By Keith Norbury

With annual revenues of almost US$6 billion, Agility has eight locations in Canada – from St. John’s, Nfld., to Vancouver, B.C.

The Middle East logistics and freight-forwarding giant offers, according to Agility’s Canada profile brochure, over 24,000 square metres of “state-of-the-art distribution facilities” across the country.

Agility Canada GIL is representing the company’s Global Integrated Logistics division and focuses predominantly on business-to-business moves, Mike Shum, Vice-President of Business Development for Agility Canada GIL, said. “The range of services can cater to industries from aerospace to industrial, pharmaceutical – the full gambit of traditional freight-forwarding that you would be familiar with,” he added.

In providing its air freight services, Agility Canada partners with “some the world’s premier air carriers” and uses its air freight spending muscle to deliver on-time service, flexibility and space allocations, according to the profile brochure. Agility, which has more than 22,000 employees in more than 100 countries, is also a leading sea freight forwarder.

In the road freight realm, Agility offers LTL (less than truckload), FTL (full truckload) and small package freight movements within Canada as well as between Canada and the U.S. and Canada and Mexico.

Agility also offers warehousing and distribution at technologically driven facilities. These include an 11,148-square-metre warehouse at its Canadian head office in Toronto, which has 50 employees. An even larger warehouse, measuring 13,470 square feet, is at the London, Ontario branch, which employs 30 people.

“Our head count is approximately 200 plus employees,” Mr. Shum said, although he acknowledged that the company, like many other freight-forwarders, has had to scale its business back during the economic slowdown.

While the Agility brand wasn’t unveiled until 2006, the company had its origins in Kuwait in 1979 and traces its roots in Canada back to the 1930s.

The Kuwait government founded the forerunner to Agility, the Public Warehousing Company, in 1979 as a property development and warehousing firm. After it was privatized in 1997, and branded as PWC Logistics, the company widened its scope “by offering value-added logistics solutions,” a 2005 press release noted. Spear­heading Agility’s expansion from a local player in Kuwait to a global company was Chairman and Managing Director Tarek Sultan, whose credentials include an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

From 2004 to 2008, Agility pursued an aggressive merger strategy that involved acquiring several global brands, some over a century old.

Among the acquisitions was U.S.-based GeoLogistics Corpora­tion, a global freight forwarder and logistics services provider with offices in Canada. Before 1998, GeoLogistics was known as International Logistics. In January 1996, International Logistics took a majority shareholding in LEP International (Worldwide) Ltd.

LEP dates to 1849 when two Swiss partners, surnamed Langstaff and Ehrenberg, founded a freight-forwarding business. While they opened a London office two years later, it wasn’t until 1886 that the “P” was added to the company name, when a Mr. Pollack joined the founders. A wave of international expansion brought LEP to Canada in the 1930s.

More recently, in 2008, Agility acquired Geopetrol International Limited, a logistics and freight forwarding company specializing in the oil and gas market in Canada. Geopetrol’s Edmonton and Calgary offices were merged with existing Agility offices, Mr. Shum said. Meanwhile Geopetrol’s St. John’s location became an entirely new Agility presence in the Maritimes.

Over the years, Agility has won many industry awards. In 2011, for example, Agility earned the prestigious Lloyd’s List Asia “Logistics Award” for the fourth straight year. That same year, Agility won a “Logistics Efficiency Award” at a ceremony hosted by the Brazilian Airport Authority, Infraero.

It hasn’t all been good news, though, for Agility, which has 550 offices around the globe. The U.S. government has joined a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging that Agility overcharged for US$8.5 billion in food it supplied to U.S. troops in Kuwait and Iraq. A U.S. grand jury also returned a six-count criminal indictment against Agility. Since the lawsuit and charges were filed in 2009, Agility has been suspended from bidding on new U.S. government contracts. A hearing in the case was scheduled for January 24, 2012, the Financial Times reported.

On its website, Agility said it stands by its work on the food vendor contract and “believes the case involves a civil contract dispute and should not be a criminal matter.” In December 2011, a U.S. subsidiary of Agility filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense to remove the ban on Agility subsidiaries bidding on new government contracts, the Financial Times reported. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

While Mr. Shum could not comment on the legal matter in the U.S., its impact on the company’s operations in Canada “have not been significant” and are isolated to a business unit unrelated to Canada, he said.