“Further development is vital”

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Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: FUENF6 GMBH

The full-service logistics provider Duvenbeck has long been committed to the digitalization of transport and to its own innovations: The family business employs programmers and works with start-ups to develop digital solutions. Behind this is a successful corporate culture that has made Duvenbeck strong for the crisis.

“Anyone can transport goods,” says Thomas Duvenbeck, managing partner of Duvenbeck Group. “But managing transport correctly, well and efficiently – that’s another story. That can only work with experience and vision, with the intelligent use of technology and data and with well thought-out processes”. The family business, founded in 1932 and based in Bocholt, North Rhine-Westphalia, brings all these ingredients with it. From an early stage, the company consistently focused on the digitalisation of transport. In addition to customers from the consumer goods, plastics and agricultural vehicle industries, the full-service logistics provider has customers primarily from the automotive sector – and has had to meet their high demands for digitalization and networking to ensure transparency and reliability along the supply chain for a long time.

Seamless transparency in the “Connected Supply Chain”

Thomas Duvenbeck ist talking about the “Connected Supply Chain” which the company is designing: It enables every customer to be informed about the status of his shipment within a very short time. “We have developed end-to-end systems for this purpose, ranging from the notification, planning and handling process to the tracking and tracing of each individual unit”. This goes far beyond the classic services of a transport service provider: “We increasingly perceive ourselves as an industrial company that bundles processes that were previously handled individually. Originally, we adapted to the processes of our customers – but this was simply no longer possible above a certain size”.

For this reason, Duvenbeck hired its own programmers and process planners. They work on digital solutions together with external forces and start-up entrepreneurs: “We have implemented our own product within the framework of dynamic network planning and thus greatly accelerated our logistical processes,” reports the managing director. In the future, semi-automatic scheduling is also to be implemented with the help of an artificial intelligence system developed in-house. This will increase productivity and enable customers to offer an extended range of products.

Thomas Duvenbeck works with the company’s own programmers on the “Connected Supply Chain”, which offers customers maximum transparency.

Early investments bear fruit

Such projects require very long-term planning and high investments, especially in research and development. “Without them, however, we have no chance of surviving as a company in the long term,” Duvenbeck is well aware. “That’s why we invested a lot of money at a very early stage and are now reaping the first fruits.” He is convinced that there will be two types of companies in transport and logistics in the future: “The first type will master digitalization and implement it for themselves. Others, which have not sufficiently digitalized, will drop in terms of the degree of value added. In my view, it is therefore vital that transport service providers continue to develop.”

»In my view, it is vital that transportation companies evolve.«

Thomas Duvenbeck, managing partner of Duvenbeck Group

»In my view, it is vital that transportation companies evolve.«

Thomas Duvenbeck, managing partner of Duvenbeck Group

Duvenbeck also relies on continuous progress in its own vehicle fleet. Semi-trailers are a crucial part of the fleet: “We equip our trailers to meet all our customers’ requirements. At the same time, we are constantly creating new innovations with manufacturers and partners, all of whom we really do see as partners, in order to continuously improve our work both economically and ecologically. In short, the trailer is not a simple means to an end for us, but a very important player in our processes. The company’s own vehicle fleet comprises 3,500 trailers. “It is particularly important to us that we get as much data as possible from the trailer so that we can operate it as economically as possible.”
A successful partnership for years: Duvenbeck and BPW. In Ralf Merkelbach (left), Head of Key Account Management BPW, Thomas Duvenbeck and his team always find a competent contact person.

Instruments of appreciation

Another important partner here is the driver. “Today he has to work and think like a commercial clerk,” says Thomas Duvenbeck. “At the same time, however, we have to communicate to him the advantages of digitalization, for example in terms of reducing fuel consumption. The transparency that can be created through sensor technology enables extensive measurability. For drivers, it should function less as a monitoring tool and more as an opportunity to expand their skills. As a rule, drivers are also pleased that things they do well are then documented and appreciated. We deliberately reward these achievements,” says Duvenbeck. The company employs several driving trainers who are contact persons for the team and discuss questions regarding further development with them.

Living corporate culture

With the claim “The Culture of Logistics”, the company shows that it stands for a living corporate culture: “It was important to me that it unites everything we stand for: Tradition, modernity, logistics expertise and also a healthy down-to-earth attitude. We are an innovative company, and values such as reliability and trust are very important to us. We also consciously cultivate good manners, both internally and externally.” But how does he communicate this culture to his more than 6,000 employees at 34 locations in Europe? “You have to set an example yourself, as a family and also from within the management circle, and talk about it regularly,” says Thomas Duvenbeck. “We are a very free and communicative company. With us, all doors are always open. This is not only noticed by our teams, but certainly also by our customers from outside. “

An in-house academy imparts knowledge both at events and via digital tools. And in the more than 30 Duvenbeck branches, there are so-called cultural ambassadors, who convey “The Culture of Logistics” sustainably even beyond national borders and are available to employees. The company also uses an internal platform for communication and information. It uses social media to convey its messages to the outside world.

Using digital communication tools

Duvenbeck’s communicative strength was particularly evident during the Corona pandemic: “As management, we have always been very transparent in communicating the goals we set ourselves. In recent months we have also made it very clear where we stand economically as a company in the crisis that the virus has triggered and where we want to develop further. The corona situation is like a magnifying glass. You can see everything much more clearly – what is going well, as well as the problems that you have in the company.” Thanks to the use of digital communication tools, Duvenbeck has been able to continuously increase its productivity: “We have reached our employees very well via video conferences and news tools. Because the external pressure and economic constraints were intense, we were able to implement things within three or four months that might otherwise have taken us one or two years. Corona has really accelerated processes – this can perhaps be seen as the good in the bad”.

»The corona situation is like a magnifying glass. You can see everything much more clearly – what is going well, just like the problems you have in the company.«

The management also disclosed the figures to the employees. “Everyone knows what we have lost,” said the CEO. “But we also know what we can make up for by our own actions.” The management team in the company has been meeting twice a day since March for a video conference to discuss all the necessary measures. “Today we are as close to the processes as we were never before Corona. The employees feel that too”, says Duvenbeck. “And they see that what we do brings success – which of course provides additional motivation. We are currently sitting in the Driver’s Seat ourselves again and our actions have put us in a position to steer the company through this crisis.” He is convinced that the internal changes can compensate for part of the damage in the long term – and even expects Duvenbeck to leave this year with “a small economic success”.

Last but not least, the strength of a company that has grown over a long period of time carries the entire company, but also Thomas Duvenbeck personally through this extraordinary period: “With a lot of experience, you have self-confidence and know the right tools to deal with such crises. This is not completely new territory for us, and therefore we have mastered it well.” All employees have supported the changes: “This is certainly one of the great strengths of a family-owned company: You don’t have to convince anyone anymore, everyone wants success. That makes me proud.”

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