Interview 01/17

Grown up in the network

RHENUS BULGARIA CELEBRATES ITS 25TH ANNIVERSARY

1991 was a year of change: the Soviet Union collapsed, the Second Gulf War ended and the European Union decided to introduce a common currency. The Scorpions picked up the mood at the time with their song “Wind of Change”. The year also witnessed the founding of a company, which formed the foundation stone for Rhenus in Bulgaria. Alexander Gechev, Managing Director of Rhenus in Bulgaria, looks back on an emotional quarter of a century in an interview with Astrid Unverricht.

Rhenus Bulgaria

BaseBulgarien
 - Plovdiv - Varna - Sofia - Burgas -
 The origins of the national company go back to the early 1990s. The first weekly scheduled services operated between Bulgaria and Germany. Rhenus now has three warehouses at the airport in Sofia and two branches in Plovdiv and Varna. Rhenus also operates offices and warehouse centres in Sofia, Varna and Burgas.

City Sofia

Mr Gechev, first of all, warm congratulations on the 25th anniversary of your company last year. Can you remember the early stages of setting up the firm?

Alexander Gechev: Of course! The company was founded precisely on 1 November 1991. We were still part of the Hamann Group at that time, a freight forwarding company with its headquarters in Hilden near Düsseldorf. The first groupage freight services therefore operated between the German cities of Hamburg, Hilden, Frankfurt and Munich and our Bulgarian capital, Sofia.

How did things then progress?

Alexander Gechev: One important development stage was the takeover by the logistics company Interspe. This gave birth to the Interspe Hamann Group (IHG), which developed into one of the leading overland shipping firms in Europe with 5,000 employees during the 1990s. We also constructed our first own logistics terminal in Bulgaria at the airport in Sofia at this time.

Map Sofia and PlowdiwLocation Rhenus Logistics

The year when your national company was established also coincided with the fall of the Iron Curtain. What did this mean for your work in Bulgaria?

Alexander Gechev: I’ve worked with companies and countries outside the so-called Soviet bloc since my first working day in 1980. I travelled and conducted business on a free market economy basis without any restrictions as a result of the Iron Curtain. From my point of view, the changes since the 1990s have been more social and political.

What changed when the Interspe Hamann Group was taken over by Rhenus in 2006?

Alexander Gechev: We became much larger and more powerful as a group. Rhenus and IHG together had 200 business sites in Europe. At the same time, the integration of IHG within the Rhenus network formed the basis for the Freight Logistics business area at Rhenus. Naturally, this kind of strong corporate group and the extensive network provide benefits for any national company too.

Were you also able to expand operations in Bulgaria through this?

Alexander Gechev: That’s correct. We then built a second company logistics terminal close to the airport in Sofia and later a third terminal in Bulgaria’s second-largest city, Plovdiv. Other offices and warehouses were added at a later date.

Shortly after Rhenus took over IHG, Bulgaria became a member of the European Union on 1 January 2007. What effects did this political event have on the work of Rhenus in Bulgaria?

Alexander Gechev: It simplified our activities and opened the doors for the Bulgarian economy to attract foreign investments. I’m expecting further positive developments in Bulgaria in future too.

Your first transport services for goods were with Germany. With which countries do you exchange most goods nowadays?

Alexander Gechev: Germany is still important – but Italy, the Czech Republic and Turkey are too.

Is Rhenus a well-known brand in Bulgaria now?

Alexander Gechev: Yes, very well-known, in fact. We’re very well integrated in the Rhenus network and the market players appreciate us. I’m proud to say that Rhenus Bulgaria is a company, which is respected by many players in the transport and logistics sector and which they select as their partner.

Map Warna & BurgasPort Warna

Which sectors provide your most important customers?

Alexander Gechev: We work, for example, for automobile manufacturers, the pharmaceutical and chemical industry, furniture stores, metal processing, paper production, engineering and plant construction firms and the retail business.

What exactly do you offer your customers?

Alexander Gechev: In contrast to the early days, we now provide services on many international routes. They include part and complete loads to and from all the European countries and Turkey, Iran and the Middle East. We also handle multimodal transport services via the Black Sea, container transportation and handling, customs activities, B2C transport operations for furniture items and warehouse logistics with temperature-controlled areas for the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.

Portrait Alexander Gechev

Alexander Gechev

WorkplaceBulgaria
Born in1954
Home citySofia
 The managing director of Rhenus Bulgaria was born in the capital
Sofia in 1954. He gained his Master of Sciences degree in economics
and logistics at the University of Sofia and gained his first
professional experience as a scheduler at SO MAT; following other
company and management positions involving stints in Bulgaria,
Turkey, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt and Libya, he rose through
the ranks to become managing director. He has been working for
Rhenus and its predecessor companies in Bulgaria since 1991 and
has been managing the company’s development for more than a
quarter of a century.

The managing director of Rhenus Bulgaria was born in the capital Sofia in 1954. He gained his Master of Sciences degree in economics and logistics at the University of Sofia and gained his first professional experience as a scheduler at SO MAT; following other company and management positions involving stints in Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt and Libya, he rose through the ranks to become managing director. He has been working for Rhenus and its predecessor companies in Bulgaria since 1991 and has been managing the company’s development for more than a quarter of a century.

That all sounds very varied and complex. What kind of problems and challenges have you faced during the past 25 years?

Alexander Gechev: I don’t like the word ‘problem’ – I prefer to talk about unsettled issues that have to be resolved. Of course, there have repeatedly been challenges down through the years, but we’ve overcome them. I’d include the development of the Rhenus infrastructure in Bulgaria and the opening of our administrative office at the port of Varna here.

A company’s greatest asset is its employees. Do you agree with this?

Alexander Gechev: Definitely. Several generations successfully work together for us. We’re always looking for well-trained young people and we’re an attractive employer. However, our long-standing employees are one of the mainstays of our corporate success; some of them have been working at our company for more than 20 years.

What opportunities do you offer employees within your company?

Alexander Gechev: It’s our goal to spot and encourage talented people. This includes both developing young people and providing further training. We have many examples of young employees, who started their careers with us, initially supported a team and later trained to become experts. Rhenus needs people with expert knowledge, but also with a sense of loyalty to the company.

Airport Sofia

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