Bertschi warns shareholders of pandemic impact

The Bertschi Group informed its shareholders at this year’s Annual General Meeting, held last week, that the company will not be able to escape the impacts of COVID-19.

The company handled the first wave of coronavirus with aplomb, thanks in part to its advanced digital transformation, which is to be further accelerated. The company also aims to proactively seek out opportunities during the crisis and continue to invest in innovative customer solutions. The Bertschi Group Board of Directors has been expanded to include China expert Kurt Haerri and Jörg Berner, the first member of the third generation.

The Bertschi Group, a global chemical logistics company, has so far coped well with the effects of coronavirus, helped by the prompt and successful manner in which Bertschi China tackled the challenge at the outset. Similarly, the Group’s major investments in its digital transformation over the past two years enabled it to shift 80% of its office-based staff to home office settings within days and with no impact on quality. Digitalisation efforts are currently being further accelerated. The focus on combined transport, in which block trains cross the national borders rather than trucks with drivers, has enabled smooth transport operations during the border closure phase in Europe.

The health and safety of employees is always the top priority at Bertschi, particularly during the coronavirus outbreak. ‘Thanks to organisational precautions, a high level of awareness and great care on the part of all employees, as well as a comprehensive working-from-home structure and separate shifts in operational processes, we have so far navigated the crisis without a single case of infection within the Group,’ says Jan Arnet, CEO of the Bertschi Group.

Furthermore, based on the financial scenarios for 2020 and 2021, Group Management and the Board of Directors have secured the Group’s long-term liquidity with additional bank loans. The Group’s robust financial footing and its outstanding rating by banks facilitated favourable borrowing conditions. ‘In addition to long-term liquidity, we have achieved our objective of attaining sufficient room for manoeuvre to proactively take advantage of opportunities offered by the market even during the crisis,’ says Hans-Jörg Bertschi, Executive Chairman of the company. As a result of coronavirus, business volume in Bertschi’s most important European transport segment has declined by almost 20% since April, due mainly to the slump in demand in the automotive and durable consumer goods sectors, which use many chemical products. Recovery of the two sectors is expected to be slow, possibly lasting until the end of 2021. The coronavirus situation has also yielded some new opportunities. The experience has spurred many customers to diversify and strengthen their supply chains, and greater sustainability is becoming increasingly important to them. Bertschi wants to seize these opportunities with new services and thus compensate for transport losses. Jan Arnet emphasised: ‘Even during the crisis, Bertschi is proactively seizing new opportunities in the market and investing in innovative and sustainable customer solutions. This applies to both the European market and our global services, where we see considerable potential for future growth.’

Bertschi Group’s business performance over the first five months of 2020 has been satisfactory in view of the major challenges it faced. The road back to normality will take some time, however, and there is a continued risk of further setbacks. ‘We do not expect global demand for chemicals to return to pre-crisis levels until the end of 2021. However, we do see short-term opportunities in the market and can implement the necessary investments very quickly thanks to our robust financial situation,’ says Hans-Jörg Bertschi.

With a view to the future, shareholders decided at the Annual General Meeting on 4 July 2020 to expand the Group’s Board of Directors to include Kurt Haerri and Jörg Berner.

Kurt Haerri has worked for Schindler since 1987, currently as Senior Vice President. From 1996 to 2003 and 2017 to 2019, he worked for the company in China, where he managed the business for new installations, among holding other responsibilities. He completed an Executive MBA at the University of St. Gallen in 1996. From 2006 to 2014, he served as president of the Swiss-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC) and is currently a member of its board. From 2004 to 2019, Kurt Haerri held a part-time teaching role at ETH Zurich in the Executive MBA programme for International Supply Chain Management. He is 58 years old and lives in Birrwil (Aargau). His many years of experience in the Chinese market and in global supply chain management will bring new impetus to the Bertschi Group.

With Jörg Berner, the Board of Directors adds a member from the third generation of the Bertschi family for the first time. Jörg Berner attained a master’s degree from the University of St. Gallen in 2013 and was an investment manager at Invision in Zug from 2013 to 2016. Since 2016, he has worked for the Bertschi Group as a project manager in strategic projects. In 2018, he helped establish the new company site in Houston (US) for the acquired subsidiary Elite International Logistics. Jörg Berner’s appointment to the Board of Directors is in line with the succession concept and the Bertschi family constitution of 2009, which aims to facilitate the transition from the second to the third generation with a transitional phase between the generations.

With this expansion, the majority of Board of Directors will continue to consist of members from outside the Bertschi family. At the Annual General Meeting, the incumbent non-family members of the Board of Directors, Alexander Krebs, Boy Litjens and Bruno Sidler, and family members Brigitta Berner and Hans-Jörg Bertschi were re-elected for a further two-year term of office.