“Logistics is a question of trust”

The CEO of Kuehne+Nagel on the promise it can make regarding logistics in the coronavirus period, the importance of long-term customer relations and the route to climate neutrality.



Perhaps more than any other industry, logistics needs to be ahead of the curve. That was clearly demonstrated at the start of 2020, when normality still reigned in large parts of the world. At Kuehne+Nagel, however, crisis teams were assembled in the very first week of January to assess the direct impact a new virus might have on logistics. “Initially, the on-site safety of our employees was our top priority,” says Dr. Detlef Trefzger, CEO of Kuehne+Nagel. But we soon went on to discuss operational issues – how to guarantee the international flow of goods if the factories remained closed for several weeks after the Chinese New Year holiday.

“In those first critical weeks we managed to show our customers that we are a reliable partner,” says Detlef Trefzger. Under difficult conditions, Kuehne+Nagel ensured that customers’ goods could travel from A to B via the best and quickest route, even in times of a pandemic. More than ever, Kuehne+Nagel built bridges – symbolic bridges between cultures, but also “air bridges” from China to Europe for COVID-19 protective materials. “It’s in times of crisis like these where trust is what links the clients and end users of our logistics services,” emphasises Detlef Trefzger.

Agile business strategy tested in practice

This exceptional year, 2020, was a successful one for Kuehne+Nagel from a business perspective, too: for the seventh year in a row, EBIT reached a new record high at 1.1 billion Swiss francs. Kuehne+Nagel’s strategy of investing in digitalisation, far-sighted business continuity plans, communications and team expertise paid off. In spring 2020, as large parts of the world went into lockdown, Kuehne+Nagel was able to shift 45,000 workers to mobile working within a very short period of time, with no significant problems.

The business strategy followed by Kuehne+Nagel over many years, with its focus on optimising interactions between customers, technology and colleagues was enormously helpful in practice here. Detlef Trefzger says “in the past year we have shown what’s behind Kuehne+Nagel’s success – we adapted our business to the volatile market environment very quickly”. The Group rapidly developed services tailored to the “new normal”, adjusted its cost structure and even completed the restructuring of its contract logistics business despite the pandemic.

It’s in times of crisis like these where trust is what links the clients and end users of our logistics services.

Dr. Detlef Trefzger

Reliable partner for vaccine logistics

This agility was crucial, allowing Kuehne+Nagel to pack a real punch in global logistics for COVID-19 vaccines. The group very quickly developed solutions for large vaccine manufacturers such as Moderna as well as end users at the last mile such as the government of Germany’s most populous state, North-Rhine Westphalia, and the canton of Zurich in Switzerland. This was a result of many years spent building up the pharma and healthcare business.

In vaccine logistics, too, the Kuehne+Nagel Group has demonstrated how systemically important its role is. That’s a promise Kuehne+Nagel can make confidently based on its tried and trusted, multimodal pharmaceutical and healthcare transport network with over 240 certified sites in air, sea and road as well as contract logistics. “We very quickly developed a number of different solutions for vaccine logistics. We started by ensuring that the raw materials for the vaccines and ancillary items such as syringes got to the right place quickly. Now we’re ensuring that the vaccine consistently gets from the factory to the end user,” says Detlef Trefzger.

Doing business in a sustainable way

Despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, Detlef Trefzger has been driving a major project: making Kuehne+Nagel completely CO2 neutral by 2030. An initial, important interim goal was reached by the end of 2020 with CO2 neutrality for all own, direct emissions. That makes Kuehne+Nagel a pioneer in the logistics sector. It is an ambitious project that can only be achieved on the basis of Kuehne+Nagel’s shared core values. That’s because “sustainability is a task for all of society, where every individual has to take responsibility”.