Interview with Kopf + Lubben Cargo Services (Bremen, Frankfurt and Hamburg)

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From graphic designer to freight forwarder, Thomas Manigk has certainly had a less than conventional entry into the industry. That being said it has not been a hindrance with Thomas currently Managing Director of Kopf + Lübben Cargo Services a German freight forwarder going from strength to strength. We recently spoke with him about the companies’ success and future plans. 

Q. When and how did you get into the freight forwarding industry?

A. By coincidence, as is so often the case in our industry. – It was my aspiration to work in the field of marketing, more specifically, as a graphic designer. To this end, I commenced studying Art and History of Art at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, my home country. Realising, that my creative streak is limited, I jumped at the opportunity of doing an internship at an international freight forwarding company, where a friend of the family was working. It was in 1983 that I then commenced my professional training at this company.

Q. Can you tell us a little of the history of Kopf + Lübben Cargo Services? 

A. Kopf + Lübben Cargo Services was founded by Walter Kopf and Johann Lübben in 1976 in their home town, Bremen. With four employees, the company initially focused its activities on import ocean freight. Spices from the Far East and Africa, basketry from Poland, gift ware from the Far East and computerised boring machines from the United States were amongst the first orders handled.

Q. What distinguishes Kopf + Lübben Cargo Services from other freight forwarders in your city? 

A. Our high level of service would be the obvious answer. However, we are well aware of the fact that our competitors also strive to offer the best possible service. We, therefore, lay emphasis on not only ensuring that our customer’s freight arrives at destination on time and intact, but also on improving the supply chain in consultation with the customer. We expect our employees to think a step ahead and to anticipate what might happen during the course of the carriage of the goods, which our customers entrust us with. We work on a “one face to the customer” principle, thereby ensuring a very personal service.

Q. How different is Kopf + Lübben Cargo Services now compared with when it was founded?

A.While the company was founded 10 years after the advent of containerisation, the initial years were still characterised by the physical handling of the freight, whereas data management and the flow of information have become far more prevalent today. Accordingly, we are constantly upgrading our IT systems and software in order to keep up to date with the latest developments.

Q. I saw on your website that you take young apprentices. Could you tell us a little about how this scheme works?

A. The apprenticeship system in Germany has proven extremely successful across all industry sectors and as a result, has gained recognition not only throughout Europe but in a growing number of countries worldwide. It enables companies to recruit and to train their future generations of employees according to their own needs and in line with the provisions of the German Vocational Training Act over a period of 30 or 36 months, depending on the school qualification. During this period, apprentices rotate through all major operational and administrative departments of the training company, gaining on the job experience while simultaneously attending classes, studying the theoretical knowledge and expertise it takes to become a well-qualified management assistant in the field of transport and logistics. The dual system theoretical training is conducted according to a curriculum which includes aspects of foreign trade, logistics and transport, business processes, finance and accounting and foreign languages. Upon graduation, the apprentices receive a diploma issued by the local Chamber of Commerce, which is recognised across Europe. In some instances, the graduates choose to supplement the apprenticeship through further studies at a University, in order to obtain a BA degree.

Q. Why does Kopf + Lübben Cargo Services feel it’s important to invest its time and money in apprenticeships?

A. With the demographics in Germany being as they are, companies are beginning to face a shortage of skilled employees. We have always lived by the principle of “important in a company are the people who work for it and the spirit in which they carry out their work”. In order to ensure that we find qualified employees with the desired skills, language skills and work habits to match our company’s principle and requirements, we actively promote our industry at high schools, offering internships and then training these highly motivated young men and women in line with our company’s requirements, to eventually benefit from the practically oriented qualification which they have obtained during the training period.

Q. What are your immediate plans for Kopf + Lübben Cargo Services?

A. It is imperative that we continue to follow our strategy of transforming ourselves from the traditional freight forwarder to a full service provider, offering a multitude of value added services. To this end, our prime focus is on further developing and strengthening our branches in China, where we have the infrastructure for offering integrated global logistics solutions, including eCommerce and eFulfilment solutions.

Q. What are your longer term ambitions for Kopf + Lübben Cargo Services?

A. Our longer term ambitions are a) to be recognised as a service provider offering technology enabled supply chain solutions from “concept to cash” with state of the art PO management visibility solutions, predominantly for brands and retailers and b) to become a significant player in China for eCommerce solutions with full front-end and back-end capabilities for European brands.

All members with shipments in Bremen, Frankfurt and Hamburg are invited to get in touch with the Kopf + Lübben Cargo Services team. 

Thomas Manigk