Founding member of the New Silk Road Network and an experienced player in the market for warehousing and trucking, the Huetteman Group was established in the year 1956. In sixty-three years, they have grown their business and cemented their grip in the European supply chain sector. To understand the history, legacy and their current circumstances, we spoke to Manfred Köhler, the Managing Director of the HUETTEMANN GROUP.
Sitting in his office, Mr Köhler exuded professionalism along with humbling knowledge that comes from years and years of experience. He joined the company 30 years ago and has been growing and changing with them. He believes that the reason for his commitment lies in the simple fact that the company is diverse in its functioning, which allowed him to learn and explore many different things with them.
In conversation with Mr Köhler:
NSRN: HUETTEMANN was founded in 1956; it has been more than 50 years since. What has the company’s journey been like over these years? What has been your role in the company?
Mr Köhler: It has been sixty-three years, precisely. The company was founded at a time in which Germany was recovering from the repercussions of the Second World War. It was a phase of economic boom, and the growth of the German heavy industries, such as steel. This period was a founding moment for transport, known as logistics. We are one of the companies that originated because of these conditions. The company was set up by Wolf Hüttemann along with his friend Paul Obhues. However, a few years down the line the family acquired all the shares and has since been a family run business.
Initially, HUETTEMANN was a trucking company that conducted transport within Europe. In the 70s and 80s, we expanded into forwarding and increased our abilities to buy and sell freight volumes. Soon after, we added warehouses across Europe for consumer, industrial and miscellaneous products to our portfolio. Another exciting direction the company undertook was when we began outsourcing solutions, which means that we have capabilities to take over consignment departments of various manufacturing units. Apart from these achievements, our focus has been to expand the group by purchasing other logistic companies or start shared ventures. The first subsidiary was a company from the Netherlands which we developed to one of our very successful facilities – Rabelink Logistics – including subsidiaries in Romania. Though situated in lots of different German cities as well, evidently 50 percent of our turnover is made outside of Germany.
I joined in the 1990s and have been a part of the HUETTEMANN GROUP ever since. A lot of people wondered why I never switched to any other company, but for me it was not a question: Our group is very diversified, and it gave me countless opportunities to develop. Not a single side of the company does the exact same, we engage with a variety of different industries, and that is what has kept me involved over all these years. Besides, being a family owned and lead business, the values of trust, reliability and stability are at the core of the company and are practiced internally and externally day by day. That is another reason why I feel at home with HUETTEMANN.
Our head office is situated in Duisburg, with operational setups across Europe. We are trying to grow our business with Chinese companies and to do that I had visited China with a delegation from Europe with the Mayor of Duisburg as well. To my surprise, I realised that Duisburg is one of the most famous German cities in China, besides Berlin. For this reason, Duisburg is a significant location and it also permits us to expand ourselves in rail freight, which is booming here.
NSRN: Has the Covid-19 crisis impacted your business in any way? What are the steps you have taken to cope with it?
Mr Köhler: It would be mysterious if a company were not affected by the coronavirus crisis. So yes, we see some impact. For example, our toy logistics faced troubles as stores have shut completely. We were hoping for e-commerce to compensate the decline of retail business, but it did not. There is also trouble with trucking, as there were too many trucks and too few shipments. At the same time, our foreign truck drivers could not get to their vehicles here in Germany due to travel bans. There is a rest period for every driver, after which they get back to their trucks. Unfortunately, the drivers were being stopped at the border or quarantined, causing some confusion for us. However, on the other hand, our food transport is very stable and continuing to do well. We had also conducted air freight of medical supplies from China to Hamburg a few weeks ago. But we are adapting daily and keeping track with the developments surrounding corona. It is not just coronavirus that has made us re-adapt our strategies. We have been preparing for Brexit as well, and therefore getting used to custom regulations at borders. Before the Schengen Area, we had a large customs team, and made quite some revenue from it too. So – no matter what issue comes up – in the end it is about the degree of flexibility that you can exercise. And that is something we excel in.
NSRN: Is there a piece of advice that you would like to share with our readers, members and those in the supply chain industry?
Mr Köhler: Firstly, do not lose hope even in the worst of times. Fear and hopelessness can affect your business more than the actual issues to deal with. Next, remember to adapt yourself to the situation. What we had learnt 30-40 years ago may not apply now, so therefore we need to develop the ability to think outside the box. The world has faced many perils after the Second World War, such as the fear of another war, oil depreciation, global financial crisis. Still, it has never faced something as unpredictable as a virus. Even six weeks ago, it never occurred to most of us that we would see a day like this. So, we must think outside the box and continue our businesses.