150-year-old logistics firm innovates to stay relevant

Distribution warehouse with trucks awaiting loading [Courtesy]

When Gottfried Schenker started Schenker Ltd in 1872, his aim was not to build an international company.

His company at the time sought to move cargo between Vienna and Paris, which was a logistical nightmare for traders.

Today, the company, now known as DB Schenker, is celebrating 150 years with a footprint all over the world, including Kenya where it operates as DB Schenker Kenya headed by Dennis Keiser.

Mr Keiser recollects that the innovation to consolidate cargo, put it on rail and send it to Paris by Schenker is what still drives the company to date.

It is why the firm, whose shareholding is linked to the German government through the country’s national rail Deutsche Bahn abbreviated as DB, prides itself on the slogan “elevating lives.”

Mr Keiser said he is aware of how the world has changed in 150 years. 

“We realise that sometimes we are a bit slow. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we may be bureaucratic and we have to accept that,” he said during the recent celebrations to mark the firm’s 150th anniversary in Nairobi.

Mr Keiser said while history provides them with a sense of identity, innovation has kept them relevant in business.

“We all know how the world has changed in 150 years. I do not know where we are right now, but innovation is one of the key points we have figured out,” he said.

This has seen the firm invest in drones for cargo delivery and electric trucks.

He said the e-trucks will give the company a competitive edge.  

DB Schenker is also investing heavily in sustainability, especially the reduction of carbon emissions by 30 per cent.

Currently, the company through a partnership with Lufthansa, German’s national carrier, operates daily freight services from Frankfurt to New York that are carbon-free.

“Sustainability is at the core of our business and the environment,” said Mr Keiser.

The firm has 2,100 working locations globally with 76,000 staff across 140 countries. It boasts 320,000 square metres of warehouse space.

The firm also powers some of its warehouses using solar as part of its sustainability efforts.

Chief Commercial Officer for the Middle East and Africa Prabha Venugopalan said the company is changing with the times.

“We are in a dynamic region. When I come from Dubai, I enjoy this beautiful weather but being stuck in the traffic for about three hours gives you a good indication of how diverse the regions are,” she said.

German Deputy Ambassador to Kenya Thomas Wimmer said DB Schenker commended the company for moving with the times.

“You have been serving not only the Kenyan economy for a long time. Kenya exports cash crops like tea and flowers to many countries. You have helped German companies to do business, to trade with Kenya and the region,” he said.