If you’ve bought anything from shoes to pharmaceuticals in the last few decades, chances are good that Kuehne + Nagel was involved in shipping it.
As the first place leader in seafreight forwarding, the second place provider of air cargo forwarding, and the third place provider of overland freight forwarding in Europe, Kuehne + Nagel delivers global logistics and supply chain management to top companies around the world, including many right here in Charlotte.
Michael Raffler, vice president for the company’s Carolinas division, says, “Think of Kuehne + Nagel as a travel agent for cargo. Let’s say you want to go on a honeymoon with your loved one. You contact a travel agent, and even though the travel agency doesn’t own the airline, taxi, or hotel, they get your tickets and make sure everything is set up for you. As a freight forwarding company, we do the same for cargo through contracts with major airlines, steamship lines, and trucking companies. And you can track the progress of your shipment every step of the way!”
Raffler adds, “We view Kuehne + Nagel as an extension of our customers’ businesses. Companies have to move parts, materials, and products on the international playing field. They can leverage one-stop shopping through our integrated logistics solutions—whether for airfreight, seafreight, overland or warehousing/distribution. Essentially, we handle the entire shipping process from start to finish.”
While the company got its start in Charlotte during the late 1970s, the heyday of textile manufacturing and woodworking in the region, its history extends back to 1890 in Bremen, Germany. There, August Kuehne and Friedrich Nagel partnered to create a shipping company. For the next 30 years, Kuehne + Nagel mainly focused on German transportation involving heavy cotton and lumber, but it quickly evolved.
In the 1950s, Alfred Kuehne, son of founder August Kuehne, began working to make the company a global presence. This was achieved by contracting with major shipping companies across the world and establishing local offices in industrial hotspots. As more locations were added, the company’s reputation in the shipping and logistics industries grew stronger, allowing it to gain more market share as companies began approaching Kuehne + Nagel for logistics and supply chain management solutions.
In the 1980s, Kuehne + Nagel moved its global headquarters to Schindellegi, Switzerland, a city outside of Zurich. In the United States, New York serves as the national headquarters, and today, Kuehne + Nagel has 1,000 locations in over 100 countries and boasts a workforce of 63,000 logistics professionals.
Of the Charlotte office, Raffler explains, “When the office was initially opened in the late 1970s, there were only two people: a sales person and an assistant. When I joined the Charlotte office in 1990, there were 19 people. The Charlotte office now employs nearly 130 people, including full-time and temporary staff.”
“We came when the textile and woodworking industries were booming, but our continued success in the Carolinas can be attributed to evolving with the region,” Raffler continues. “As Charlotte has welcomed automotive parts suppliers, Kuehne + Nagel has adapted to keep up.
“The aviation industry has also come to the Carolinas, and we do business with many of these suppliers. Charlotte is still very strong in manufacturing and assembly, and, of course, it’s just a great place to live, work, and play,” he says with a smile.
Globally, Kuehne + Nagel serves a variety of industries, including oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, fast-moving consumer goods, and technology, but in the Carolinas, the focus is a bit more narrow.
“Here in the Carolinas, which contain our offices in Charlotte, Greenville, Raleigh, and Charleston, we focus mainly on automotive, aviation, aerospace, and general industrial as well as some retail,” explains Raffler.
Securing the Valuables
When it comes to business assets, there are many options a company may choose to list, but for Kuehne + Nagel, its staff is at the top. The company provides an ongoing training program to ensure that all of its employees are up on the latest in logistics technology, and each staff member goes through a rigorous screening process before joining the Kuehne + Nagel team.
“We care deeply for our people, and we’re very detail-oriented. When it comes to international freight forwarding, mistakes can be costly, so we ensure that only the best logistics professionals get hired,” notes Raffler.
“Our team is quick to react to market changes, challenges, expansions, and contractions. We’re outstanding in identifying and eliminating weak spots. This is one of the most important factors in helping our customers,” he continues.
Kuehne + Nagel has also gained a solid reputation in the shipping industry due to showing care for its customers, many of whom know Kuehne + Nagel for its entrepreneurial spirit, a spirit that has driven the company’s innovative approach to meeting customer’s needs. As Raffler tells it, Kuehne + Nagel often goes into countries and regions where specialized resources exist, such as oil and gas, in order to establish connections right where the suppliers are—ultimately allowing the company to meet needs that other logistics providers can’t.
“One part of our focus is on vertical industries in order to handle logistics through multiple layers of the shipping process. We do this so that we can connect with customers directly,” he says. This approach allows Kuehne + Nagel to be nimble and flexible enough to adjust to changes in the industry as a whole and on a local level, which is crucial when facing a changing and evolving society.
For example, a customer’s area may be facing certain socio-economic difficulties or political changes, and it’s imperative for Kuehne + Nagel to have a local presence in order to identify and meet such challenges.
Another key to Kuehne + Nagel’s success is how it cares for its branch managers. Each branch functions almost as its own entity, meaning branch managers are given the authority to make important business decisions without the weight of corporate bureaucracy stifling them. If a concern is encountered in a specific region, the corresponding office is able to react quickly to address a customer’s needs in the most efficient manner possible, and this is critical when it comes to the time-sensitive shipping arena.
Failing to react and solve customer issues may result in delayed shipment or, in the case of fast-moving consumer goods that have been left to sit, unusable products and materials.
In addition to caring for people, Kuehne + Nagel also goes to great lengths to care for its cargo. There’s no doubt that the shipping world has changed since 9/11 and logistics companies have had to change along with it. As security is a top priority, Kuehne + Nagel partners with a number of federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies to ensure that its facilities and its customers’ cargo are protected.
“Security is a major concern for Kuehne + Nagel,” Raffler says. “Today, our office here in Charlotte is as secure as Fort Knox, if I may say so. Our team recognizes the various threats facing the shipping industry, and we’re proactive in protecting our customers’ cargo and our people.”
He continues, “We’ve taken steps to ensure that we’re in compliance with all federal safety regulations, and we’re always screening cargo. Although this takes a little bit longer to prepare shipments, these are steps we’re willing to take to protect our customers and their materials and products. The secure movement of cargo is very important to Kuehne + Nagel.”
Connecting Customers and Information
In addition to keeping up with security regulations, Kuehne + Nagel is also keeping up with technology. More and more, customers are craving information online, and Kuehne + Nagel’s KN Login is delivering that information with precision.
KN Login is the company’s main information platform through which customers can see real-time, comprehensive data regarding a specific shipment’s status, including its location and expected arrival time and date. This service is available 24 hours a day on the Internet and is accessible to all of the company’s customers, regardless of language or country.
“We’re in a time where information technology is so important. We’ve seen so many changes over the last 15 years as a result, and our customers need information. Because we don’t own vessels, airplanes, and such, we interface with our service providers through a network of connections.
“We take all of this information and pull it together on one platform, KN Login, to provide one complete picture for our customers,” states Raffler. “Our KN Login portal is an industry recognized, state-of-the-art system to allow customers to see their cargo through each step in the logistics process.”
Customers are also able to use this interface to place orders for shipments, minimizing or eliminating the amount of time spent on the phone or doing paperwork. Once an order is processed, Kuehne + Nagel takes care of the rest and provides each customer with updates through KN Login.
When it comes to connecting with customers through marketing, Kuehne + Nagel relies heavily on its reputation. The company does very little in the way of traditional marketing and advertising, even when it comes to trade publications.
“Our company is involved in direct business-to-business transactions, and if you’re not a part of global logistics and supply chain management, you might not know us. We don’t advertise much because our expertise and presence in the market speaks for us,” Raffler mentions. “Our network and our people, our local presence, these all provide a large amount of marketing for us.”
This has created brand loyalty, and many of Kuehne + Nagel’s customers have been with the company for decades.
The Future of Logistics
Looking ahead, it seems that most changes in the logistics industry are positive. Due to the sophistication of much of today’s logistics technologies, workers are coming into the industry more educated.
“The logistics industry has changed massively over the past 25 years,” says Raffler. “We’ve evolved into a logistics solutions provider. We used to talk to traffic managers who had minimal knowledge about freight outside of their own position, but today, so many people in logistics know so much more.
“This has caused Kuehne + Nagel to adjust accordingly by keeping up with our own staff’s education. We’re also constantly updating our technology to stay ahead of the market and provide the best freight forwarding services.”
Unfortunately, there are some potential challenges on the horizon for the industry, including 3D printing. This technology, while not yet perfected or commercially viable, does have the potential to eliminate manufacturing jobs, and therefore, lower shipping volumes.
In its current incarnation, 3D printing has proven to be successful at manufacturing small items, but recently in China, entire houses have been 3D printed, signaling that this technology’s ability to create larger items may be in the near future.
“I think 3D printing will likely change the face of international transportation, logistics, manufacturing, all of that,” Raffler states. “We’ll see less smaller-size consumer products, tools, parts, hardware, being shipped. It will all be done with a mouse click and produced at home or in a small business.”
“I can’t imagine how the impact will be right now,” he continues, “but I expect it to have an effect. 3D printing is certainly something to watch.”
As for the future of Kuehne + Nagel, however, Raffler says, “I’m confident that we’ll remain one of the top three logistics solution providers in the world as we’re always poised to meet our customers’ needs.
“As for our presence in the Charlotte market, we’ll continue to grow with the city and our partners. Our position right now is outstanding and our reputation in the market is wonderful. The future is bright for Kuehne + Nagel.”