The pandemic made 2020 a challenging year for the Bertschi Group. At CHF 900 million, sales were nine percent lower than in the previous year. Adjusted for foreign exchange, the decline was five percent. Thanks to proactive measures taken, the Group was able to end the year on a positive note both operationally and financially. Due to the growth impetus from Asia and the expected gradual normalization with the progress of global Covid-19 vaccinations, Bertschi is confident for 2021. The company will therefore make significant investments in Europe and China. With Marc Houtermans as the new Managing Director of the Business Unit Solutions, the Group Management team will be strengthened.
COVID-19 impact partially offset
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and its rapid spread across the globe had a significant effect on financial results. Imposed lockdowns resulted in a drop in global demand for durable consumer goods. This was particularly evident in the automotive industry, where demand collapsed. This led to a reduction in demand for primary chemical products, resulting in a substantial decline in sales in Bertschi’s core business of chemical logistics. Demand picked up from the fall, driven by the end of the first lockdown and the rapid recovery seen in Asia.
At CHF 900 million, sales in 2020 were nine percent lower than the record sales of the previous year. In addition to COVID-19, the strengthening of the Swiss franc against the euro and the US dollar also had a significant impact, as the Bertschi Group generates less than five percent of its sales in Switzerland. Adjusted for currency effects, sales were down five percent. The earnings situation was maintained at a good level thanks to proactive cost discipline.
For Bertschi, protecting its 3,100 employees worldwide from COVID-19 infection is of upmost priority. ‘Thanks to the advanced digitalization of our work processes, which enabled home office for a large part of the workforce, and the early implementation of protective measures at the workplaces, we have been able to offer our employees a safe working environment at all times,’ explains Jan Arnet, Group CEO.
Bertschi invested heavily in the company’s future during 2020. The container fleet grew by 1,200 units to a total of 37,800. As a result of strong demand, the capacity of the dangerous goods container storage facility at the Schwarzheide site (eastern Germany) was doubled. COVID-19 accelerated the digital transformation within the Bertschi Group, making business processes more efficient, secure and customer-friendly as a result. Much was invested to offer the customers end-to-end visibility of complex supply chains that often involve a combination of rail, road and sea.
Positive outlook and substantial investments in 2021
Hans-Jörg Bertschi, Chairman of the Group, is confident about 2021: ‘We are assuming that the positive trends seen in the last quarter of 2020 will continue this year. Asia, and China in particular, have largely overcome the pandemic and are currently showing impetus for growth. Thanks to government support measures and the ongoing vaccination of the population in the industrialized countries, the global economy should be boosted even further from the middle of 2021.’
This positive outlook will result in significant investments by the Bertschi Group in 2021. The construction of a logistics hub for dangerous liquid chemicals in Zhangjiagang in the greater Shanghai area was started shortly before the start of the year and is the biggest single investment in Bertschi’s history. Three warehouses for different classes of dangerous goods, with a total capacity of 25,000 pallets, will be built on the 67,000 m2 plot of land. To complement these, a dangerous goods containerized tankfarm will be constructed with a capacity of about 1,000 tank containers for storing bulk liquid loads. The addition of automatic drum- and IBC-filling systems and tank container heating stations will create a complete logistics hub for the handling, filling and storage of liquid chemical products in China.
Bertschi is also investing heavily in Europe. It operates its own transshipment terminal at the port of Rotterdam for transferring loads from road to rail, combined with a dangerous goods container storage area. This facility will be more than doubled in size in 2021 to offer a total capacity of 2,000 storage locations as a dangerous goods containerized tankfarm. Brexit will also lead to increasing demand for storage in the UK. Bertschi operates a central warehouse for bulk and packed import-plastics from overseas in Middlesbrough (northern England). The capacity of this facility will be significantly increased by an extension on an adjacent property. Bertschi is also planning to switch more shipments from road to rail in the growing market for transport to south-east Europe. To this end, capacity will be increased at the Ploiesti rail terminal near Bucharest, acquired in 2019. Bertschi is also continuing to invest in its specialized container fleet in order to accommodate growth in the number of shipments.
Marc Houtermans strengthens Group Management team
Marc Houtermans will join the company on 1 March 2021 and assume responsibility for the Business Unit Solutions. The native Dutchman brings many years of experience in the global chemicals industry, where he has worked in a number of management roles. In 2014, he founded with two partners the start-up QCP (Quality Circular Polymers), which recycles plastic waste at its newly built plant in the Dutch town of Geleen and processes it ready for use in high-quality products. Following the sale of this company, Marc Houtermans will now take on a new challenge at Bertschi.
‘We have known Marc for many years through his previous work on the customer side and have been impressed by his extensive expertise and range of skills. In his global role here, he will take charge of the development and expansion of our chemical logistics hubs around the world. We are delighted to welcome Marc to Bertschi and look forward to working with him in the future,’ says Jan Arnet.
Christian Bart becomes Operations Manager of largest business unit
The previous Managing Director of the Business Unit Solutions, Christian Bart, played a key role in the successful development of this unit in recent years, which operates the global infrastructure for our logistics services. Later this year, he will move to the Business Unit Liquids, our largest unit, where he will be responsible for management of the entire operational business. Christian Bart will remain part of the Group Management team in his new role.
Christoph Wälchli to head all European branches
As part of a long-term succession plan, Christoph Wälchli, who has been Head of Operations for the Business Unit Liquids for many years, will introduce Christian Bart to his new role and then take over the management of the Bertschi Group's more than 30 subsidiaries across Europe. Christoph Wälchli has been instrumental in the growth of the European liquid chemicals business over the past decades. He will remain part of the Group Management team in his new role.
Record number of anniversaries
Last year’s record will be surpassed once again in 2021 with a total of 161 employees celebrating long service anniversaries. They include people looking back at 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years’ employment with the company. In addition to six people celebrating 30 years of service with Bertschi, André Gloor from Leutwil, a planning manager who has helped to develop and shape rail transport of liquids to Italy over the decades, has remained loyal to the company for a total of 40 years.