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We offer resistance where others give up.

After two years as the Executive Board Member for Human Resources, IT and Services at Lufthansa Passenger Airlines, Peter Gerber returned to Lufthansa Cargo as Chairman of the Executive Board in May. In conversation with planet he talks about the “Lufthansa Cargo 2020” future program, outlines his ideas for the success of the company and explains why he hates losing.

“We are creating a company for the next generation.”

Mr. Gerber, as CEO how do you intend to leave your own personal mark on Lufthansa Cargo’s strategy?
Lufthansa Cargo has been bold in choosing the right way forward and implementing the “Lufthansa Cargo 2020” future strategy. And I have the good sense to continue to pursue a strategy if it has been proven right.

So you are not planning a revolution?
Definitely not. A strategy doesn’t have the same qualities as a shirt – you don’t change it every day. It goes without saying that you have to look to the left and to the right and occasionally make adjustments. After all, the business environment is undergoing rapid changes. However, the fundamental approach and the aim of “Lufthansa Cargo 2020” remain unchallenged: the future program is not designed to create a new company but rather a company for the next generation. 

In fact, you helped to develop the program.
That’s right. My predecessors at Lufthansa Cargo realized years ago that you have to live and breathe industry leadership. If you lay claim to that, then the company has to meet this requirement in the long term too. Our future program enables us to do precisely that.

How are customers feeling the impact of Lufthansa Cargo 2020?
As a result of our innovations and reforms, our customers can come to expect the best Lufthansa Cargo product of all time – if not to say the best cargo product in the world. Just take a good look at what we’ve resolved to do and what we’ve already achieved in part: the best, most efficient and most reliable freighter in the world, a state-of-the-art IT system, the most modern logistics center in the airfreight business, the claim to top quality and, last but not least, the widespread expansion of digital and efficient processes. These are all highly ambitious projects from which our customers will derive direct benefits. 

You have a great many plans for the future – and a lot happening concurrently. Should your customer be worried about chaotic conditions on the way to achieving your target?
My response to that is a clear No. We are approaching our goal in a sustained manner. Constructing the new Lufthansa Cargo Center and converting our IT system has been planned in such a thorough and precise way that there will be no negative impact on our customers. Take LCCneo, for example: one of the most important sub-projects deals exclusively with interim operations. We are keen to ensure that the level of our quality remains the same, even during the construction phase.

What did you gain from your time at Lufthansa Passenger Airlines? Are some of the topics applicable to Lufthansa Cargo?
As far as hardware goes, it’s certainly difficult. In the freight business, it’s not a matter of having comfortable or reclining seats or of serving the best champagne. That’s where there’s a substantial difference between the passenger and the freight business. But at the same time, there are similarities, where we as Cargo can learn a thing or two. What really impresses me about the passenger business is their devotion to the customer, their consistent “We care!” approach.
    
Could that also be implemented with respect to the B2B sector?
I don’t see why not. The airfreight business is also about people working with people. My goal is quite clear: every customer should be able to rely on Lufthansa Cargo one hundred percent and should have a really good feeling about entrusting us with his valuable freight. Just like at Lufthansa Passenger Airlines, he should know that “We care!”

What was it like for you personally to return to Lufthansa Cargo?
I’ve found my dream job. Returning was a bit like coming home. Even within the Lufthansa corporation, the Cargo family is quite a special team: they can pitch in, work hard, but they aren’t averse to having fun. It’s precisely the group of people one wants to lead as a CEO.

To what extent has the company changed? Did you recognize the old familiar Lufthansa Cargo?
Thankfully, yes, as far as the corporate culture goes. And yet there are noticeable differences: the pace continues to accelerate – and that can only be dealt with by even more commitment from all of the Cargo Lufthansa employees. I could never have imagined that the competition would apply pressure at an even faster rate. We offer resistance where others are showing signs of giving up. Who would have anticipated two years ago that a former world market leader like Air France-KLM would trim its freight business to a bare minimum?

Will Lufthansa Cargo customers be forced to expect similar drastic cutbacks?
No, they won’t. I firmly believe in the need for freight-only aircraft. The Lufthansa Group also remains committed to the cargo business. Investing in brand-new Boeing 777F aircraft was only possible as a result of that commitment. Don’t forget: just one aircraft has a list price of around 270 million US dollars. If the Lufthansa Group didn’t have faith in this business model, then we wouldn’t have these aircraft in our fleet.

Lufthansa Cargo is in a state of flux. How do you successfully master these processes of change? 
Offering advice on general pathways to success is difficult. I believe it is essential to ask yourself the honest question whether change is really necessary and to what extent. If you can answer this question with a Yes, then the main issue is to demonstrate the need for change to one’s own employees. Everyone has to know: why are we suddenly changing things that might have worked well in the past? We have to convey clear targets and the management’s one hundred percent conviction. Communication is the key instrument: employees, customers and the general public need to be informed and above all, they need to be actively involved – change is only possible in cooperation.

“We are creating a company for the next generation.”

Mr. Gerber, as CEO how do you intend to leave your own personal mark on Lufthansa Cargo’s strategy?
Lufthansa Cargo has been bold in choosing the right way forward and implementing the “Lufthansa Cargo 2020” future strategy. And I have the good sense to continue to pursue a strategy if it has been proven right.

So you are not planning a revolution?
Definitely not. A strategy doesn’t have the same qualities as a shirt – you don’t change it every day. It goes without saying that you have to look to the left and to the right and occasionally make adjustments. After all, the business environment is undergoing rapid changes. However, the fundamental approach and the aim of “Lufthansa Cargo 2020” remain unchallenged: the future program is not designed to create a new company but rather a company for the next generation. 

In fact, you helped to develop the program.
That’s right. My predecessors at Lufthansa Cargo realized years ago that you have to live and breathe industry leadership. If you lay claim to that, then the company has to meet this requirement in the long term too. Our future program enables us to do precisely that.

How are customers feeling the impact of Lufthansa Cargo 2020?
As a result of our innovations and reforms, our customers can come to expect the best Lufthansa Cargo product of all time – if not to say the best cargo product in the world. Just take a good look at what we’ve resolved to do and what we’ve already achieved in part: the best, most efficient and most reliable freighter in the world, a state-of-the-art IT system, the most modern logistics center in the airfreight business, the claim to top quality and, last but not least, the widespread expansion of digital and efficient processes. These are all highly ambitious projects from which our customers will derive direct benefits. 

You have a great many plans for the future – and a lot happening concurrently. Should your customer be worried about chaotic conditions on the way to achieving your target?
My response to that is a clear No. We are approaching our goal in a sustained manner. Constructing the new Lufthansa Cargo Center and converting our IT system has been planned in such a thorough and precise way that there will be no negative impact on our customers. Take LCCneo, for example: one of the most important sub-projects deals exclusively with interim operations. We are keen to ensure that the level of our quality remains the same, even during the construction phase.

What did you gain from your time at Lufthansa Passenger Airlines? Are some of the topics applicable to Lufthansa Cargo?
As far as hardware goes, it’s certainly difficult. In the freight business, it’s not a matter of having comfortable or reclining seats or of serving the best champagne. That’s where there’s a substantial difference between the passenger and the freight business. But at the same time, there are similarities, where we as Cargo can learn a thing or two. What really impresses me about the passenger business is their devotion to the customer, their consistent “We care!” approach.

Could that also be implemented with respect to the B2B sector?
I don’t see why not. The airfreight business is also about people working with people. My goal is quite clear: every customer should be able to rely on Lufthansa Cargo one hundred percent and should have a really good feeling about entrusting us with his valuable freight. Just like at Lufthansa Passenger Airlines, he should know that “We care!”

What was it like for you personally to return to Lufthansa Cargo?
I’ve found my dream job. Returning was a bit like coming home. Even within the Lufthansa corporation, the Cargo family is quite a special team: they can pitch in, work hard, but they aren’t averse to having fun. It’s precisely the group of people one wants to lead as a CEO.

To what extent has the company changed? Did you recognize the old familiar Lufthansa Cargo?
Thankfully, yes, as far as the corporate culture goes. And yet there are noticeable differences: the pace continues to accelerate – and that can only be dealt with by even more commitment from all of the Cargo Lufthansa employees. I could never have imagined that the competition would apply pressure at an even faster rate. We offer resistance where others are showing signs of giving up. Who would have anticipated two years ago that a former world market leader like Air France-KLM would trim its freight business to a bare minimum?

Will Lufthansa Cargo customers be forced to expect similar drastic cutbacks?
No, they won’t. I firmly believe in the need for freight-only aircraft. The Lufthansa Group also remains committed to the cargo business. Investing in brand-new Boeing 777F aircraft was only possible as a result of that commitment. Don’t forget: just one aircraft has a list price of around 270 million US dollars. If the Lufthansa Group didn’t have faith in this business model, then we wouldn’t have these aircraft in our fleet.

Lufthansa Cargo is in a state of flux. How do you successfully master these processes of change? 
Offering advice on general pathways to success is difficult. I believe it is essential to ask yourself the honest question whether change is really necessary and to what extent. If you can answer this question with a Yes, then the main issue is to demonstrate the need for change to one’s own employees. Everyone has to know: why are we suddenly changing things that might have worked well in the past? We have to convey clear targets and the management’s one hundred percent conviction. Communication is the key instrument: employees, customers and the general public need to be informed and above all, they need to be actively involved – change is only possible in cooperation.

 

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“Returning was a bit like coming home.”

Peter Gerber was the Executive Board Member for Finances and Human Resources at Lufthansa Cargo AG from 2009 to 2012. The 50-year old was appointed Chairman of the Executive Board of Lufthansa’s freight subsidiary six months ago.

“Frankfurt is a central logistical hub in Europe. We have to exploit this major location advantage”

By founding the Air Cargo Community, Lufthansa Cargo in cooperation with other stakeholders in the airfreight industry has set itself the goal of strengthening the Frankfurt location. What are the objectives of this community? 
Amsterdam has successfully demonstrated how it is done: all players have to act in concert to make the location more attractive. Frankfurt possesses a power that needs to be further developed: we are a central logistical hub in Europe, whether it is on the road, by rail or in the air. We have to exploit this major location advantage. I have a vision of Frankfurt as the most important and best airfreight location on the continent. As a logistics nation, we have laid down all the necessary foundations, however, we need to work more closely than ever with all the players involved.
    
Frankfurt as a location also has quite a personal significance to you, doesn’t it?
Yes, it does because I’m a proud fan of Eintracht Frankfurt, the soccer team.

Can you tell us a little about Peter Gerber as a person – without using the word “Lufthansa”?
Peter Gerber is a reliable person who enjoys working with others and sharing experiences with them. And he is someone who doesn’t like to lose. In fact, to be more specific: I hate losing.

That’s not always easy for an Eintracht Frankfurt fan, is it?
No, it means learning a lesson in humility. (Laughs)

Mr. Gerber, thank you for taking the time to talk to us!

Photos:

Daniel Kummer, Jürgen Mai

planet 2/2014

“Frankfurt is a central logistical hub in Europe. We have to exploit this major location advantage”

By founding the Air Cargo Community, Lufthansa Cargo in cooperation with other stakeholders in the airfreight industry has set itself the goal of strengthening the Frankfurt location. What are the objectives of this community? 
Amsterdam has successfully demonstrated how it is done: all players have to act in concert to make the location more attractive. Frankfurt possesses a power that needs to be further developed: we are a central logistical hub in Europe, whether it is on the road, by rail or in the air. We have to exploit this major location advantage. I have a vision of Frankfurt as the most important and best airfreight location on the continent. As a logistics nation, we have laid down all the necessary foundations, however, we need to work more closely than ever with all the players involved.

Frankfurt as a location also has quite a personal significance to you, doesn’t it?
Yes, it does because I’m a proud fan of Eintracht Frankfurt, the soccer team.

Can you tell us a little about Peter Gerber as a person – without using the word “Lufthansa”?
Peter Gerber is a reliable person who enjoys working with others and sharing experiences with them. And he is someone who doesn’t like to lose. In fact, to be more specific: I hate losing.

That’s not always easy for an Eintracht Frankfurt fan, is it?
No, it means learning a lesson in humility. (Laughs)

Mr. Gerber, thank you for taking the time to talk to us!

 

Photos:

Daniel Kummer, Jürgen Mai

planet 2/2014