Chester Tong is the founder, President, and CEO of MSL Express, Inc., a respected industry leader with a great global reputation. MSL Express, Inc. is also a proud USPAACC member.
Serving over 55 countries with like-minded and owner-operated partners around the world, MSL Express delivers transportation service excellence, generating nearly $7 million in annual revenues, and continually setting the standard in global business transportation and logistics excellence by ocean, air, and surface by rail/truck, imports, and exports.
In 2022, USPAACC announced Chester Tong and MSL Express, Inc., as recipients of its Fast 50 Asian American Business Excellence Award during their annual CelebrASIAN Business + Procurement Conference, America’s largest and longest-running business development conference convened by Pan Asian Americans. USPAACC’s Fast 50/100 Asian American Businesses Program shines a spotlight on the outstanding achievements of the fastest-growing Asian American-owned businesses.
USPAACC recently caught up with Mr. Tong to ask how attending CelebrASIAN helped him connect with PepsiCo. Our conversation with Mr. Tong has been edited for length.
USPAACC: Mr. Tong, it’s great reconnecting with you.
Mr. Tong: Nice to talk with you.
USPAACC: Can you share a little about your background and how CelebrASIAN made a major impact on your company, MSL Express, Inc.?
Mr. Tong: I emigrated from Hong Kong to the United States in 1988, and soon started my company, MSL Express, Inc. I joined USPAACC 16 years ago to help make connections and grow my business. As a businessman, I attended lots of conferences and met with thousands of business people.
I attended my first USPAACC conference, which was CelebrASIAN, over 16 years ago. I rented a car and drove all the way from the Napa Valley to San Francisco, where CelebrASIAN was being held.
In the afternoon, I heard PepsiCo Vice President Jim Costa speak about the corporation’s serious challenges in shipping their machineries. The main problem was that the equipment being shipped was too large. In some cases, the equipment (used to produce snack products) was as big as half the size of an entire conference room.
Jim shared that the shipping lines were either unwilling or unable to ship items of that immense size. So, PepsiCo would have to instead book with a private carrier, and that entailed a long and expensive process. It was taking a month or so to ship the equipment out and it just wasn’t efficient. Jim said nobody was helping PepsiCo enough with shipping and it was a big problem for them.
After his remarks, I took the initiative and gave Jim Costa my business card, saying MSL Express and I could be helpful. Now, in the back of my mind, I thought “Hey, this is the Vice President of PepsiCo! Who do I think I am?” But I took a chance and made the connection.
About a week later, I received a call from Darric Hall, Senior Director, PepsiCo that they had heard from Jim Costa that MSL Express and I could be the solution to the shipping challenge. Darric Hall (Director of Procurement, International Capital, and MRO for Pepsico) set up a meeting with me at their headquarters in Purchase, New York. We had a good conversation, Jim Costa stopped in to say hello, and I got to meet with the entire PepsiCo team.
As a result of our meeting, I connected with PepsiCo’s supplier in California and asked how I could be of assistance. Members of my team met with Heat and Control, a wholly owned family business of U.S. and Australian. Heat and Control representatives said my team members were “Sent from PepsiCo to help them ship all over the world.” That meeting went very well, and PepsiCo’s team’s recommendation was vital.
The shipping logistics were significant due to the oversize nature of the items. We managed to book with a carrier and successfully ship it out within a week (previously it had taken other companies a minimum of a month or longer). Heat and Control was extremely impressed and that was the start of our 15-year relationship with Heat and Control and handling PepsiCo business from the U.S. to South Africa, Taiwan, India, and other global destinations. When they found we were reliable, knowledgeable, and cost competitive, coupled with our speed in shipping their equipment, they were extremely pleased. Making that connection and building that relationship resulted in $500,000-$3 million annually for my company, MSL Express, Inc.
USPAACC: How else has USPAACC membership helped you?
Mr. Tong: USPAACC membership is critical for my business, and for any business. It successfully opened the doors to all Fortune 500 companies, as well as
the 600 fellow members that I met during my very first CelebrASIAN. We also had 3-4 USPAACC members using our services. Membership made a big difference. We as members of USPAACC must always remember that it isn’t always about getting help but also helping others. I like to think that we at MSL have contributed to the success of USPAACC a little bit whether via scholarship programs, hosting events, and sharing the “How to” to other Asian businesses trying to break through.
We all must remember to pay it back, and not to forget the overall mission of USPAACC.
USPAACC: What would you say to anyone that might still be deciding whether to attend USPAACC’s CelebrASIAN June 6-8 in Las Vegas?
Mr. Tong: I would tell them “GO!” because CelebrASIAN can be a game changer for them just like it was for me! USPAACC’s CelebrASIAN is helpful, and open to all members to meet with the Fortune 500/Fortune 1000 companies supporting USPAACC. Attendees are professionals on corporate supplier diversity teams, and they want us to connect with their companies. I was lucky in having been able to connect with the senior PepsiCo team there when I attended CelebrASIAN 16 years ago in San Francisco. Also, at the same time, among fellow members for MBEs (Minority Business Enterprises), CelebrASIAN is a must-attend event. Beyond the connections of the various business networks, there is also the opportunity to learn, and share experiences. These experiences are critical to understanding there is a way to “Win.”
USPAACC: Anything else you would like to add about USPAACC programming?
Mr. Tong: Yes, the ATM (Asian Trade Mission) that USPAACC organized was incredibly impactful. There have been 4-5 ATMs, all of them sponsored by several Fortune 500 companies such as PepsiCo. During our India and China ATM, PepsiCo would introduce us and other MBEs, and offer their services. We met with big suppliers in India and China, and we have done lucrative PepsiCo business in India as a direct result of that ATM. Overall, USPAACC’s ATMs were successful.
I want to stress USPAACC is not just a North American play but a Global play, meaning think beyond borders, don’t limit yourself because of your zip code.
(USPAACC: Other corporations who sponsored our ATMs were General Motors, Intel, IBM. Also in Guanzhou, the U.S. Consulate General Mr. Robert Goldberg and Mrs. Goldberg hosted a reception in their home for the USPAACC delegation. In New Delhi, the Commissioner of Transportation hosted an afternoon tea at his home for our delegation.)
USPAACC: Any concluding thoughts about USPAACC and its leadership?
Mr. Tong: I like to say that Susan Allen (USPAACC CEO and National President) is my long-lost sister (laughs)! Susan is also from Hong Kong, and we talk with each other in Cantonese. We started a strong professional relationship from day one. Susan always has great energy, great leadership, and great ideas on how to approach major companies, how to sell, and how to put USPAACC members in the picture to best offer our services.
USPAACC: What does the future hold for you and MSL Express, Inc.?
Mr. Tong: I’m retiring this July, after 35 years, and gifting the business to my staff, three of whom have been with my company for 26 years. I have lots of loyal, hardworking team members. I’ll remain as an advisor to the team. I also want to mention my wife, Lily Tong, no question without Lily MSL would never have succeeded. I certainly would not have. Putting up with my travel, work hours, stress, missed birthdays, etc.; I could not have asked for a more supportive and loving partner.
USPAACC: Congratulations! What will your next chapter be?
Mr. Tong: My next chapter, post-retirement, will be travel. My wife and I are looking forward to it! We will stay active in support to the Asian community to have an impact where and when it is needed.
USPAACC: Thank you, Mr. Tong.
Mr. Tong: You’re welcome.
USPAACC’s CelebrASIAN Business + Procurement Conference 2023: BREAKTHROUGH takes place June 6-8 at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino. Register for CelebrASIAN at CelebbrASIANConference.com.