Business for a Better World: Gebrüder Weiss
An interview with Mark McCullough, CEO of Gebrüder Weiss USA
Q: Describe your company.
A: Gebrüder Weiss, a global freight forwarder with a core business of overland transport, air and sea freight and logistics, is the world's oldest transport company with a history that dates back more than 500 years. The family-owned company employs nearly 8,000 people worldwide and has 180 company-owned locations.
The business is newer to the United States, having just celebrated its fifth year in the Chicago market. The organization has a reputation for prioritizing people and nurturing talent so that employees can rise to leadership roles within the company. The business presence in the United States includes headquarters in the Chicago suburbs and offices in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, El Paso, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.
Gebrüder Weiss is a pioneer in sustainable business practices having implemented myriad ecological, economic and social initiatives. The company's continuous growth illustrates the need for highly experienced providers of global solutions through an international network of supply chain experts.
Customized solutions with a single point of contact provide customers with an exceptional service experience focused on reliable and economical solutions.
Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
A: Yes. We just moved into our new larger headquarters in Wood Dale at the end of last year and continue our growth in the Midwest with an additional warehouse in Elgin. We have a few other offices and warehouse locations in other markets in the U.S. that we also plan to open this year. In addition to adding locations and new employees, we are also exploring ways to invest in lowering our carbon footprint right here in the suburbs. This includes exploring the use of solar power and providing electric charging stations in our lot for employees and visitors.
Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?
A: The logistics industry has experienced a lot of challenges in the past few years with COVID, surging freight costs, and of course, the war in Ukraine. We've had to strengthen our problem-solving skills and increase our flexibility to create ways to help customers work around many of the obstacles that will continue to challenge the industry.
As a result of a cooling global economy, we have the opposite problem that we had 18 months ago, ocean freights are at a 13-year low because of excess inventory and greatly reduced consumer spending along with negative economic sentiment. Building a delivery network that can withstand disruption is our top-of-mind challenge. We must continue to be an agile organization that puts solving our customers' problems first.
Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?
A: Sustainability is on everyone's mind. I think it has moved from being a trend to something that needs to be integral in your business plan. In the U.S. and globally, we've rolled out a program called "zero emissions" that allows customers to engage in carbon offsetting strategies. In Europe we've invested in hydrogen trucks and photovoltaic-powered warehouses.
Q: Does climate change affect how your company does business?
A: Climate change absolutely impacts our company. Superstorms and unusual weather patterns certainly disrupt supply chains. When you examine energy and transportation costs, they are also directly impacted by climate change. From the amount of energy needed to keep warehouses temperature controlled to the ability for people to get to work and for their goods to be delivered. Superstorms that cause mudslides, flooding or blizzards that make roads and rails impassable and unusable all equal delays, waste and additional costs.
Q: What does your company do to reduce the effects of climate change?
A: At Gebrüder Weiss, we have made a commitment to attaining climate neutrality at our sites by 2030. We have several initiatives in place:
• More than a decade ago, the company purchased a wind farm to generate around 20-gigawatt hours of electricity per year.
• Gebrüder Weiss currently operates 13 photovoltaic (PV) plants at its locations. The PV systems generated some 6,000 MWh of electricity by the end of 2022. This is equivalent to 25% of Gebrüder Weiss' current electricity consumption worldwide. The company aims to increase this by 15% yearly so that the electricity generated with photovoltaics and wind turbines will cover today's requirements by 2027.
• The majority of Gebrüder Weiss' CO₂ emissions are produced by our own vehicle fleet. In the medium to long term, the company's fleet of trucks and cars will be replaced with vehicles using alternative drive systems. The target is to invest about 10 million euros in alternative drive systems by 2025.
• Last year, we rolled out the zero emissions program (link to https://www.gw-world.com/zero-emissions) to allow customers to engage in carbon-offsetting strategies.
• We also created a fun initiative called "Cycling Around the World." Employees and cyclists from around the globe rode more than 247,000 km, the equivalent of six trips around the globe, to meet the goal of planting 5,000 trees in its corporate forest in Sokpokopé, Togo.
Q: What does your company do regarding DE&I (diversity, equity & inclusion)?
A: As a company that invests heavily in education and upskilling, we are addressing diversity in a similar manner. Our words and initiatives are only as strong as our actions. In 2020, at the height of racial tension and a demand for equity, Gebrüder Weiss didn't want to be one of those companies just making a statement and calling it a day.
We wanted to do something to make a difference. After some discussion, we decided the best way to encourage diversity was to embrace education. We researched the leading logistics programs in the country and nearby our office locations and discussed how we could work together to create a meaningful diversity initiative.
Then we established a Gebrüder Weiss USA leadership scholarship program and pledged funds to Loyola University Chicago, Quinlan School of Business; Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey, Rutgers Business School; and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), School of Information and Decision Sciences to help encourage diversity and ease financial burdens for students studying logistics.
Q: Does your company donate time or money to any philanthropic causes? If so, what causes?
A: We support many philanthropic initiatives and causes as an organization. We try to get behind causes that align with our core values as a company. One of these initiatives includes protecting our waters. In September, our team gathered at Highland Park Rosewood Beach for the Great Lakes' annual September Adopt-a-Beach cleanup event hosted by the Alliance for the Great Lakes, which coincides with the International Coastal Cleanup.
We have also created some of our own initiatives. For example, for the past five years, members of our team have been partnering with a local restaurant to help package and deliver meals to local families for Thanksgiving. In December we partnered with Bleuroot restaurant in West Dundee to deliver 62 meals to families in the area that requested assistance.
As a part of the country's Austrian roots, we are a logistics partner for the Christkindlmarket. This year, our team also sponsored a donation location at the market for Toys for Tots. It was really rewarding for everyone to help make the holidays brighter for families that need support.
This year, our team has already donated about 100 hours of time packing meals for Feed Our Starving Children at its Schaumburg location. It's been a really powerful experience for the team, and I'm proud that Gebrüder Weiss provides paid time off to our team so they can volunteer in the community.
Q: Does your company do anything else to make your community better?
A: I'm really proud of our growth, not just in the United States, but right here in the Chicago area. This is our fifth year in the Chicago market, and we are celebrating it in a much larger location because of our growth. We have nearly doubled the number of jobs we provide in this market.
We've also invested in our community. From volunteer hours to monetary donations, our team has really stepped up to make a difference. In the past few years, we have awarded more than $50,000 in scholarships to students along with creating internship opportunities. These scholarships focus on providing help for students coming from economically disadvantaged homes.
Q: What do you do to make your business a good place to work for your employees?
A: Since one of our core values is a commitment to exceptional service, we carry that through to how our own people are treated. We foster an environment of trust and collaboration, so we focus on creating a healthy and inviting environment for our employees. Overall, we steer away from creating a hierarchy so that everyone is treated equally and is comfortable contributing their ideas.
Because we are a family-owned company, working here feels like you are a part of a global family. Engaging with people around the world and having the opportunity to gain a global perspective on both business and life isn't something that every company can offer. Here, we do it fairly seamlessly, and I think it works because our employees understand our commitment to independence, sustainability, and exceptional service. In 2020 Gebrüder Weiss USA was named one of the "Best Places to Work" by the Business Intelligence Awards.
Q: Do you have a business mantra?
A: We do things "The Orange Way." This is our pledge to Independence, Sustainability, Commitment and Service Excellence.
Q: What is one interesting fact about your company that most people may not know?
A: Gebrüder Weiss, a family-owned company, is the world's oldest logistics company and has been in existence for more than 500 years. It evolved directly from the Milanese Courier messenger service, which operated between Lindau in Germany and Milan in northern Italy and can be traced back to 1474. Our most famous customer once was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. When Goethe was returning from his trip to Italy in 1788, he linked up with the messenger service, which guided him across the Alps. In this way, Goethe became part of the identity of Gebrüder Weiss.
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1020 N. Wood Dale Road, Wood Dale, IL 60191
Industry: Supply Chain, transport and logistics
Annual revenue: 2.5 billion euros (Group revenue).
Number of employees: Globally: 8,000; in Wood Dale: 79.