“It was an air cargo year”
Many a global logistics service provider is re-positioning itself in this age of internationalisation and digitalisation. The long-established company Röhlig from Bremen (Germany) is no exception. Its board member Ulrike Baum spoke to Christian Doepgen about the challenges facing an independent international brand, its organisational restructuring, and how it keeps its employees on board.
Ms Baum, why was 2017 better for Röhlig than initially expected?
We were careful with our projections, on account of the dissolution of our joint venture with Gebrüder Weiss; we knew that plenty of investment in international regions and in IT was required. We now see the growth we generated as a great success, especially as we divested ourselves of some business early on.
In November Röhlig refashioned its organisational structure as well as its executive management team. What goals were you aiming at?
The basic idea, of establishing a regional structure, came about as two board members decided to leave the body. This approach allows us to manage entities in more than 30 countries.
What are the regional units made up of?
We haven’t completed the process yet. My colleague Hylton Gray, who is in charge of air, sea, contract and project logistics, is simultaneously also in charge of most of the regions. The regions Latin America and Southern Europe (Spain, France, Italy) were added to my tasks as chief human resource officer (CHRO).
Does Röhlig prioritise international expansion, or product structure?
These don’t contradict each other. In the context of our brand presence, for example in Asia, it was very helpful to be able to build on a product base.
Has the separation from your joint venture partner been completed?
It’s definitely been successfully concluded now. Business has developed satisfactorily, so we’re proud of this successful project. The IT system is in place, we’ve invested in our sales activities, and we’ve generated additional business. Northern China will be one of our foci in 2019. The new spirit that this tour de force has generated has already been suitably celebrated in the group with our ‘Ö day’.
Transforming firms from classic forwarders into digital supply chain service providers is absolutely essential these days. Where do you stand in this process?
Digitalisation is a core subject in Röhlig too. We’re seeking to maintain a balance between innovation and customers who lay great store by individual services. The question is – how do our customers want to communicate in future? We’re present in the market with our tracking and tracing software, called ‘real time’, which we developed ourselves. We’re now working on providing quotes online.
How did 2018 go for Röhlig?
We certainly increased our gross profit in 2018. Our decision to operate more inde- pendently has provided us with new customer relations. In the airfreight segment we generated greater volumes; you can say that it was an air cargo year. Throughput in the maritime freight sector developed solidly, but the margins remain under pressure. It’s more difficult to satisfy clients today than it used to be, as the available freight space in the market has declined.
How are things going in other fields?
We invested substantially in our contract logistics activities and are very pleased with our ‘footprint’ in the field. There is still room for improvement in terms of the result. Our project logistics team is a core units and has developed solidly. Röhlig already invested in a team in the United Kingdom three years ago.
What sets you apart when it comes to new recruits and support for employees?
We’ve always sought to keep employees on board and support them wherever possible. Our trainee, management, exchange and leadership programmes motivate our people and help keep fluctuations in the valuable human resource sector low. There is a great interest in these solutions in China too, where our network initially enabled us to gain new recruits rapidly in the launch phase. The programmes are in demand because we have many ambitious colleagues. Many people in China and Hong Kong are satisfied that Röhlig also supports events there, for example.
What is your firm’s strategy through to the year 2020 and beyond?
We’ve attained the growth targets we set ourselves in the context of our ‘blue future’ scheme. We’re positioning the firm for the years to 2030 and will formulate this strategy in 2019. Röhlig’s operational and financial independence are the cornerstones of this approach, naturally enough.