By Keith Norbury

Things are looking much brighter for Schenker of Canada Ltd, said Eric Dewey, the company’s ­President. “We’re investing in growth both in Canada and around the world,” Mr. Dewey said.

The transportation and logistics division of Deutsche Bahn AG, the state-owned German railway, DB Schenker has a presence in some 130 countries, about 2,000 locations, and more than 91,000 employees. Based on its performance and its sales in 2010 of approximately 18.9 billion euros, DB Schenker is the second-largest of its kind on the planet, according to its website.

Among the company’s accomplishments have been its supporting roles at various Olympic Games. These include being the official freight forwarder in 1972 in Munich and 2000 in Sydney, as well as official service provider for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

On July 1, 2012, DB Schenker will mark the 140th anniversary of its founding in 1872, when Swiss-born Gottfried Schenker and two partners established Schenker & Co. in Vienna. Schenker & Co. expanded steadily and often, beginning in 1874 with the opening of branch offices in Prague, Budapest, Bucharest and London.

In 1931, Germany’s railways, predecessors of today’s Deutsche Bahn, acquired Schenker. The firm has been owned by the railway ever since, except for the period from 1991 to 2002 when it was owned by Stinnes AG. Schenker returned to the railway fold when Deutsche Bahn purchased a majority interest in Stinnes in 2002.

Today, DB Schenker also has its own rail division, which has freight activities and companies in 15 European countries. In total, that presence includes about 32,500 employees, 109,000 freight cars and 3,587 locomotives.

In 2011, DB Schenker Rail carried 411.6 million tonnes of freight and generated more than 4.9 billion euros in revenue. The rail division is made up of three regions — East, West and the Central (or German) regions — and includes more than a dozen subsidiaries. Major subsidiaries include DB Schenker Rail Danmark Services A/S, DB Schenker Italia Srl. and DB Schenker Rail Nederland N.V.

Earlier this year, DB Schenker announced the addition of a second weekly rail freight service between Poland and the U.K., which would remove an estimated 3,700 truck movements from European roads.

DB Schenker Logistics is also increasing its global reach. In December, it announced a joint venture with Khimji Ramdas Group to provide ­contract logistics, supply chain man­agement, land transport, and ocean and air freight in the Sultanate of Oman.

While mergers and acquisitions have marked much of Schenker’s history, the firm also staked out new territories by opening branch plants. Among those was the Canadian division, which traces its origin to 1953, when Dieter Moeller set up an office in Toronto. Mr. Moeller, who began by primarily offering ocean freight forwarding, was so successful that in 1958, Schenker of Canada Ltd. was formed. Mr. Moeller was named its first president.

“I would say if you look at the largest companies in our category we’ve probably grown more organically than some others,” said Mr. Dewey, who started with Schenker 33 years ago and knew Mr. Moeller, who was then still running the Canadian subsidiary. From a humble beginning with only three employees, Schenker of Canada has grown to about 1,500 employees in some 40 sites across the country.

“I would still say to this day probably 25 per cent of the business that we take on each year we’re not taking from a competitor. We are actually being awarded business that is being outsourced for the first time by companies,” Mr. Dewey said. In recent years, Schenker’s business has evolved from being a “transactional process” with its customers to providing “a higher level of logistics management,” he said.

Companies, including some of the largest in the world, have come to realize they couldn’t dedicate enough resources to logistics management, Mr. Dewey noted. So they have turned to global companies, such as Schenker, that are capable of doing work that those firms had formerly done in-house.

“We have been to some extent the recipient of very interesting global business on a scale that we hadn’t necessary seen 25 or 30 years ago, from companies that are now partnering with us at a larger scale and a larger capacity than they had in the past,” Mr. Dewey said.

Schenker’s goal, then, is to do that efficiently, damage-free, in a timely manner, and at the lowest possible cost, Mr. Dewey said. That includes looking at the value chain “from a logistics perspective” to combine shipments of like products or finding better shipping routes. Nevertheless, air and ocean freight, ground transportation, and contract warehousing and logistics remain Schenker’s core activities.

“We’ve begun to integrate more effectively those services that we provide and combine them with information and capability to drive additional value, as opposed to just being able to give them a lower price on ocean freight,” Mr. Dewey said.

He added that the company has enjoyed a great start in 2012, and he is “bullish” about initiatives the company is working on, such as its growth objectives. He described those objectives as “aggressive in the marketplace,” and involving “robust” tender management and engineering groups that respond regularly to requests for proposals.

“Despite the recession and everything else, we’ve been able to maintain good growth,” Mr. Dewey said.

He admitted that shipments and volumes decreased in 2008 and 2009, in the range of 10 to 12 per cent. But the company used that opportunity “to make itself meaner and leaner, as they say, and better prepared for the future.”

The recession also had a lingering effect on its North American domestic heavyweight overnight freight business, which it had inherited in the 2006 acquisition of BAX Global. Last summer, Schenker’s U.S. subsidiary divested itself of that dedicated air fleet, which accounted for less than a tenth of Schenker’s business in the Americas, in favour of providing less expensive ground transportation for its customers. A month before that announcement, the Financial Times Deutschland reported that the company was even considering shutting down its operations in the Americas.

“But other than that, we are back to where we were pre-recession,” Mr. Dewey said.