Q&A: Peter Hawkins of freight forwarder MELLOHAWK Logistics
Welcome to the first installment in our brand new B2BeeMembers series. In this ongoing series of blog posts, we’re going to introduce you to some of B2BeeMatch’s members. These are the people behind the businesses on B2BeeMatch—the fascinating, informative, and sometimes quirky folks who make our platform work for you. First up is Peter Hawkins!
Peter Hawkins is the co-owner and managing director of MELLOHAWK Logistics, and a co-chair of the Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce. He was named MBOT Business Person of the Year 2018, CGLCC LGBT+ Exporter of the Year 2019, and ACCES Employment Walk of Fame Winner 2020. He chairs the Professional Advisory Committee for the International Business Management Program at the Pilon School for Business at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, and sits on the board for the Centre for Global Enterprise at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto.
But there’s a lot more to Peter than awards and acronyms. Peter champions diversity and inclusion, and he spends his not-so-free time helping newcomers, students, recent graduates, women entrepreneurs, and people reentering the workforce. He is an accomplished entrepreneur who is active in international trade—but he didn’t start his career that way. Peter tells us how his English degree from Dalhousie University contributes to his business acumen, how he uses his expertise and experience to help others, and how his current career is a happy accident he owes to his long-time partner in business and life.
You’re the co-owner and managing director of MELLOHAWK Logistics, a company that provides international freight services and solutions. What got you interested in the logistics of international trade?
To be honest, I wasn’t interested in logistics. The first time I heard of a freight forwarding company was when I owned one. I had worked ten years with a publisher that was bought out by an international conglomerate, and I was given a settlement. My partner, Arnon Melo, who had just been overlooked for a promotion after ten years at his company, suggested we take my settlement and start a new company. He had studied international trade at Seneca College, so he decided to open a logistics company. It took me a while to find my role at MELLOHAWK. But now, eighteen years later, we’re still here. In fact, November 8th is our company anniversary.
You’re involved with the Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce (BCCC), several post-secondary schools, planning councils, and more! How does all this work help small and medium businesses in Canada and elsewhere? And what drives you to be so involved in the Canadian business landscape and in international trade?
This is another one of those situations where Arnon led me by the nose. Arnon is Brazilian and he is my Brazilian connection. We have been traveling to Brazil for thirty years, and over time our Brazilian business has grown—hence my involvement with the Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce. I have seen a lot of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) struggle, and I am keen to steer them in the right direction. The federal government has an Export Diversification Strategy and the goal of my participation in various chambers of commerce has been to remind potential exporters of the many possible markets for their products.
My new role on the advisory board for the Centre for Global Enterprise at the Schulich School of Business at York University is geared toward helping SMEs gain international market intelligence and helping students develop skills to find that intelligence.
My work with Sheridan College (as chair of the Professional Advisory Committee for the Pilon School of Business) and other schools has been an effort to shape the curriculum to better address the needs of the marketplace—I want to see graduates learn skills they really can use in their future careers. The nice thing is that the more students I meet, the more I’m impressed with them.
The Peel Halton Local Employment Planning Council and other central planning committees that I participate in are full of educators, civil servants, and planners who try to coordinate training and employment to meet the needs of the community.
In all these cases, I’m gratified to see how many leaders in these organizations care about the success of the participants—everyone takes it seriously.
Commerce and STEM graduates often poke fun at the humanities. But you have a BA in English from Dalhousie University, and you own an award-winning company that provides supply chain solutions for customers all over the world. How does your background in the humanities contribute to your work in the logistics of international trade? And what do you say to people who pooh-pooh the study of English, or history, or philosophy?
My education has made me a good critical thinker, a focused and detailed reader, and an engaged communicator. My education has very little to do with my business but everything to do with how I approach my business. STEM skills and business skills are two-thirds of the package, but the humanities are a necessary component for satisfaction and success—anyone who says otherwise is short-sighted. But gender bias is an ongoing issue. We still need more women in STEM programs and more of everyone in the humanities.
Anyone who follows you on LinkedIn knows that you frequently post about diversity and inclusion in international trade, and you have your pronouns clearly listed in your profile. But why is supporting women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ2 community so important to you?
I come from a small town in New Brunswick where, for the most part, we all look alike. Yet, my town was always about hospitality and welcoming strangers and the Golden Rule. As I moved into more cosmopolitan and multicultural communities like Halifax and Toronto, I never really lost that. But I have it easy. I’m a six-foot-tall white male who has never had someone look at me with fear when I got on the bus. I have never had someone shut down a job interview after fifteen minutes with a perfunctory, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I have never been denied something for no apparent reason.
As our company grew, we realized that the best staff for us was a staff of internationally trained professionals, people who knew the world and understood international trade. In fact, to date, I am the only Canadian-born person in the company. Everyone else is from somewhere else. And everyone has undergone an ordeal. Each member of our staff took a huge step in coming to Canada and had to face obstacles that I could only imagine. More and more, I realized that as job candidates, they were being judged on things that they had no idea were issues. No concerns about the job skills. The obstacles were all in the soft skills: a weak handshake, smells of cooking, an accent, a lack of small talk. I made it my mission to reveal these hidden obstacles and help job candidates overcome them—that’s one of the reasons why I volunteer as a mentor through ACCES Employment.
So, promoting diversity and inclusion is a natural part of our MO. Since MELLOHAWK Logistics has two gay owners, we got certified as part of Supplier Diversity Canada, which opened doors for us, but the irony was not lost on us that we had way more privilege than disadvantage. So we decided to use that privilege to help people, just as so many people had helped us. In my life, I had mostly women bosses who supported me, protected me, and mentored me. So when people ask why I have my pronouns on my LinkedIn page, I say it has very little to do with how I want people to treat me and much more to do with signaling to people how I will treat them—I want people to know that reaching out to me is a safe thing.