[ID] => 10143
[post_author] => 34
[post_date] => 2018-09-24 09:15:45
[post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-24 08:15:45
[post_content] => Attracting and retaining the right talent is a big issue across the chemical logistics industry these days – but it is less of a problem for family-owned businesses. As Michael Kubenz, third-generation leader of Kube & Kubenz, hands over to his son Konstantin after 39 years at the helm, HCB spoke to them both to find out what other advantages there are for firms with a built-in succession plan.
Of course, Konstantin has grown up watching his father successfully manage the company set up in the 1930s by Michael’s grandfather Wauter, who died too early at 60, and his friend Harri Kube, just as Michael did before him.
But not only has Michael been a role model to his son, the family-owned business model means he has also been a role model to the workforce. The structure, Michael says, makes it easier to establish a culture of safety and security, something that is particularly important in a company that is given the responsibility of handling dangerous goods on behalf of its customers. That culture filters down from the top and, in a close-knit organisation where the managing director is on first-name terms with many of the long-serving drivers, it does not have far to go.
Michael Kubenz feels that larger logistics firms, for whom establishing this sort of strict safety culture is not so easy, are wary of getting into the chemicals business. Any incident involving hazardous chemicals could impact its business reputation elsewhere.
Furthermore, publicly owned companies need to show short-term results and quarterly dividends to their shareholders; a family-owned business can think in the long term, with the aim of remaining sustainable through the generations.
EXPERIENCE ON HAND
So what has Konstantin learned at his father’s knee? “I have learned leadership skills,” he says. “When you are managing more than 350 people, you have to behave like a role model. You also have to be accessible for your staff – be there, and be a front-line leader.” Being there for driver safety days, retirement parties and other events is very important from a management point of view, he says.
Running an international logistics company also means being confronted on a daily basis by all sorts of issues, so a similarly wide range of skills and knowledge is vital. “This was something I found very impressive when watching my father at work,” Konstantin says.
Age and experience also bring the ability to empathise with the workforce, something that can only be developed over time. In this regard, Konstantin is fortunate that he will have his father and grandfather on hand for advice as he takes over the leadership.
Michael has another way of putting it: “I’ve grown old with my drivers.” That also shows another advantage of the family-owned structure: drivers become part of that family and are more willing to stick around, although Michael admits that it is very difficult to find new drivers in Germany these days. Kube & Kubenz is hiring from Poland and also putting in place enhanced rates for drivers with long service with the company.
MAKE IT NEW SCHOOL
We hear a lot about the generational shift happening in industry these days, so what can the next generation bring to the leadership at Kube & Kubenz? Konstantin says he has already implemented some changes, including a roadmap for digitisation. He wants to engender a more participative leadership style, with decisions being made throughout the organisation and giving more freedom to the next level of management, with a strong focus on customer engagement. “The times have changed,” Michael admits; the business has to become more collaborative. It is also clear that the expectations of those young people coming into the workforce are different to those of their parents, and any company looking to recruit good people has to take this into account.
Konstantin has more work to do. “The company has changed over time but some processes are still ‘old school’,” he says. “We need to get rid of paper.” Customers and their trade associations are pushing for more technology and interfaces with customers’ IT systems. That means that a family-owned logistics firm has to look at its own business model. It will not be possible to deliver all those customer expectations from within and there are certain areas where start-ups and IT specialists have a more efficient way of working.
Konstantin expects some big changes over the next three years. “We have to invest. The technology is out there – we don’t have to do it ourselves,” he says.
This is a big change, but for a company like Kube & Kubenz, the management of change is a constant focus, whatever that change relates to. And when it relates to IT, it means giving power to those within the company that will be early adopters and internal leaders to help ease the process. “It is not ‘if’ but ‘when’ and ‘how’,” Konstantin says. “We want to challenge our employees to participate in the process of change and help design their own future.”
And that is a big shift. Future success will not be all about quick top-to-bottom decision making – although there may be times when that is still appropriate – but about collaboration and devolved management.
CHANGE IN THE AIR
That is not to say that things haven’t changed radically during Michael’s four decades of leadership. When he started, communication happened by telex and cable and the arrival of fax machines in the 1980s was quite a revolution. In those days the haulage business was highly regulated, with fixed rates; nowadays it is a completely open market. Europe too has opened up; before the euro arrived, drivers had to be sent off with cash in different currencies and spent a lot of their time waiting at border controls.
In the days of manual reporting to clients, each customer had a separate system. It might be thought that automation has put an end to that but in fact each customer needs a separate interface to be able to communicate effectively, a situation Konstantin describes as “ridiculous”. This is very expensive and, he says, there is a need for neutral platforms so that, as Michael says, “everybody only has to develop one interface”.
There is a role for associations such as the European Petrochemical Association (EPCA) and the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) in the development of such platforms and the subject will be on the agenda at the European Chemical Transport Association’s (ECTA) annual meeting in Düsseldorf, not far from Kube & Kubenz’s branch in Bergheim, in November. “There is a lot to do,” warns Konstantin. “It’s not as easy as everybody thinks.”
Maybe this is not such a bad time for Michael to be stepping back but, he says, he started the succession process with mixed feelings. “I’m giving up my life’s work,” he says. “But the advantage of a family business is that I can do that and remain proud that the next generation is taking over.”
[post_title] => Management: Pass it on
[post_status] => publish
[comment_status] => open
[ping_status] => open
[post_name] => management-pass-it-on
[post_modified] => 2018-09-20 12:19:52
[post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-20 11:19:52
[post_parent] => 0
[guid] => https://www.hcblive.com/?p=10143
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