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Text: Joachim Geiger
Photos: Kube & Kubenz
Konstantin Kubenz is a thoroughbred logistics expert who set up his first transport company at the age of twelve. Back then it was just a business simulation on the computer – but the experience was undoubtedly lasting. Today, the 32-year-old is head of the European dangerous goods logistics company Kube & Kubenz. For motionist.com he takes stock and gives an outlook on where the journey is heading in the future.
“Sure, Kube & Kubenz can handle crisis. Our customers can rely on safe and sustainable transport solutions even in difficult times,” Konstantin Kubenz confirms on the phone. The voice on the other end of the line sounds confident, clear and competent. This is exactly how a managing director who keeps his company on course with a sense of proportion and confidence should sound.
In October 2020, the 32-year-old took over the helm of the tank and hazardous goods logistics company Kube & Kubenz in Hamburg from his father Michael Kubenz. How heavy the responsibility may now be on his shoulders? After all, the senior has turned the family business, founded in 1930, into a first-class address in European chemical logistics over the past 40 years. So the footprints are big. Konstantin Kubenz, however, is confident in this matter. He has great respect for the achievements of his father, who also ensured a perfect transition to the next generation. Kubenz has the job as managing director, however, not because he has the right name.
The first transport company at the age of twelve
Konstantin Kubenz is a logistics expert with heart and soul. As a young boy, he played with truck models that his father had brought back from the IAA. When he was twelve, he built his first transport company on the computer in the business simulation “Transport Tycoon”. The school internship took place in the family business, of course. And with such imprints, where can the journey go after graduating from high school? “For me personally, it is extremely important to do something that excites me,” explains Kubenz. He studied business administration at the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg and added a Master’s degree in supply chain management and logistics at Cranfield University near London. His first professional stations took him to the major freight forwarder Kühne + Nagel and the consulting and IT service provider Capgemini. In 2017, he finally followed his father’s call to Hamburg and joined the family business as an authorised signatory.
Harry Kube and Walter Kubenz founded a forwarding company in Berlin in 1930, with which they specialised in scheduled truck services to the Rhineland. In the 1950s, the company moved to Hamburg.
Since then, Kube & Kubenz has been on the road with liquid transports. Today, the hazardous goods specialist still attaches great importance to its own fleet of vehicles.
The Kube & Kubenz group of companies specialises in tank and hazardous goods logistics for the chemical and petrochemical industries. Safety is the top priority in the fleet. The maintenance cycles for the company’s own transport vehicles are tighter than the manufacturer prescribes.
Konstantin Kubenz focuses on participative leadership
Today Konstantin Kubenz is the boss of around 350 employees. Those who work at Kube & Kubenz stay for an average of 20 years – the record is held by an employee who was honoured for his 50th anniversary two years ago. What does leadership mean in the family business? “For me, the team concept is probably more important than for the older generation,” says Kubenz. His door is always open to the employees; instead of the formal “you”, the collegial “you” prevails in the corridors. The strict hierarchical leadership of the father is also already history. The principle of participative leadership applies in the weekly management circle. Konstantin Kubenz reserves the right to make the important decisions in the end. Nevertheless, he expects leadership from his managers – they should actually make the decisions that are within their areas of competence.
Family business with start-up mentality
For Konstantin Kubenz, the will to decide is a question of mentality. That sounds a lot like a start-up. But how do founder spirit and family business fit together? Apparently very well, if you listen to Kubenz: He is all about constantly rethinking structures and processes. There is a convincing logic to the fact that he consistently focuses his compass on Europe – after all, internationality is, so to speak, part of the heritage of the forwarding company, which has been on the road for European companies in the chemical and petrochemical industry since the 1950s. It is fitting that Kube & Kubenz has branches in the Netherlands (Dordrecht), France (Lyon), Italy (Lainate) and Belgium (Antwerp) in addition to its locations in Hamburg, Bergheim and Worms. “We have to get away from small-scale nationalism, we have to think European and bigger,” Kubenz believes. Closing borders within Europe is anathema to him; he has long been looking for his driving staff in European countries as well.
Sustainability is company policy
For Kube & Kubenz, the future clearly lies in Europe. The way there is also mapped out. When Konstantin Kubenz talks about viable concepts for the future, the term “sustainability” comes up surprisingly often. In fact, the careful use of resources has been an integral part of the company’s policy for many years. Sustainability takes place here on many levels. One example is the orientation of the company car policy. “Wherever possible, we electrify the employees’ vehicle fleet,” reports Konstantin Kubenz. Meanwhile, every new company car has at least one hybrid drive under the bonnet. The family business also focuses on sustainability in its operations. “We try to get a lot of traffic onto the railways,” says Kubenz. He therefore offers his customers a choice of intermodal transport, even on short routes.
Play it safe with your own fleet
However, the most important playing field for the logistician remains the road. Safety is what counts there first and foremost, so that he can carry out his transport tasks reliably and sustainably. For Konstantin Kubenz, having his own fleet of vehicles is an absolute must. It is the only way he can ensure that the vehicles are always in top condition. A technical department takes care of about 150 trucks and 600 trailers, which are distributed among the different locations, on the basis of a sophisticated quality management system. “We drive a lot of low-volume, high-weight transports. Every gram that the truck saves on the scales is a plus in transport performance for the customer,” Kubenz knows. The towed units, more than 80 percent of which run on weight-optimised axles from BPW, make a tangible contribution to this. “We hold BPW Bergische Achsen in very high regard: The company ensures high spare parts availability and excellent technical support,” says Kubenz, praising his partner for efficient transport and logistics processes from Wiehl.
The future belongs to hydrogen
But what about the sustainability of heavy towing vehicles? A bigger impact could only be expected from trucks with alternative drives. Kubenz sees little scope for this for the time being. In local transport, he can imagine the use of battery-electric trucks – on condition that there are no restrictions on payload. He is following the field trials with trolley trucks on the A1 between Reinfeld and Lübeck and in the south of Germany with interest. On long-distance journeys, however, Kubenz considers hydrogen to be the cleanest source of propulsion: “He would rather put a vehicle with this propulsion system on his wheels today than tomorrow. However, hazardous goods legislation puts the brakes on such ambitions – no chemical plant in Europe would allow a hydrogen-powered truck onto its premises without ADR approval.
Kube & Kubenz has staying power
The only realistic option in terms of sustainability for Kubenz is currently propulsion with liquefied natural gas (LNG). The haulage company has just put the first five units into service to gain experience with them. But new vehicles and more equipment for the fleet are already on the shopping list. Konstantin Kubenz has written an ambitious growth strategy for his company: In the next five years, he wants to break the magic mark of 100 million euros in turnover. Under these circumstances, is a family business as a business model still in keeping with the times? Konstantin Kubenz does not hesitate for a second to answer: “A resounding yes. We don’t need to look at investors and the annual return. We can also make our decisions for the good of the company and our employees in the long term.”