know what I’m going to sell to this customer. We always go with an open mind to see what the customer does. And that is what has brought us up to date. Where we have so many different models for so many different applications. And this comes from this mentality.

Inigo Camara:

So it’s not that much about this model or this other model. It’s about the mentality of going to a customer, listen to the customer and leave that customer without a solution sometimes to get angry. And they said, “I thought you were coming to show me something.” And I said, “No, no. I came to understand what you were doing.”

Inigo Camara:

“But what are you going to show?”

Inigo Camara:

“I don’t know. Give me a couple of days and we’ll think about it and we’ll come back to you.” So customers are used to a salesman appeal, showing a brochure, showing a model and giving the price. And the mentality of Combilift is totally different. I mean, we do want to give each customer the time that each customer requires. And this is the big difference. It’s not that much about models, that not other [inaudible 00:04:49] brand has the big brand that we will have, that all the models that we have, but it is the philosophy, I think. Open mind.

Patrick Daly:

Very good. Very interesting. You mentioned Latin America is part of your remit, if you like. So which Latin American countries are we talking about specifically? And what do you see as the main differences between say the market in Spain, Portugal on the one side and Latin America on the other?

Inigo Camara:

Yes. Well, we’re speaking about Latin America. I cover all Latin America except Brazil. We have our own team only for Brazil because in Brazil they speak their own language. Brazilian-Portuguese. We have Rafael Kessler over there managing that country.

Inigo Camara:

Myself is more involved in all the rest of the countries from Mexico to Chile or south of Argentina, if you like. Except Brazil. So we have right now up to date, I’d say machines in every single country. Latin America, every country. And so I’d say we have already close to 2,000 machines in Latin America.

Inigo Camara:

Differences between Latin America and Europe would be the time decision. The time they need to make a decision and place an order. But regarding the rest, the world has come in the last years more a bit of the same. And what I mean by that is that the problem that I found in Spain with a concrete company 10 years ago or five years ago, it’s exactly the same problem because it’s the same product that they are doing right now. Let’s say like in Peru or in Colombia. So in that way, you do see that global part of the world, how it is right now much more the same as it was. Twenty years ago I would go to any of these countries and I would see a big difference. Right now you land in any country and it’s much more like the same.

Patrick Daly:

So beginning to converge in a universal business culture, that kind of thing.

Inigo Camara:

Correct. Yes. Correct.

Patrick Daly:

So we’ve all heard a lot lately about the ongoing international supply chain crisis. How is this manifesting itself in the markets that you operate in and how is it actually changing the strategies of the businesses you work with in terms of their warehousing materials handling operations?

Inigo Camara:

Well, it has effect on the way that lead times have increased a lot. I mean, we were speaking out, in working with Combilift for 20 years, 12 to 14 weeks lead time. Right now we are in 47, 48 weeks lead time, depending on the models.

Inigo Camara:

And I have to say we would be one of the best lead times in the forklift business because our machines they try to be more simple. So we try to run away from the latest development. So we want to sell … how would we say, simple and robust machines. And this is something that has helped us be. But there is no doubt that that has been a big change in the last three years.

Inigo Camara:

And funny that you would think that this has affect the orders. And it’s just the opposite. It’s not only the lead time, it’s also the pricing has come up a lot. And at the same time, the sales have come higher than ever. Hard to explain but this is where we are right now.

Patrick Daly:

I don’t know, perhaps I’m seeing that most everything that has happened over the last number of years, some of those issues with COVID and here this part of the world with Brexit and with the war in Ukraine now, and the trade wars and so on, that it seems to be driving more demand to hold more inventory closer to the point of use. And that seems to be driving extra warehouse infrastructure. And if you have extra warehouse infrastructure, you need materials handling equipment. So maybe that’s what’s happening.

Inigo Camara:

But there’s another word. Sustainability. And this fights against because people need more warehouses, more space. And at the end of the day it goes one with the other. So that is true. That is a fact that help us, that we are helping our customers to improve and save the space and save times of loading and unloading.

Inigo Camara:

And so yes, maybe that is one of the reasons why we have growth and we are growing so much lately. Because customers are thinking twice. In the past the customer needed a forklift, just get another one. Because they weren’t struggling with this situation. [crosstalk 00:10:05] But right now that they are, I’d say that they are thinking twice what we’re going to buy. And this means an opportunity for us that we give space to our customers.

Patrick Daly:

Okay. So how are all these changes affecting your own thinking about your own strategy for your own business?

Inigo Camara:

Right now, I’m in Mexico today and I have to fly into Mexico because we need to increase our staff considerably. I mean, we need to double our staff here. So this is how it has affected us. As I say, we have grown a lot in the last years. Since we opened, we never stopped growing. That is a fact. But in the last two years it’s been serious. And it is affecting us that we need more people.

Inigo Camara:

I mean, I am one year doing office. I used to be all time traveling. Because of the COVID I haven’t been traveling that much. But I’ve been kidnapped in front of my computer more than ever because it has grown a lot. So how is that affecting us? We’re just growing. So we need to be at the level of what the market requires of us.

Patrick Daly:

Okay. I’ve been seeing as well, I guess partly driven by COVID and problems with finding people to work in warehouses and some changes that were already there in terms of people having maybe other opportunities or the demographics changing and whatnot. So there’s a difficulty in getting people in warehousing, transport and so on.

Patrick Daly:

So we’re seeing more interest, I’m seeing with my clients a lot more interest in automation, in warehousing and materials handling. So do you think we’re looking at a rapid transformation towards automation in this space, or perhaps a more gradual change or maybe no change? What do you think?

Inigo Camara:

I think that the change is there, and the change is there for the last couple of years. Yes, definitely. But it’s not a change on every level. That’s another thing I believe. At this stage, sorry, it’s a change for big companies, not for medium or small companies yet. And it is a change more in Europe than it is in Latin America.

Inigo Camara:

There is automation in Latin America, but I’ve also seen some issues because of automation in Latin America. And this is why it goes slowly. Because the market has been, has to be ready for it. And this is something that maybe we need to improve a bit here in Latin America. But that is a fact. Automation is here. Automation has come to stay. That is a fact. But it is for certain.

Speaker 3:

93.9 Dublin South FM.

Patrick Daly:

I guess as well, and you probably see this a lot, sometimes, particularly in markets like that that aren’t ready, there are lots of other maybe innovative solutions before you get to automation. So if you’ve got one or two good examples, we mentioned earlier how innovative Combilift is, do you have one or two good examples of the type of solutions that you guys have come up with for people [inaudible 00:13:32]?

Inigo Camara:

Well, we do have AGVs. We have developed some AGVs for customers. We are not that much into automation because they are specialized companies to give the full pack on it. But our machines are that simple. And as I said, so that rubbish, that some of them are, I’d say, the right machines for doing this. [crosstalk 00:13:58] So we have developed some units for doing AGVs. Yeah.

Patrick Daly:

And outside of automation, you mentioned to me in another conversation some interesting applications, creative applications, for, I don’t know whether for containers or for moving turbine blades and stuff like- [crosstalk 00:14:21]

Inigo Camara:

Yeah. Not automated, but we do have solutions, specialized solutions, for every single market I’d say. So we do have special machines for windmills. That is something really special to work with. And we have specialized machinery for loading and moving this type of product.

Inigo Camara:

But we also have for concrete, we also have for the oil business, we have specialized machines. We have even for logistics, intralogistics. We do have special machines that go up to 50 meter height and they work on two meter [inaudible 00:15:03], even they work outdoor or indoor. So that is what makes a difference of Combilift. [crosstalk 00:15:08].

Inigo Camara:

We don’t do what there is in the market. We don’t think we are needed for that. So we always need to find a step forward on our products that make our customers to make more profit on their investments. For us, the target is not to get an order, to sell a machine. For us, the target is to help our customers to get the return of investment as soon as possible. And that customer will come back to us.

Patrick Daly:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s an interesting philosophy, and you’ve done very well with it and good for you guys.

Inigo Camara:

And it’s the funny part of it, Patrick. If I had to work with a brochure and a price list, after 20 years I’d be boring, you know?

Patrick Daly:

Yeah, yeah. You’d be boring.

Inigo Camara:

But I go with the mentality of, let’s listen to this man, what he has. And I start to make questions and then you go in the car back home and you think, how can I help this man? And then you speak with engineers.

Inigo Camara:

Now, this is something different. And this is what makes to being Combilift … I say to some colleagues sometimes, for me this is like a PlayStation thing. I mean, we need to always go farther and go farther and you never get bored. So it is very nice. It’s enjoyable, I have to say.

Patrick Daly:

I have a question for you now that I ask most guests that come on the show about globalization. I guess you and I are of an age where we’ve seen the transformation from the world, say back in the 80s, where there was the communist block over there and we were over here and then we lived through all of this economic globalization. Things opened up and international trade grew hugely over the last 30 or 40 years.

Patrick Daly:

And then more recently, say since around 2015, we’ve started to see things like Brexit and international trade wars. Then we had COVID and now we have this war in Ukraine. So what’s your own perspective on globalization? It’s advantages, it’s disadvantages, and where do you think we’re headed with it right now?

Inigo Camara:

I wouldn’t like to say better or worse. It’s just different and we need to get on it. I mean, I am from Spain. I was educated in Spain. So even Spain was, 50 years ago, closed on its own. So at the beginning a Spanish company could be independent on the way that suppliers were Spanish. So everything was more local. And you could get more solutions in front of the problems.

Inigo Camara:

Now, like today, you are more competitive because you buy cheaper, supposed to buy cheaper. But as you say, it is global. So this has made a little change on the way that we are a bit kidnapped today as we weren’t years ago. So there is a positive note and a negative note in everything. On what it was and what it is right now.

Inigo Camara:

In the last years we were hearing listen, everything’s going to this globalization. But lately in the last two years, because of the COVID, I started to hear some companies thinking we should not depend on foreign companies. And this is funny because we thought this was finished. And then suddenly you hear people speaking about it.

Inigo Camara:

So I think, you know what, everything has it’s positive and it’s negative note. And I don’t know, we will see. In the next years, where we get into it will all depend on how all the world we get on with each other. Like you are mentioning now Ukraine. Yes. Well, we are in Europe and this is why Ukraine is hitting us that much. There are other countries in war for many years. And we stop speaking about them. That is another fact. So we need to be realistic on that. So I don’t know. We will see. But we just need to analyze, well the positive and the negative of everything. Not just keep on with what there is. Yeah. Sorry.

Patrick Daly:

And I guess we need to adapt ourselves to the awful [crosstalk 00:19:35] reality, don’t we.

Inigo Camara:

Well, that’s the war. But with an open mind. It doesn’t have to be only this way. It can be also mixed up. And by that I mean that some manufacturers, because of the globalization, they depend on some certain suppliers. We ask Combilift try to have more than one supplier. Because at the end of the day, we don’t want the customer to suffer this. And at the end of the day, if you only have one supplier, it’s the cheaper, it’s the number one. But you know what, it will fail and that will affect the end user, the customers. And in that way, we from Combilift have different suppliers and we try to keep that. Because at the end of the day, our target number one is to attend to the market.

Patrick Daly:

Yeah. Yeah.

Inigo Camara:

And not be kidnapped to the suppliers or certain markets.

Patrick Daly:

That’s interesting. Interesting. So as we come into the last few minutes of the interview, I might just ask you a few questions just about yourself. What do you get up to in your spare time when you’re not working? If you have any spare time, what do you like to do?

Inigo Camara:

Well, that’s a nice point. In the last two years, I’d say it’s been, a I said, very, very busy. But yes, if I have spare time, family is what it is, Patrick. I mean, me as product manager and all the countries and the markets that I need to be responsible of, I’m responsible of, I need to be traveling all the time. So family is what takes the free, the spare time, that you would have. Yeah, definitely. Definitely.

Patrick Daly:

Yeah. Actually you mentioned as well that you’re originally from Spain. You’ve actually moved your family now to Panama because of the amount of travel and I guess the countries that you’re looking after, is that right?

Inigo Camara:

Yeah. Well, actually 10 years ago I moved. I mean, I moved 10 years ago for three years and I thought, hey, I’m going to move for three years. I’m going to settle everything on, and then I’ll come back and I can manage from Spain. But it has never stopped increasing. And this is the reason why I’m still around Panama as a resident, Panamanian resident, because it’s in the middle of every country in Latin America. So it is very helpful.

Inigo Camara:

But it is the only way that I can be more with the family. Jumping from Europe to Latin America, it does affect to the day by day. But now I’m more settled here. Kids have holidays from December to March, and that’s when I go to Europe and I coordinate to markets in Europe. Yes. Yes.

Patrick Daly:

What kind of a place is Panama to live for a European? Well I guess to Spanish speaking, so you have an advantage there. But they do speak a lot of English there also, don’t they?

Inigo Camara:

Great. I mean, Panama for me it’s the best country, no doubt, in this area to be in. Especially with the work I have, as I say. Because I’m four hours away from Mexico, but I’m four hours away from Peru. So I can be more in north, more in south, but it’s very centralized. It’s very … it’s a hub for flying. So it’s very comfortable. Direct flights everywhere. I live 2.5 minutes away from the airport, Patrick. Imagine. [crosstalk 00:22:58].

Inigo Camara:

Every week I get a flight and I’m not stressed with the traffic I’m going to get. And I have to say, it has a nice quality of life. It’s a bit expensive, that is a fact. But you can be in the street with not that sensation of risk that you could have in other countries in Latin America.

Patrick Daly:

Sure. Yeah, yeah.

Inigo Camara:

Or safety. Yeah.

Patrick Daly:

So how can listeners find out more about COmbilift in the markets you operate in, in Spain, Portugal and Latin America? Or indeed Combilift here in Ireland?

Inigo Camara:

Sorry, what was the question, Patrick?

Patrick Daly:

How can listeners find out more about Combilift and where can they find information about Combilift?

Inigo Camara:

Well, lately because of the COVID, we have increased a lot our amount of spaces in social media, like LinkedIn, Twitter, all these social media. Also we go to as much exhibitions, as many exhibitions, as we can. Different applications. But we have our own direct team in every market. And that is important.

Inigo Camara:

Other manufacturers will work with only dealers. We work with dealers in all our markets, but we also have our direct staff who will give a very professional response to every customer that needs anything. So by the internet we have, of course, our webpage. We have, as I say, LinkedIn, Twitter, all this. YouTube. But also we have personal direct people in every market.

Patrick Daly:

Interesting. Interesting. Well, thank you very much, Inigo. It’s been a pleasure talking to you today and I wish you the very best for the future.

Inigo Camara:

Thank you very much for this opportunity, Patrick. [crosstalk 00:24:53] Thank you.

Patrick Daly:

You’re very welcome, Inigo. Thanks also to our listeners for tuning in. Any comments or questions, just drop me a line on Pdaly, P-D-A-L-Y, @Albalogistics, that’s A-L-B-A Logistics, all one word, .com. So keep well and stay safe until next time.

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Patrick Daly Interlinks Podcast

Interlinks is a programme about the connections, relationships and supply chains, that underpin the globalisation of our modern world.

In each programme, we interview people from around the world including entrepreneurs, executives, academics, diplomats and politicians to get their unique perspective on globalisation as it has affected them both personally and professionally.

There is a little bit of history, a dash of economics, a sprinkling of business and an overlay of personal experience both from me and from my interviewees from around the world.

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