Reporting 2020

At the wheel

Interview with Frank Dreeke

The sudden suspension of global economic activity as a result of the coronavirus lockdown in many countries around the world created a difficult business year for BLG LOGISTICS. The company found that the best strategy in the circumstances was to focus on its strengths: the successful diversification of business over recent years, the broad customer base and the workforce. Just how the Group weathered the storm with the help of this clear focus is the topic of this interview with CEO Frank Dreeke.

Interview with Frank Dreeke

The year 2020 was unlike anything we could ever have imagined. How would you sum it up?

Challenging and nerve-racking – both for me personally and in terms of the company. There has never before been a crisis like the one caused by this pandemic. Above all the first lockdown in early 2020 was without precedent because it affected the entire global economy. Looking at the positive side, I was impressed by how the people at BLG dealt with the tough situation. Together we found that our company, with our corporate culture and values, is able to stand up to even exceptional crises like this.

“With our commitment to becoming climate- neutral by 2030, we are a pioneer and a model for the industry.”

Frank Dreeke, CEO of BLG LOGISTICS

You mentioned the first, strict lockdown in early 2020. What were its impacts on business development at BLG?

From the end of February through to May we registered significant losses in sales in almost all areas. This had a direct effect on our result. For example, during the lockdown, sales by our customers in the automobile industry collapsed by 50 percent in some cases, brick-and-mortar retailers were closed and container handling volumes dropped by between 15 and 20 percent. As from the summer, the situation improved considerably. Despite this, the losses from the early part of the year were so severe that in most areas we weren’t able to make up for them. Overall for the year, our operating result remained negative. Calculated over the whole year, it is much smaller than we originally expected.

Starting in the fall there was a second wave of the pandemic. Were its effects comparable with the first wave?

Luckily, the picture was different this time because the second lockdown didn’t affect the entire global economy. Of course, some sectors, such as brick-and-mortar fashion retailers, were again hit very hard. But at the same time, activity was high in our e-commerce and returns services. During the second lockdown, the automobile industry remained in production, and China considerably picked up speed as a driver of the economy. Increasingly from the summer onward, our volumes and results improved. Overall, the diversification of our business that we launched long before the pandemic helped us. I’m especially proud that we were able to realize projects such as the new logistics centers for Engelbert Strauss and LEONI despite the coronavirus crisis. Even in this difficult time, there are lots of things that make me optimistic for the future.

Combined strength: Frank Dreeke reflects positively on the commitment of the BLG workforce in the crisis.

How did BLG’s employees deal with the situation? What did you personally feel about the level of solidarity?

With a massive amount of respect, I saw how quickly our employees came back from the initial shock and refocused on their work. Naturally, when the entire economy grinds to a halt, people also have very personal fears. They worry about what will happen to their jobs. The good news is that job numbers at BLG remained stable.

So when things got going again, we were able to ramp up our processes immediately. The focus of our staff was always on the needs of our customers and this was expressed in their hard work. I saw a very strong level of cooperation within the company. For me, that’s proof that the culture change we initiated two and a half years ago is bearing fruit. One of our five corporate values is embracing change – and that’s exactly what we need in the pandemic.

As the first logistics service provider in Germany, BLG gained scientific recognition for its climate protection goals in 2020. Despite the pandemic, you have kept a focus on climate protection. Why is that important?

Climate protection is not only one of our own values. The market also demands it. As a logistics service provider, we can help our customers achieve their own climate goals. With our commitment to becoming climate-neutral by 2030, we are a pioneer and a model for the industry. Our absolute reduction goals are even scientifically recognized internationally.

It’s important to me that mitigating climate change played a big role in our decisions even before 2020. Despite the pandemic, we’ve stuck to this principle in all our dealings.

Frank Dreeke: “As a logistics service provider, we can help our customers achieve their own climate goals.”

How do you expect business to develop in 2021?

The first three months were satisfactory, and right now the signs are that we will achieve a better business result in 2021 than in 2020 – for the reasons I already mentioned. But we won’t yet get back to the 2019 level. There are still some large uncertainty factors. That’s why we’re assessing our business performance month-by-month and continuously adjusting our plans and forecasts.

Looking a little further into the future: What are the next steps in BLG’s innovation journey?

We will consistently continue with our digitalization work and add intelligent components. Already, BLG is a thoroughly digital company in many areas. With activities and projects in the areas of artificial intelligence, data warehouse, robotics and autonomous systems, we aim to raise our game to the next level. We will implement these technologies in close cooperation with the operational units and social partners. This is how we can make processes more efficient, faster and cost-effective, for example in parts logistics.

What is your approach going into the coming months?

Our mission hasn’t changed. We want to make logistics simpler for our customers to boost their success on the market. We’ll continue to work on this in the future with our full commitment and passion.

Mr. Dreeke, thank you for the interview.