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Like father, like son

Apr 14, 2016
Marcel Jörg now runs Packimpex in Switzerland, the company his father, Ernst, founded in 1977. Steve Jordan spoke to him to find out a little more about the company and what it’s like to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Ernst Jörg came from a freight forwarding industry background. But it was in 1977 that he came to the conclusion that there was more opportunity to add value to the shipping process if the public were involved. That’s when he started the moving business.  

The company, the name of which is a contraction of ‘Packing import export’, began in the Swiss capital, Bern and quickly started to earn a good reputation for successfully moving diplomatic personnel. In 1989, when Ernst wanted to expand the business by taking on extensive warehouses, his business partners got cold feet and Ernst took full control.   

The business was a success. It gave Ernst the opportunity to capitalize on his command of languages and to provide a comprehensive service. “My father felt that the more complicated it was, the better,” said Marcel. “That’s where the money is.”    

Ernst quickly built himself a name in the industry: he became a FIDI Academy trainer in 1991, was elected to the FIDI Board in 1998, served as FIDI president between 2002 and 2004, and is still the Dean of the FIDI Academy to this day. For Marcel, taking over as the second generation to run Packimpex gave him big shoes to fill.  

Marcel could easily have done something else. Before entering the industry he had worked in finance in The States. Ernst didn’t pressurize him into the moving industry but Marcel did feel some responsibility to take over the family firm. “I am the only child so I instinctively knew that if I didn’t do it that would be the end of the Jörg family’s association with the company,” he explained.  

So he set about setting himself up to continue the dynasty.  “I did everything I could in terms of education that could possibly be of help to me when I took over the company, including studying economics and learning four languages,” he said.  “By the age of 27 I decided to start work in the company because I couldn’t stand not knowing whether I was going to like it or be able to do it. Now I think I should have stayed out of the industry for longer but, once you are in, you can’t get out.” 

That was back in 2001. Two years later they recognised that relocation was going to offer the company its best future, again following the principle of the more complex it is, the better. They bought a small relocation company in Basel and copied the format in other cities. Packimpex now operates out of nine locations in Switzerland, all offer comprehensive DSP services leaving the moving to the locations in Bern, Geneva, Basel and Zurich.

Ernst breathed life into the company and drove it forward for many years. But in 2008 the time was right for Marcel to take over. Ernst became chairman. By then Marcel had already made his mark and went on to lead the growth of the relocation initiative. “In terms of managing the business I have a very similar outlook to my father,” he explained. “Always growth driven, always ambitious, always trying to be ahead of trends and valuing the niche we have developed for ourselves.” Today the relocation business, in terms of value added, is equal to the moving side. The company now employs around 260 people.  

The service offered by Packimpex has evolved over the years. The company still provides all its service in-house where possible but is now including more modular services where customers can buy the services they need individually rather than as a combined service. It is also considering offering a modular airfreight service where customers choose small, medium or large containers rather than a more bespoke offering. This is largely to serve the new corporate assignees who are spending their relocation allowances. “In practice, this makes them into private buyers,” said Marcel. 

Another change has come about as a result of Swiss labour rates becoming very expensive as a result of the strong currency. In 2011 the company opened its operation in southern Germany to that it could operate with a cheaper labour base.  “We now do the ‘in and out’ of Switzerland for our trade customers with German labour, as do many of our competitors,” explained Marcel, “but we do it with our own staff. We have a fleet of ten trucks providing distribution services into and out of Switzerland from the German hub and also run full loads around Europe. This is very unusual for a Swiss company.”  

Marcel said that he prefers to do the work in this way because it allows him to control the quality. “It’s hard to add value if you use subcontractors because your customers could easily go direct.”  

Marcel says that he has continued to develop the company in the same way that his father did before him. He’s also playing his part in supporting the wider industry in the same way: Marcel is a trainer for the Master in International Moving course through the FIDI Academy. “It’s challenging, taking me out of my comfort zone, but I like being with all the international crowd,” he said.  

The switching of generations is a tricky time for any company. There can never be any guarantee that children will be interested in a family business or have the ability to take it forward. Although Marcel freely admits that he might not have chosen this industry had it not been for the family connection, he has clearly embraced it and, in so doing, helped to secure the company’s future for many years to come.  

Photos: Top right:  son Marcel (left) and father Ernst Jörg; middle left and bottom right: Packimpex now has nine locations in Switzerland.

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