In conversation with Robert Stahlschmidt
“It’s the combination of both worlds that sets us apart”
Frank Haas in conversation with Robert Stahlschmidt
In your opinion, how important is Hamburg in the Gebrüder Weiss network?
For me, as a native of Hamburg who enjoys being close to the water, it feels good to say that Hamburg is extremely important. Alone the fact that we have the largest port in Germany makes us pivotal within the company network as a whole.
The pressures on the logistics industry have been quite severe during the pandemic. How are you responding to this in Hamburg?
Absolute flexibility is a must. Irrespective of the current crisis, we generally work very closely with our clients. This helps us identify their problems and better appreciate their needs. Obviously, coronavirus has compounded the issues, so we’ve been forced to create custom solutions in many situations. The close relationships we’ve forged are our strength. And both we and our customers benefit.
And how, as a freight forwarding provider, has Gebrüder Weiss maintained this flexibility and adaptability?
On the one hand, we are fully embracing the digital revolution, as our online customer portal myGW shows. We have just launched this in Germany. This makes our processes more transparent and consistently dependable. On the other hand, the expertise of our employees is still our front line. We’re always available to our customers by phone – that’s very old school. And when the time comes, we will also be visiting them in person. It’s the combination of both worlds that sets us apart.
What air and sea freight trends can you identify right now, and how should we be responding to them as a company?
One trend is certainly the advent of digital technology. The growing requests for electronic solutions alone reveal that. The launch of myGW has come at just the right time. For sure, the biggest challenges right now are due to the changing circumstances: the shortage of containers and equipment, the lack of cargo space on the ships. We’re facing similar problems in the air freight sector. The challenges come daily and all of our people are working hard to find solutions. But, to be honest, there’s no real prospect of the situation easing or improving just yet.
For years there was surplus capacity, both at sea and in the air. And suddenly people are saying they have no room to spare, that no more cargo space is available. Why is this?
(laughs) Cynics would probably suggest that the shortages have been planned. Commercially speaking, that would certainly make sense from the perspective of the carriers and shipping lines. It is simply more economical to operate three full ships than five at two-thirds capacity. The shipowners and airlines are getting a better deal right now. They are trying to catch up a bit. Of course, the airlines are losing out on their passenger revenues. But this is just a passing phase; the pendulum will swing back again sometime. It would be nice if it settled somewhere in the middle so that we didn’t constantly have one extreme or the other. Maybe we’ll get to that point down the road but, if I’m honest, I don’t really feel very optimistic.
What do you want to achieve in Hamburg with your team?
As Air & Sea Germany, we are still a relatively new organization. Our objectives are to intensify our teamwork, maintain our positive outlook and emerge stronger than ever from the pandemic. We offer the best of both worlds – digital and analog. In both areas we have top people with great ideas. Hopefully that will impress the customers. Last but not least, I’m hoping for a chance to celebrate our successes together again at some point.
Can you tell us anything specific about Hamburg as a logistics location? Is it competitive? Will other ports gradually push it down the pecking order?
No, I don’t think so. Hamburg’s geography makes it uniquely attractive, not least as a gateway to eastern Europe. Moreover the port itself is one of the world’s largest transhipment hubs for rail containers. Given the trend towards sustainable transport methods, that may become even more important in the future. Of course, the city needs to remain flexible, it must not delay confronting its rivals for too long, and it needs to accept that some changes are unavoidable – in relation to its infrastructure and its transport links to nearby regions and its hinterland, for example. And then Hamburg will continue to play a leading role. In Germany of course – I can’t imagine that changing – but also in Europe as a whole.
Frank Haas is head of brand strategy and communication at Gebrüder Weiss and editor-in-chief of Atlas.
Robert Stahlschmidt has been in the logistics business for more than 20 years. In October 2020, the 41-year-old took over at the helm of the Gebrüder Weiss branch in Hamburg. Previously, he was responsible for the city’s IPSEN office. (Image: Private)