Koert Van Wissen – CEO, InterBulk

The CEO talks to Bulk Distributor about the benefits of going global and the importance of sustainability

Since becoming CEO of InterBulk in 2006, which achievement are you most proud of?

I became CEO of InterBulk Group after the acquisition of UTT (United Transport Tank Containers), I had already joined in 1980.

Highlights in the last 6 years after the formation of the InterBulk Group were the acquisition of UBC, that took place in 2007 and the fact that, with the support of a very committed and engaged management team,we managed to successfully integrate both businesses and get recognition of the InterBulk brand as a high quality business, like we did.

I believe the team improved the internal and external business performance in such a way that we gained more customer appreciation and confidence that gave us the opportunity to lead the company through turbulent times.

A major achievement I like to mention is the development of InterBulk in China and the fact that Sinotrans, as a government owned company, became an important shareholder in the company.

InterBulk serves both the liquid and dry bulk commodity sectors. What similarities and differences are there between the two sectors?

A similarity is the fact that both commodities have to be carried from loading point to destination and we do that by the same principles and being very focused on: intermodal, container in bulk and on time.

However, the logistics solutions we offer can differ quite a lot between the two sectors as the specifics require a different approach.

The dry bulk business might be more commoditised and requires specific knowledge on the inner liner technology, the product flow characteristics and discharge methods, while the liquid bulk business requires expertise on hazardous cargo handling, transport regulations etc.

What do you think is the most challenging link in the bulk production supply chain?

This might be the fact that in emerging countries the transition from traditional ways of packaging, such as drums for liquids and bags for dry goods, can take quite some time because of existing behaviours and structures (even if the intermodal bulk option is more economic and environment-friendly). We see it as our task to support the customer by offering innovative solutions to make this transition.

Today, InterBulk seems to be going from strength to strength. What in your opinion has been the reason for this success?

We believe in having a very clear strategy, knowing what our ambition is and having the implementation power and determination to achieve this.

Key success assets as I see it are:
1) our people and their expertise to ensure a high quality service offering;
2) our IT systems to not only allow tracking and tracing and B2B, but also to ensure we are easy to work with for our customers and partners;
3) having the network and fleet with the critical size to ensure equipment availability on a global scale.

What are the prime benefits of InterBulk’s global network?

We are working for a customer base that has a global orientation and we recognised this globalisation many years ago. We offer a business on truly global scale with domesticated customer service and local operations. Since the early 1980s we have built our European network and through the years opened offices in many countries around the world. We currently have 20 offices and a global network of partners that suits the business requirement.

What benefits has the alliance with Sinotrans created for the group has a whole?

Having an important investor and alliance partner in China is of great strategic value. It gave us access to a complete logistics network in China with a large trucking fleet , operational local knowledge and a platform for further development of our two main business sectors. It also created access for Sinotrans to our international network and long term expertise as an intermodal operator.

Which markets – both geographical and sectoral – do you see as the most promising in the next few years?

Although the Western European market for dry and liquid bulk transportation can be seen as a displacement market, it remains very important for us. As we all know, new chemicals manufacturing capacity has been moved to other locations outside Europe, but as consumption in Europe will moderately grow, products will still need to be transported to Europe from other regions, and within the European Region.

We still have the opportunity to mirror our dry bulk business model for other territories in the world, we have successfully started these businesses and we believe we can expand them even further. We can go where our customers require logistics solutions. In that respect China,India and South America, The Middle East and Russia are important geographies for international but also domestic expansion.

Geographically we focus on areas where there is an existing infrastructure for our business model and have the organisation in place to guarantee a safe and high quality service that is fully in our control.

In order to deal with the customer’s desire to have total supply chain solutions with a minimum of occupied working capital within that supply chain. I also believe that our containers for dry and liquid bulk are a good medium for intermediate storage of the commodities as they can offer a variable cost storage solution instead of static storage tanks and silos. Loaded containers can be placed at our terminals and/or at locations close to the markets and discharged on demand, so that storage cost and occupied working capital can be brought back to a minimum. We have a terminal in Duisburg that is set up especially for this purpose.

Sustainability in all industries is becoming more important. What is InterBulk doing in terms of environmental responsibility?

We saw the sustainability issue within in the traditional road transport model many years ago and that’s why we made the choice for development of our intermodal business model. I believe that intermodal transport deals for a part with the burden of the road congestion and reduction of emissions by using rail, ship and barge transportation wherever we can. InterBulk is a Responsible Care company and is preaching sustainability to all its stakeholders. This comes into play by our choice of operational partners, choice of trucks, approved cleaning stations we use and recycling of the liners we use for the dry bulk business.

Where do see the group in, say, 5 to 10 years?

Our growth opportunities for dry and liquid bulk intermodal solutions provide a positive environment for future development of our network in our strategic geographic development areas. We stay loyal to our business model with a focus on intermodal and bulk transport both international and domestic and have positioned the business well.

I believe the business will not only grow with the growth of the chemical industry, but also because of substitution of packed cargo to bulk and the change from a traditional way of transportation to intermodal solutions especially in emerging geographies.

We aim to be flexible in our approach to short term volatility in the markets we serve but at the same time ensure in a balanced way that we continue to invest in our people, network and capability to focus on the long term growth opportunities.