Chief executive officer, Andy van der Velde, discusses how, over the course of two decades, a small, family-run business has been able to transform itself into a leading international logistics provider
Take a look back through history and you will find that the plot of many of the greatest stories ever told revolve around a protagonist who, from humble beginnings, goes on to achieve great things. It is equally true to say that some of the most incredible business stories share the same theme, with a great many today originating from the rapidly developing economic backdrop that is Africa.
Founded in 1992, Berco Express began life, like many other companies, as a small, family-run business, focused on delivering courier services between Johannesburg and Cape Town. By fully embracing its own mantra of delivering constant, never-ending improvement, the company grew organically over the subsequent years to the point where it now boasts a total of 16 branches and three warehouses across the country.
“In 2004”, explains van der Velde, “we decided to embark on taking the business to a completely new level in terms of offering a much broader range of services including active warehousing, clearing and forwarding, domestic and international courier services.”
Steadily expanding through the market, Berco Express would go on to establish its branches in several main centres of commerce as well as key second tier centres such as Rustenburg and Kimberley. It was then in 2011 that it was acquired by the Dubai listed global organisation, Aramex.
Founded in 1982, Aramex today employs more than 12,300 people in 353 locations, across 60 countries. A leading global provider of comprehensive logistics and transportation solutions, the range of services offered by Aramex includes international and domestic express delivery, freight forwarding, logistics and warehousing, records and information management solutions, e-business solutions, and online shopping services.
A founding member, and chair, of the Global Distribution Alliance (GDA), Aramex leads a strong alliance of over 40 express and logistics providers from around the world, each specialising in their own region and together covering the world with the same, unified quality standards and technology of Aramex.
“We have certainly come a very long way from being a small family business,” van der Velde continues, “transforming ourselves along the way to become what we are now, which is a fully fledged logistics provider, linked to a big global player that itself has the fifth largest worldwide network.”
The expansion of various industry sectors in Africa may no longer be breaking news, but it remains the core driver for growth in the region and is the biggest contributing factor towards Berco – an Aramex Company’s on-going success. “In addition to the fact that today you have an ever increasing number of companies looking to sell their goods or services in Africa,” van der Velde states, “you also have a booming mining sector on the continent that is having an extremely positive impact on companies like us.”
Where the company also excels is in the e-commerce sector, where Berco – an Aramex Company is recognised as the leading courier company. “We certainly have a strong focus on this part of our business, which continues to gather pace at an extraordinary rate,” van der Velde says.
Increasing at a similar rate is the movement within South Africa to outsource warehousing. “We have definitely seen a big rise in demand for this type of service,” van der Velde enthuses, “in fact, we are at a stage today where just as quickly as we get a new warehouse up and running, we have it filled to capacity. The reason for this is very simple and that is that people don’t have a desire to manage their own warehouses. What they do want is to outsource this service and do so to experts who possess the right software and equipment, who are proficient at maintaining stock controls and who have a proven track record when it comes to high quality pick and pack operations.”
While much has changed in the 20-plus years that Berco has been around, it has always maintained a core belief that in order to prosper one has to have the right people in the right positions. This belief is shared in Aramex and the company considers several core factors when it comes to recruitment, focusing specifically on bringing on board individuals with energy, passion and the desire to stretch their wings.
Each year the company makes a concerted effort to recruit a number of individuals fresh from completing honours degrees in logistics. This past year the company brought eight people into the business following a lengthy, near six-month selection process. These eight people, like many before them, were then given a single mission and that was to take the company’s business model and turn it on its head, by coming up with new ideas, new ways of bringing added value to its customers and ways to improve the company’s own internal operations.
“These young graduates,” van der Velde highlights, “come into the business with fresh, innovative ideas and we provide them with the platform and the opportunity to make an impact on how this business works.” Determined to make 2013 as profitable a year as the last several before it, the company is particularly excited about its upcoming launch of a new portal that will allow customers to transact with international e-commerce companies. This solution will allow these people and businesses to shop in places like Dubai, China, the US and Europe, while at the same time allowing companies to bring their goods and services into South Africa in a much more effective way than previously available. June 2013 will also see the company adopt the new name Aramex South Africa. “Something that is very important for us,” van der Velde concludes, “is that in little over two decades we have not only managed to establish a very healthy footprint in South Africa, but now, with Aramex, we have established offices throughout Africa. Our plan now is to continue to build on our previous successes and expand further across Southern Africa in the very near future.”
Written by Will Daynes
Research by Paul Bradley