C.H. Robinson’s Business Model is at Home in Europe
Amsterdam, Netherlands and Lyon, France
July 23, 2009
Evan Armstrong

Key Personnel:
Chris O’Brien, Vice President, C.H. Robinson Worldwide
Mick Winker, Director of Transportation, C.H. Robinson Europe BV
Benjamin Lebreut, European Sales Director, C.H. Robinson Europe BV
Ben Spilger, Antwerp, Belgium Branch Manager, C.H. Robinson Europe BV
Eddy Genevay, Lyon, France Branch Manager, C.H. Robinson France

CHRW European Market Expansion History

C.H. Robinson Worldwide’s story in Europe begins in 1992 with it supporting Frito-Lay’s potato sourcing operations. In 1997 under the leadership of Chris O’Brien, it made a significant investment in developing a European operating network by opening branch offices in Warsaw, Poland; London, U.K.; and Milan, Italy.

To further jumpstart its European operations, C.H. Robinson made a key acquisition in 1999 of non-asset based transportation manager Norminter S.A. and its subsidiaries. The acquisition effectively doubled the size of C.H. Robinson’s European presence. Norminter was headquartered in Caen, France, and had combined annual net revenues of approximately $5 million in 1998 and offices located in Pau, Metz and Lyon, France; Madrid and Barcelona, Spain; and Birmingham, U.K.

From 2002 to 2005, C.H. Robinson continued its expansion by opening four new branch offices and acquiring two freight forwarding companies: Hirdes Group Worldwide and Bussini Transport S.r.l. The two acquired companies combined had 2004 gross revenues of approximately $52 million. Hirdes had 92 employees providing air and ocean international forwarding and local cartage services from operations in Germany and the United States. Bussini provided international freight forwarding, customs brokerage, and domestic truck services and was based in Milan, Italy.

From 2006 on, C.H. Robinson has built additional network scope organically and opened three new offices and a European Transportation Management Center (TMC) operation in Amsterdam. C.H. Robinson’s European growth history is detailed below:

  • 1997 Branch Office Openings – Warsaw, London, Milan
  • 1999 Norminter Acquisition – France, Spain, United Kingdom
  • 2002 Branch Office Openings – Manchester, Budapest
  • 2005 Branch Office Openings – Antwerp, Prague
  • 2005 Hirdes Group and Bussini Transport Acquisitions – Germany and Milan
  • Global Forwarding
  • 2006 Branch Office Opening – Dublin
  • 2007 Branch Office Opening – Amsterdam Global Forwarding
  • 2008 Branch Office and TMC Openings – Wroclaw, TMC Amsterdam

C.H. Robinson Europe Today

C.H. Robinson Europe has grown to a staff of over 360 employees and generated approximate revenues of $360 million in 2008 from a customer base of over 1,500 accounts. Key European customers include: ArcelorMittal, ArjoWiggins, CHEP, Danone, Kimberly-Clark, Manitowoc, Mars, Nestle, P&G, Reckit Benckiser, SCA, and Tetra Pak.

From a network of 25 offices, C.H. Robinson Europe’s core service offering includes European transportation management and global air and ocean freight forwarding. Approximately 60% of its business is transport and 40% is forwarding.

Our visit focused on C.H. Robinson Europe’s road transport business. It has developed relationships with over 10,000 carriers in Europe over the last 15 years. Europe is a very fragmented carrier marketplace and C.H. Robinson views its investment in developing a very solid carrier base as one of the key reasons its model has been successful in Europe. European transport modes/trailers handled include: taut liner/tilt trailers, mega trailers, frigo (temperature controlled) trailers, road trains (doubles), and box trailers. Global forwarding mainly manages door-to-door imports and exports of shipments to and from North America, Asia, and South America. It also provides less than container load (LCL) ocean and air consolidation services. C.H. Robinson Europe’s office locations are shown on the figure below. Some offices house both European transportation management and global air and ocean forwarding operations.

C.H. Robinson Europe Office Locations

chrw europe

The decentralized business model developed by C.H. Robinson in North America has worked very well in Europe. Because of Europe’s multicultural and multilingual shipper and carrier base, local logistics operations need to be flexible and able to operate with a considerable amount of autonomy to meet customers’ needs. C.H. Robinson’s decentralized model has made it easy to adapt to the local markets it operates in. The fact that C.H. Robinson Europe has only six American expatriates working in its operations is a testament to its focus on local management and control. Using its decentralized model to fuel growth, C.H. Robinson’s goal is to grow its European operations faster than its overall long-term net revenue annual growth target of 15 percent.

Most of C.H. Robinson’s European operations are ISO 9001 certified and it is a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). It has also filed to be a certified Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) in the European Union (EU). The AEO certification status was added to EU customs regulations in 2005 and has specific guidelines regarding customs compliance, record-keeping, financial solvency, and security and safety standards which a company must meet in order to become certified.

The EU sees this certification as a way to increase trade and transport efficiencies between the EU countries and C.H. Robinson sees it as an additional competitive differentiator.

To support European operations, C.H. Robinson Worldwide has customized its proprietary “Express” (Transportation Management System) and its web application “CHRWOnline ®”. The TMS has been used for eight years in Europe and is supported by a European based IT development team. It can manage customer orders, assign orders to shipments and tender shipments to carriers. The system provides C.H. Robinson personnel, customers, and transportation providers with personalized interfaces for managing orders, shipments, payment processing, exception handling, and providing online supply chain visibility. From our system demonstration, we were able to see how C.H. Robinson’s global customers have the advantage of using one web interface for tracking and tracing and reporting for shipments coming out of France as easily as domestic shipments inbound from Texas. In addition, CHREU Online has been customized to handle value-added tax (VAT) accounting issues, different country postal codes, and multiple languages.

CHREU Online Transportation Management System


Lyon, France European Transportation Management Branch

A good example of C.H. Robinson’s decentralized management approach and market growth has been the Lyon, France branch of C.H. Robinson Europe. Established in 1991 with a staff of two, it has grown to a staff of 41 people providing transportation management services across three time zones in Western and Eastern Europe, Norway, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Republics including Russia and Ukraine).

The main services offered by the Lyon team include full truckload, specialized truckload, less than truckload, airfreight, and short sea/ocean transportation management. It is also managing customs clearance and performing shipment consolidation for some customers. Lyon managed over 40,000 shipments in 2008 for over 250 customers and generated approximate gross revenues of $55 million. About 75% of the shipments handled were truckloads and approximately half of the branch’s business is intra-France road transport. The operation is ISO 9001 certified and received its European chemical industry SQAS (Security, Quality, Environment) transportation provider certification in November 2006.

Because of its diverse operating geography the branch is organized by countries and regions. Cultural fit is critical when dealing with customers and over 850 transportation providers from different countries. According to branch Director Eddy Genevay, cultural understanding is a key driver in employee recruiting and is reflected in the 18 different nationalities of the Lyon staff and 24 different languages spoken within the branch. The majority of the staff are also transportation college or university graduates and C.H. Robinson has a significant focus on training and professional development.

Lyon became part of C.H. Robinson in 1999 through the acquisition of non-asset based transportation manager Norminter S.A. Its growth is detailed in the timeline below:

Established in 1991: 2 people

  • 1999: 7 people – 2 operations groups covering South & North Europe
  • 2000: 12 people – 3 operations groups adding France
  • 2002: 22 people – 5 operations groups: split South (Italy-Greece / Spain-Portugal) and North Europe (UK-Scandinavia-Eastern Countries / Benelux-Germany)
  • 2004: 28 people – 6 operations groups adding Eastern Countries
  • 2006: 32 people – 7 operations groups: split Germany and Benelux
  • 2008: 39 people – 9 operations groups: adding Russia and Customer Service Department

According to Genevay he expects to open up service to Turkey next year and expand Lyon to 60 people by 2012. Like most C.H. Robinson branch operations, Lyon is working with customers in many vertical industries including: High-Tech, Retailing, Food & Grocery, Paper, Chemicals, Industrial Manufacturing, Packaging, and Consumer Packaged Goods. Its top five customers are Groupe SEB, CHEP, Tetra Pak, Manitowoc, and Unilever.

European Customer Case Study Briefs

U.K. based Kingspan Insulation tapped C.H. Robinson in 2006 to be a transportation provider for less than truckload (LTL) and truckload insulation products shipments from its manufacturing plant in the U.K. to construction sites in Western and Eastern Europe. C.H. Robinson Europe worked with Kingspan in designing the operating procedures and assigned a dedicated account team to manage the project out of C.H. Robinson’s Budapest, Hungary office. The group will manage over 1,000 shipments annually. Kingspan has visibility to all shipments in route via C.H. Robinson’s transportation management system “CHREU Online”.

Mars, a global producer of candy and pet care products, selected C.H. Robinson Europe as a transportation provider in 2001 to manage over 2,600 annual truckload, LTL, and temperature control shipments from four origin countries destined to other EU countries. In addition to its core transportation provider services, C.H. Robinson also provides “surge” carrier capacity to Mars when it has extraordinary peaks in product demand. As part of a value-added service, C.H. Robinson developed customized service reports for Mars and has provided Mars with access to CHREU Online.


C.H. Robinson has replicated its North American operating strengths in the European transportation management market using a familiar recipe of sharp people supported by technology. While doing so, it has built its network with locals and leveraged their local and regional marketing and sales expertise. This decentralized customer focused approach is working well and continues to fuel C.H. Robinson’s European and global growth.


Sources: A&A Primary Research, http://www.chrobinson.com/

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