Frantz Wallenborn: A trucker in the fast lane
19 / 06 / 2017
Wallenborn is a well-known name in European road feeder services (RFS), but president and chief executive Frantz Wallenborn had a youngster’s enthusiasm for a speedier form of transport than the family business could offer.
“As a boy I always loved cars, especially fast ones. Engines in general fascinated me. Trucks, however, were not always part of this fascination, but as I grew older and started to understand the real possibilities of a transport company, I became a lot more open-minded.
“I was lucky to have first-hand insight into the industry through my father’s business, so before long it seemed a very natural step for me to join his company.”
The Luxembourg-based Wallenborn business was founded by Frantz’s grandfather in 1920 and obtained an international transport licence in the 1960s. It diversified into air cargo in the 1980s, following the advent of the Boeing 747 freighter.
Says Frantz: “During this period, the Luxembourg government decided to develop Luxembourg airport into one of Europe’s major airfreight hubs and Wallenborn supported this initiative by gradually building a pan-European road feeder network.
“Over the past decade or so, Wallenborn has grown both organically and through acquisitions and we now have a strong presence at all the major European air cargo gateways.”
Some of Frantz’s first jobs in the family business were in the despatch and accounting departments, during his father’s reign: “It was a good starting point for me and offered a solid foundation to build on in the years to come.”
Wallenborn has a diverse client base, particularly among airlines, and has a range of road haulage options serving the air cargo feeder, secured transport, temperature-controlled, off-size and general road freight sectors.
“We are very fortunate to have a diverse group of loyal and innovative key accounts which are strongly focused on cargo, share our commitment to world-class quality standards and invest in new products and services.
“Thanks to the courage of our customers, we have enjoyed sustained network growth for the past six years. We have consciously developed strategic collaborations with airlines across the globe and are fortunate to count amongst our key accounts: AirBridgeCargo, Air China Cargo, Cargolux Airlines, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, China Southern, Emirates SkyCargo, Qatar Airways Cargo, Singapore Airlines, Turkish Airlines, United Cargo and Yangtze River Express.”
That is quite a list and reflects the strong Wallenborn presence in the ground logistics and supply chain services that extends the reach of customer carriers.
“Air cargo RFS is our largest sector, currently accounting for approximately 45% of our business. Road freight is the second largest segment at around 19%, followed closely by secure transport at 18% and temperature-controlled at 14%.
“Our outsize sector is currently our smallest, making up only 4% of our business, but it is one we have invested in recently and expect to grow over the coming years.”
What have been the challenges/opportunities for the RFS business in the last decade? Have the airlines become more demanding? Says Frantz: “We needed to adapt to several major changes, some of which we helped to initiate.
“Airlines have become more demanding as margins have been squeezed, headcounts have reduced and their customers expected, rightly, more transparency, quick responses and anticipation.
“The majority of airlines now benefit from less-than-truckload (LTL) tariffs and schedules, and we connect over 120 airports from and to various gateways including Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris-CDG, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Liege, Heathrow, Luxembourg, Milan-Malpensa and Vienna.”
Its key accounts require Wallenborn to manage their pan-European surface networks and, says Frantz, consistency is crucial.
“This relates to quality of service, schedules, tariff formats, communication including messaging, products, invoicing and reporting.
“Many airlines need to switch cargo at short notice to alternative gateways and we give them the flexibility and confidence to do that.
“Most of our key accounts also have mixed operations − some gateways are freighter-only; some have passenger-only flights; and others have both; some flights operate daily, others less frequently.
“We need to dynamically operate complex networks that allow our customers to optimise revenue, leverage yields and get the best utilisation from all their gateways. In recent years, airlines have recognised that RFS can unlock considerable potential.”
Customers expect Wallenborn to integrate up and down the supply chain: “This can include management of offline export and import handling; provision of customer care and monitoring to consignors and consignees; co-ordination of hub handling truck ops; customs services; direct delivery and pick-up; ULD inventory tracking and return. We play an important role in supporting our customers’ commitments.”
As one would expect of a road haulage business located in one of the European Union’s smallest member states — 2,586 sq km and a population of 563,000 — Wallenborn’s offices are a multilingual hubbub.
“Although we now operate virtually paperless offices, clear and direct communication has never been more important and the fact that our workforce speaks about 20 languages, including those of our customers around the globe, enables us to efficiently and effectively manage the workload of our customers.”
Apart from its investment in people, in 2015 the operator spent approximately €15m to increase the size and capability of its transport fleet, adding 20 additional Good Distribution Practice (GDP)-certified reefers for the pharma sector and 70 aero-engine carriers.
What were the business reasons behind this investment?
“Our airline and life science pharma customers have invested considerably in products aimed at the cold chain, and since becoming one of the first to be GDP-certified in 2013, we have kept pace both in terms of hardware, temperature management apps and personnel training.”
Frantz makes the point that the aerospace equipment investment was accompanied by the development of staff training programmes to handle expensive aero-engines.
The nature of road haulage is to cross borders and to fill in the logistical gaps beyond the ports and airports for the different modes, be it maritime or air cargo.
Wallenborn has seen a widening of its geographic reach to the Middle East, Dubai and Sharjah, but will this continue and is acquisition an option?
“The industry is going through a challenging time right now, and it is unclear if, how, and when that will change in the near future,” Frantz says.
“Loading volumes at European Union airports decreased in 2015 and we haven’t really seen much improvement in that this year. The recent Brexit vote has also caused a lot of uncertainty, which affects not only Europe but the rest of the world as well.”
Wallenborn has been around for 96 years and has weathered tough times before: “The fact that we continuously reinvest in the company to ensure we can adapt to changing environments and customer needs is critical to our success.
“Our customers like what we do and want us to do it in more regions so we do expect more growth in Europe and beyond at some stage, either organically, through acquisitions or joint ventures.”
Wallenborn operates in a European RFS market that is competitive but fragmented; some “local heroes” have been its partners for many years.
Adds Frantz: “Over the past eight years we have developed a European standard for RFS. The market response to this product has been highly positive so we believe there are good prospects for quality-led solutions.
“After over 30 years in the air cargo sector, we have come to realise that it will always be a volatile environment, especially vulnerable to geopolitics and macroeconomics.
“The recent Brexit vote, which sent shockwaves across the globe, is another one of these examples. This is what motivates us. We have experienced various crises in Europe and we are focused on resilience and continuity measures to ensure our customers’ vital supply chains are future-proof.”