In greater detail 02/19

Equally Important

Maintaining the balance between progress and continuity

Michael Brockhaus and Michael Viefers are two of the most experienced Members of the Management Board in the Rhenus world. One of them is a third-party logistics specialist, the other one an expert in port logistics and trimodal bulk commodity transport operations. In an interview with Astrid Unverricht, they talk about the way that Rhenus is developing, the process of change, an innovative spirit and the significance of sustainability.

Mr Viefers, when you started working for Rhenus, you were just 30 years young. How has Rhenus changed over the decades?
Viefers: Fortunately, diametrically opposed to my head of hair! But seriously, Rhenus has grown strongly in terms of its turnover in absolute terms, its portfolio of services and its presence in different countries.
Brockhaus: When I started in 2002, our business sites were located along the German waterway network. We now have more than 660 branches on every continent – and we’re continuing to expand.

What do you particularly appreciate in your work as Members of the Management Board?
Viefers: Definitely the variety of the tasks. Logistics specialists operate across a large number of departments and experience the change taking place in a wide variety of sectors and regions. If we can help shape things a little in the process – all the better.

Many managers only stay at a company for a few years and then look for new challenges. What has kept you both at Rhenus for so long?
Brockhaus: Logistics is simply a very exciting business. We’re continuously developing new solutions to satisfy what the market demands and our customers require. I also appreciate the entrepreneurial freedom provided by our family business and our success as a team.
Viefers: The ongoing process of change means that we’re permanently facing new challenges at Rhenus - for example, through demographic development, digitalisation or new statutory requirements. There are also so many different companies in our Group that you don’t need to go looking elsewhere.

Change is a key word: how has the Contract Logistics business area adapted during the past few years?
Brockhaus: Our customers expect us to act in a much more flexible manner and the set-up times for projects are now significantly shorter than they were just a few years ago. After signing an agreement in the past, you could start by constructing a building – nowadays, you must have the suitable logistics warehouse ready for use when you sign the deal. It’s also much harder to plan your business for several years, because our customers are naturally subject to the process of change too.

Equally important

How important is change for the long-term success of a company?

Viefers: Nothing is as constant as change! Changes – preferably initiated by us – form the heart of our corporate activities. That’s the only way to be successful.

Despite changes, Rhenus places great importance on long-term relations whether this involves customers, partners or even employees. Why is continuity just as important?
Brockhaus: Launching projects requires a great deal of energy and huge investments - for us and our customer. If we gain experience and discover new things together, based on our ongoing cooperation, this gives rise to a partnership. We’re then able to implement future ideas faster, as well as respond to and resolve occasional problems more easily.

Does continuity not hinder progress sometimes?
Brockhaus: The temptation definitely exists - the notorious comfort zone has its appeal. On the other hand, it’s much easier to risk doing something new based on the continuity of the underlying conditions, because we have a good grip on the surrounding activities. I’ve seen many employees who are actively seeking to make progress during recent times – and not just calling for it. If this takes place across all the business areas, then that excites me. After all, a team is able to offer far more skills than any individual could do alone.

Which innovations are currently being introduced at Rhenus?
Brockhaus: In addition to continuously expanding our IT services, we’re mainly supporting projects that increase the flow of information, efficiency and health and safety at work at the moment - while reducing the workload for our employees at the same time.
Viefers: Digitalisation is playing a huge role. We’ve been developing a completely new in-house IT landscape for our intermodal operations for several years. We’ve already introduced apps for customers and drivers so that we can automatically issue time slots at the terminals. The next stage will involve automating the container hubs. We’re also promoting similar things in our port operations and transport department, where we’re developing our own apps for calculation and booking platforms.

Change is a key word

How are you promoting an innovative spirit in your employees?
Brockhaus: Employees are often excited by new developments themselves, because they can see how efficiently they work and how they improve services for the customer. We’ve established a platform that enables all our employees to participate in our innovations and share their experiences openly across the company. We’ve also introduced innovation sponsorships.

Who specifically benefits from these sponsorships?
Brockhaus: Innovations cost time and often money, especially at the outset. To ensure that our branches don’t have to decide between their operating profits and innovations, we make a budget available. We’re currently using this to support more than 25 projects valued at more than EUR 1 million - but more money is always available for good ideas.

Will you dare to look into the crystal ball: how will Rhenus continue to develop during the coming decade?
Viefers: I’m convinced that we’ll continue our growth process in the long term. At the same time, it will be necessary to rethink matters in some business units - in the field of fossil fuels, for example. However, I’m confident that we’ll manage to successfully meet the demands of digitalisation and combat the effects of demographic change.
Brockhaus: We’ll be even more international in ten years from now and help our customers achieve a greater market share with specific solutions for their projects. We’ll also be a company for our employees, where they can develop their skills and help shape their own future as well as the future of Rhenus.

Michael Brockhaus has been a Member of the Rhenus Group Management Board for 17 years and is therefore the longestserving member of this Board. Before he joined Rhenus in September 2002, the business graduate had worked for the Boston Consulting Group and Stinnes AG. As a Member of the Rhenus Group Management Board, Michael Brockhaus is now responsible for the Warehousing Solutions and Automotive business units.

Michael Viefers has been part of the Rhenus family for more than a quarter of a century. The graduate agricultural engineer initially managed the Rhenus Recycling branch in Essen at the age of 30. He became a managing director in 2003. He was appointed to the Rhenus Group Management Board with responsibility for the Port Logistics business area in May 2005.

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