Business Monday

Miami a key location for Swiss giant Panalpina

When Panalpina, the giant Swiss freight and logistics company, was looking for a place two years ago to locate its Americas regional office — covering the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean — it chose Miami.

Why not New York or Los Angeles or somewhere else?

“Miami is a strategic location,” said Ferdinand Kurt, Panalpina’s CEO for the Americas and a Swiss-born executive with over 32 years of experience in freight movement and logistics in the Americas and the United Kingdom.

“From Miami, you can reach destinations in the U.S. and Latin America fast,” added Kurt, who previously held leadership positions at Kuehne + Nagel, another global transportation and shipping company based in Switzerland. A regional office like Panalpina’s Miami location has to be “credible:” It has to make good sense to customers and to his own company, he noted.

“Historically, Panalpina has had close ties to Latin America. We’ve worked with customers in Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico for over a half-century. Plus, Miami is a beautiful location,” said Kurt, who studied business administration in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Panalpina may not be a familiar name to many people in Miami, but it is one of the world’s largest freight shippers and logistics companies and is well known to those working in international trade. With headquarters in Basel, Panalpina has more than16,000 employees worldwide and some 500 offices in over 70 countries. Working with partners in more than 70 other countries, Panalpina can meet the needs of customers globally, the company says.

Panalpina was established as an independent company in 1954, but its roots go back to freight movement on the Rhine River in the 1890s. Competition is strong, Kurt noted. Other major competitors include DHL, Kuehne + Nagel and DB Schenker.

The Americas region represents an important share of Panalpina’s global business, around 35 percent of total revenues. Panalpina’s overall international revenues in 2013 were more than 6.8billion Swiss francs, or over $7.1billion at current exchange rates.

Panalpina established an international gateway at Miami International Airport, as well as a 250,000-square-foot warehouse for storing equipment and merchandise and shipping it to customers. It also has warehouses in important markets like Brazil.

The company has 300 employees in Miami, including 35 at the regional office and the remainder at the airport warehouse and shipping gateway, which handles exports to Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Central America and other destinations by air and ocean. Throughout the entire region, the company has 5,500 employees.

Panalpina supported customers for the World Cup in Brazil, and will work to supply clients for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Events of this size require large shipments of equipment and parts for new infrastructure in telecommunications, transportation and other sectors.

The regional office became paperless in 2013, conducting all its office operations digitally.

Before Panaplina set up its regional headquarters in Miami, it had operated at MIA since the mid-1980s, said Kurt, who recently was appointed Switzerland’s Honorary Consul in Miami.

About 50 percent of Panalpina’s Americas business involves air cargo, 30 percent ocean freight and 20 percent logistics — warehousing and distribution to meet customers’ needs.

For example, Panalpina will store high-value oil equipment at the Miami warehouse and ship it to oil companies on demand.

Typically, Latin American customers such as oil companies with drilling or refining activities, oil service companies, or mining operations will need new equipment or replacement parts quickly, and cannot wait until a manufacturer in the U.S. or Europe makes the part (which may require considerable lead time) and then ships it to Latin America. Down time at a mining operation, oil drilling rig or oil refinery can cost millions of dollars a day.

To avoid losses like this, Panalpina acquires equipment and parts for customers, stores them at its Miami warehouse and can immediately ship the required part to wherever it’s needed by air cargo or, if the equipment is extremely heavy, by sea. This requires classifying tens of thousands of items so they can be quickly identified and retrieved.

Panalpina also handles the complicated customs and other regulatory norms required for exports and imports, ensuring that the cargo leaves safely and arrives at its final destination intact.

“We provide end-to-end solutions to a variety of industries,” Kurt said, “including energy, pharmaceuticals, automobiles and high-tech products.”

Panalpina operates two advanced Boeing 747-8 freighters with its own livery for routes between the U.S. (its hub in Huntsville, Alabama), Europe and Asia. These aircraft are part of Panaplina’s “own controlled network,” which allows the company to react quickly to urgent customer requests, providing more flexibility and arranging capacity on short notice. For urgent customer requests, Panalpina complements its own network and services with chartered aircraft and helicopters, on-board couriers and technical support.

For its normal international operations, the company also uses other air carriers, ocean carriers and land transportation.

Panaplina strives to grow its business in the Americas.

“Our strategic goal is to maintain our position as one of the top companies in every country,” Kurt said. “We are working to expand our market share in the U.S. and see good growth opportunities in countries like Peru, Colombia, Chile, Central America and Panama. In Mexico, the automotive and high-tech industries also offer new opportunities.

“We can connect all the dots for customers,” Kurt said. “Not just in the air, but also on the ground.”

The writer can be reached at

Panalpina Group

Business: Panalpina is one of the world’s largest providers of supply chain services. The company has over 16,000 employees worldwide and about 500 offices in more than 70 countries.

World headquarters: Basel, Switzerland.

Americas Regional Office: Miami is the regional headquarters for the U.S., Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. The office is at 703 NW 62nd Ave.

Founded: The Miami regional office opened in 2012, but the company has been operating out of Miami since the 1980s. Panalpina was founded as an independent company in 1954, but its roots go back to shipping on the Rhine River in the 1890s.

Employees: About 300 in Miami, including more than 35 at their headquarters and the remainder at Panalpina’s gateway and 250,000 square-foot warehouse at MIA. There are 5,500 employees in the Americas region.

Ownership: Publicly traded.

Revenues: The Americas region accounts for about 35 percent of company revenues, which were nearly 6.8 billion Swiss francs in 2013, or more than $7.1 billion at the current exchange rate.

Largest regional customer fields: Energy, technology, automotive and pharmaceutical companies.


Source: Panalpina Group