Interview with Marc Geerts, CEO of Corneel Geerts Transportgroup NV
Trucking on with the third generation of hauliers
Managing succession from one generation to the next is a process that all family companies must periodically face. For road haulage and logistics specialist Corneel Geerts Transportgroup NV in Belgium, 2020 is the year that the third generation takes over the reins and is entrusted with steering the company’s future course. Departing CEO, Marc Geerts, has every confidence that his three sons are more than capable of rising to the challenge of helming a family company with three strategic hubs in Belgium, 200 employees and annual turnover of 25 million EUR.
EB: Mr. Geerts, at 58 your retirement could be classified as early. Why have you decided to step down at this point in time?
Marc Geerts: Well, I have worked very hard from the age of 14 to now, and I want to enjoy my grandchildren while I am still able to. I joined the company formally in 1982, starting off in planning, then moving into sales and finally management. I feel very proud to have been part of a success story that started off with my father in 1962 and now continues with my sons Sven, Kevin and Kenneth. I will continue to look after our marketing activities, but am more than happy to hand over responsibility for everything else.
EB: How have you stamped your mark on the company during your 35 years at the helm?
Marc Geerts: I was the one to adapt to the rising demand in the sector for multimodal/intermodal transport. While longer distances can be covered more efficiently using rail freight, the first and final mile will always have to be covered by truck. I was instrumental in structuring our activities so that this was possible.
More generally, I have overseen the significant expansion of our service from a local player to an international operator. We have parlayed our more than 50 years of experience in the business into an international presence. We have three strategic hubs in Belgium acting as a gateway to Europe, a further hub in Venlo in the Netherlands, and twelve partners in the Benelux countries, with additional subsidiaries in Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria to cover the east/west axis. We are also a member of the International Forwarding Association (IFA), a leading network of European logistics operators. Transports through the network account for 40% of our business while subcontractors complete 20% of transports on our behalf.
EB: How has the business evolved more recently?
Marc Geerts: The biggest change has come from the transformation from freight forwarder to logistics provider. We have been experiencing annual growth of between 10 and 15% thanks to the added-value services we now provide. These include warehousing, packaging and labeling, cross-docking, order-picking and local express delivery. Since the acquisition of a logistics site in Maasmechelen, we now have over 20,000 m² of storage space, ADR certification and space for 4,000 pallets. We have come to specialize in integrated logistics solutions for palletized goods and are proud to offer solutions to clients that have been let down elsewhere. That is a major part of the ethos of a family company – the willingness to go the extra mile for the client.
EB: What effect is digital transformation having on your business? Most operators in the sector now use track and trace software. How have you coped with the digital revolution and used its advantages?
Marc Geerts: That is an area where I am very grateful that I have three sons who have grown up in the digital age. If each generation of the family has been innovative in their own way, then my sons’ specialism is IT. They took over responsibility for our in-house IT department to bring it up to date with our own transport management system. It allows clients to track their shipments and receive alerts in the case of delays while our warehouses are equipped with the latest scanning technology and a tried-and-tested online inbound and outbound system. Small and medium-sized clients can log into our system with a password and track everything related to their shipment, from planning to evaluation of delivery times. It is also possible to analyse the transport cost per customer per country. This is valuable information that allows us to show clients how to combine shipments in the future and reduce costs.
EB: I think you will agree that price pressure is one of the biggest challenges facing European freight forwarders. How are you dealing with the rising pressure to cut costs to the bone?
Marc Geerts: Customers for whom price is their only selection criterion will always find someone who is cheaper. For us and our customers, quality is the main criterion. However, in the face of this undeniable pressure, our response is to maximize efficiency by ensuring that vehicles do not make any trips empty. Through our cooperation with others in the network, we have a load efficiency of 96%. Here again, our IT system is essential for combining freight to yield such good results.
EB: What do you think will be the key issues affecting the freight forwarding and logistics business in the future?
Marc Geerts: The environment is a hot button topic. The sector is finding solutions and is expected to do more. My personal opinion is that electrical transport is only feasible for shorter distances. And, while diesel is actually cleaner than ever, I think that in the next ten years, we will make the switch to hydrogen-fuelled engines.