Incorporated: 1925 as Société des Transports Rapides Calberson
Sales: EUR 22.5 billion (2003)
Stock Exchanges: Euronext Paris
Ticker Symbol: GEO
NAIC: 541614 Process, Physical Distribution, and Logistics Consulting Services; 484121 General Freight Trucking, Long-Distance, Truckload
Geodis S.A. is one of Europe's leading logistics groups, providing a full range of logistics services and supply side management to corporations around the world. Founded in 1995 as a spinoff of French national railway SNCF's nonrail goods transport operations, Geodis has extended its reach to include some 120 countries, with services through nearly 700 agencies. France remains the company's dominant market, however, at 69 percent of its sales of EUR 22.5 billion in 2003. Geodis operates through a number of primary brands, including Geodis BM, focused on the French and European transport market; Geodis Calberson, the group's largest component, which provides groupage and express delivery services; Geodis Logistics, a provider of global logistics solutions; Geodis Vitesse, based in The Netherlands, providing logistics, supply chain management, overseas, and related services in the Benelux market; Geodis Züst Ambrosetti, one of Italy's leading logistics companies; Geodis Teisa, which provides transport and logistics services to the Iberian Peninsula; and Geodis Overseas, a France-based multimodal freight-forwarding and intercontinental logistics services provider. The company also operates under a number of regional brands in France, including Geodis Walbaum, Geodis Dusolier Calberson, Geodis Messageries Parisiennes de Livre, Geodis Valena, and Geodis MG Transports. Geodis is listed on the Euronext Paris Stock Exchange. The SNCF controls approximately 45 percent of Geodis's shares. La Poste, the French postal service, is also a major Geodis shareholder.
Early 20th-Century Origins
In 1995, the Société National de Chemins de Fer Français, or SNCF, restructured its nonrail transport holdings into a new company, Geodis, which was then spun off in a public offering. The new company quickly became a leading player in France's transport and logistics sectors. Geodis, however, had its origins at the beginning of the 20th century, providing services to rail customers in Le Havre, one of France's major industrial ports.
The development of France's national rail system had by the beginning of the 20th century given the country one of the Western world's densest railway grids. Part of the reason for this is the fact that France's railroads, although encouraged and financially supported by the French government, had been almost entirely built by private interests. This situation also led to the development of a number of ancillary service professions, such as the "commissionnaire bagagiste," or baggage delivery service, responsible for picking up and delivering passengers' luggage and other goods from their homes to the trains, and accompanying the baggage en route in order to see the luggage through to its final destination.
Among these delivery men was Emile Calberson, who started his own business in 1904 in the port town of Le Havre. Calberson began providing delivery services along the Le Havre-Rouen-Paris line, at the time one of the most important and busiest in France. By 1907, Calberson had set up his first branch office in Rouen, followed by an office in Paris in 1910, allowing him to provide delivery services along the entire line.
Deliveries were made by horse-drawn carriage until just before World War I, when Calberson's company—led by son Leon and wife Philomene since Calberson's death in 1913—introduced motorized coaches for the first time. Although these were soon after requisitioned by the French army for the war effort, Calberson had recognized the potential offered by motor vehicle transport, and in 1919 the company relaunched its operation as a full-fledged goods transporter along the Paris-Rouen-Le Havre line. Joining the company at this time was René Marquand, at first as head of the Le Havre office, then as partner in the company alongside Leon Calberson.
Calberson's destiny changed in 1921 when, after the company was denied its request for authorization to transport large-sized bulk goods on the line's trains, it decided to put into place a road-based delivery service. As an early entrant in France's road transport industry, Calberson grew quickly. By 1925, the company had incorporated as Société des Transports Rapides Calberson, and, taking advantage of the flexibility of the road system, the company expanded its territory, with routes covering much of France's north region. This led the company to open a new series of branch offices, and by the end of the decade, Calberson had offices in Lille, Roubais, Tourcoing, Nantes, Caen, Laval, Rennes, and Flers, in addition to its offices in Le Havre, Rouen, and Paris.
Calberson's growing fleet enabled it to become a strong partner for the region's railroads, themselves soon to be nationalized under a single government-run entity, the Société National de Chemins de Fer Français, or SNCF. In the early 1930s, the French government began encouraging the closer cooperation among the different transport modes in the country—in addition to the rail and road network, the country also boasted a well-developed canal network. Marquand favored cooperation with the railroads. This led Calberson, who preferred to remain in competition with the railroads, to leave the company in 1931. The following year, Société des Transports Rapides Calberson sold the majority of its shares to France Transport Domicile. The company moved its headquarters to Paris, where Marquand became president.
During the early 1930s, the French government laid the groundwork for the creation of the SNCF, passing new legislation including a decree in 1934 establishing a system of cooperation among the railroad and other transporters in the country. Calberson was now well placed to become a major partner for the railroads in connecting the country's rail and road grid, and, backed by contracts with the developing national railroad, the company began extending its operations into the southwest region in the middle of the decade. The establishment of the SNCF in 1938 led Calberson to adopt a new corporate status, as a limited liability company that same year.
During World War II, Calberson restricted its operations to the Brittany and western regions. In 1942, however, the company acquired Marseilles-based Transports Carré, giving it access to the south of the country and to the French presence in North Africa. By the end of the war, Calberson emerged as one of the country's primary road transporters specialized in the delivery sector.
The Logistics of Restructuring in the 1990s
Calberson's position in the French transport market was cemented in 1955 when the shares in the company formerly held by France Transport Domicile were acquired by Sceta, the road transport subsidiary of the SNCF. Calberson now became a government-owned company, but nonetheless continued as an independently operating entity. Backed by Sceta and the SNCF, Calberson began a series of acquisitions enabling it to expand its operations to provide national coverage by the mid-1960s.
Next, Calberson turned toward developing its international operations, starting with the 1966 purchase of Schenker France. The company then established a dedicated international subsidiary, Société Nouvelle des Transports Internationaux Calberson (SNTI), later known as Calberson Overseas.
Calberson also began expanding its range of services. In 1969, the company inaugurated a new warehouse in Paris. At 130,000 square meters, the facility boasted being the world's largest distribution center. In 1971, Calberson added another new service, that of express delivery. The group's national network enabled it to launch its own 24-hour and 48-hour delivery services. That offering was extended soon after with the launch of Calexpress, which promised 12-hour delivery to more than 36,000 locations throughout the country. By 1974, the growth of the group's delivery operations led it to open a new dedicated express delivery facility in Paris.
The acquisition of Transports Legat in 1976 allowed the company to extend its international operations. That year, as well, Calberson reached a cooperation agreement with another leading delivery group, France Express, providing for a merging of the two groups' national networks.
Calberson restructured in the early 1980s, creating the holding company Compagnie Générale Calberson (CGC), which went public on the Paris stock exchange in 1984. The SNCF, through Sceta, nonetheless remained the group's majority shareholder. By mid-decade, Calberson had emerged as the country's second largest land-based transport group, following only the SNCF itself.
Calberson restructured in 1992, splitting its operations into 12 regions. At the same time, the SNCF was also under pressure to carry out its own restructuring, in large part in order to meet European Union directives meant to develop a competitive market among the union's railroads. As part of that process, the SNCF moved to spin off much of Sceta's operations into a new, independent company, Geodis. The SNCF nonetheless remained Geodis's major shareholder, with more than 45 percent of its stock.
New Ambitions for the Group: Pursuit of improvement in our profitability.
2003 was a watershed year for Geodis. Having reached and even surpassed its objectives, the Group improved its financial situation. It has realised profits, controlled its costs, reduced its indebtedness and generated a positive free cash flow. When combined with the quality of its offer, the strength of its fundamentals provides it with the means to achieve its ambition: accelerate its development in order to strengthen its positions in Europe and widen its worldwide coverage while improving its profitability.
Calberson, including Calberson Overseas, formed the major part of the new company, complemented by the addition of Bourgey-Montreuil, founded in 1931 and one of France's leading road transporters, as well as a number of Sceta's logistics holdings. Yet a number of the company's operations were losing money—part of its heritage as a member of the perennially unprofitable SNCF—leading to the company posting a loss of FRF 240 million in 1996. In response the group named Alain Poinssot as company CEO in 1997. Poinssot then led the company on a new restructuring design to refocus it as a logistics specialist.
The European logistics market was then in the process of a strong development. The arrival of a single currency at the end of the decade offered new perspectives for internationally operating companies, not least of which was the creation of unified logistics networks. As distribution, warehousing, supply chain management, and other functions extended beyond a local scale, the complexity of these operations had become too difficult and too expensive for corporations seeking at the same time to reduce their lead times, speed up their order-to-delivery rates, and minimize their raw materials and other inventories.
Corporations increasingly sought all-in-one and internationally based solutions for their logistics needs. Geodis responded by boosting its own logistics capacity through a series of strategic acquisitions, starting with France's Tailleur Industrie in 1997. The company then moved to extend its reach deeper into Europe, and in 1999, Geodis acquired The Netherlands' Vitesse B.V. That purchase, which created Geodis Vitesse, gave the company access to the Benelux markets as well as other parts of northern Europe.
For the Spanish and Portuguese markets, the company acquired Teisa, forming Geodis Teisa. With a fleet of nearly 500 vehicles and warehousing space of more than 100,000 square meters, Geodis Teisa emerged as one of the leading logistics players for the Iberian Peninsula market. Geodis also moved into the United Kingdom, acquiring United Carriers Group in 1999; that purchase proved short-lived, however, as the company shut down its struggling U.K. operation at the beginning of 2002. At the same time, Geodis stepped up its focus on its logistics operations when it sold off its express parcel delivery service, regrouped under a new subsidiary, Extand, to the British Post Office for EUR 122 million.
Instead, Geodis turned to Italy, where it had purchased that country's Züst Ambrosetti at the beginning of 2001. That company brought Geodis a major logistics operation featuring nearly 60 distribution centers, and more than one million square meters of warehousing space across 11 facilities. Geodis's Italian holdings were expanded further with the purchase of a 50 percent stake in Trate Sud. In 2004, Geodis moved to acquire complete control of that business.
Back at home, Geodis acquired a new shareholder in 2001 when the SNCF and La Poste reached an agreement to exchange between Geodis's Extand and La Poste's logistics subsidiary Sernam. As part of the agreement, La Poste agreed to acquire as much as 25 percent of Geodis shares. Ultimately, La Poste decided not to acquire Extand. The two sides agreed, however, to the transfer of Sernam to Geodis. That move, however, remained blocked by the French government.
As it moved toward mid-decade, Geodis focused on establishing partnerships to enhance its range of logistics services. In 2002, the company reached a partnership agreement with Rohde & Liesenfeld, gaining access to that company's expertise in air and maritime-based transport and logistics. That year, as well, the company partnered with groupage specialist Elix. The two companies expanded their partnership the following year, when Geodis Züst Ambrosetti became Elix's exclusive partner in its Italy-Germany network. As part of the partnership agreement, Geodis acquired 34 percent of Elix's shares. Also that year, Geodis opened a new 30,000-square-meter logistics platform in Ireland as part of its outsourcing services for IBM. With sales of more than EUR 22 billion, Geodis counted among the leaders of Europe's logistics sector in the new century.
Emile Calberson begins offering services as "commissionnaire bagagiste" for Le Havre railroad.
Calberson opens a branch office in Rouen.
A branch office is opened in Paris, completing service along the entire Le Havre-Rouen-Paris line.
The company begins operating as a general goods transporter.
The company focuses on developing road transport operations.
The company incorporates as Société des Transports Rapides Calberson.
Bourgey-Montreuil, which grows into a major road transport group in France, is founded.
FTD acquires a majority share of the company, renamed Société Nouvelle des Transportes Rapides Calberson (SNTR).
The company acquires Transports Carré in Marseilles.
SNCF subsidiary Sceta acquires SNTR.
The company acquires Schenker France, establishing international operations.
The company opens a 130,000-square-meter warehouse in Paris.
Express delivery service is launched.
The company restructures under holding Compagnie Générale Calberson and lists on the Paris Stock Exchange.
SNCF spins off its road transport and logistics division, including Calberson, Calberson Overseas, and Bourgey-Montreuil, as Geodis.
Geodis acquires Tailleur Industrie as part of a strategic focus on logistics operations.
Vitesse, in The Netherlands, is acquired.
Züst Ambrosetti, in Italy, is acquired.
Geodis opens a 30,000-square-meter logistics platform in Ireland.
Geodis Bm; Geodis Calberson; Geodis Dusolier Calberson: Geodis Logistics; Geodis Messageries Parisiennes du Livre: Geodis mg transports; Geodis Overseas; Geodis Teisa (Spain); Geodis Valenda; Geodis Vitesse (Netherlands); Geodis Walbaum: Geodis Züst Ambrosetti (Italy).
Coia, Anthony, "Logistics Alliances Cross European Borders," Logistics Management & Distribution Report, September 2000, p. S3.
Collomp, Florentin, "Comment IBM a vendu ses camions, ses entrepots et ses salariés," L'Expansion, January 21, 1999, p. 106.
"La filiale italienne du logisticien français Geodis vient de monter à 100 pc dans le capital de Trate Sud," Les Echos, June 9, 2004.
Parker, John G., "Geodis Acquires Vitesse," Traffic World, August 9, 1999, p. 17.
"Sernam: le colis piégé de la SNCF," Nouvel Observateur, August 30, 2001.