Rotterdam is the 
port of the world

In 1912, with the merging of the two companies ‘Badische Actiengesellschaft für Rheinschiffahrt und Seetransport’ and ‘Rheinschiffahrts-Actiengesellschaft’, the worldwide logistics service provider Rhenus Logistics was created. With more than 33,000 employees and 750 branches worldwide, you don't expect Rhenus Logistics to be an actual family business. However, heading this giant of the logistics world is the Rethmann family.

As it happens, this family feeling is also present at the company’s locations at the Port of Rotterdam’s Waalhaven and Maasvlakte. In this series of interviews, we speak to various families who work at Rhenus Logistics B.V. in the Netherlands. This time we meet up with father and son Sander and Lennart Klapwijk.

The name Klapwijk is by no means an unknown name within the Rotterdam harbour community. Sander was the helmsman of the family business Klapwijk/Rapide, an established Rotterdam stevedoring company. Lennart is his son, and is the youngest member of the Klapwijk family who has chosen to follow a career path in the harbour world.

How did you come to work at the Port of Rotterdam?

Sander hasn’t always worked in the Port of Rotterdam; his first job was working on a market as a 14-year-old during his school holidays. “Then I started working at Klapwijk/Rapide as a holiday job. My first serious job was at Wm. H. Müller & Co, who were at the time shipping agent for Hapag Lloyd and others. But Breakbulk was more in my blood, a lot more than containers.” After 15 years of working in the Klapwijk/Rapide family business, Sander moved round the corner to start working at Rhenus Logistics at the beginning of 2005.

Lennart, on the other hand, kicked off his career in logistics straight off the bat: “I worked for Rhenus Logistics B.V. for a year after my higher vocational education,” he says. “And then, after doing my graduation internship at Certus Port Automation, I returned to Rhenus Logistics B.V.” Sander then adds with a laugh: “Lennart wanted to take a year off during his studies, which I said was fine, as long as it involved work.”

Big brother is not watching you
Even though Sander and Lennart are both active at the various terminals of Rhenus Logistics B.V., it is not often that their paths cross during work. As Head of Sales, Sander has close contact with customers, while Lennart, as Operator & Boarding Clerk at the Agency department, is more often to be found on board ships. Occasionally they work together on a certain project, or talk about the business though. Sander explains: “In my role it is important that you have knowledge about the cargo flows that we handle at Rhenus Logistics B.V.. Fortunately, I have an operations background and I can easily brainstorm with customers about their cargo and all the possibilities available to them.” At home, the business is seldom talked about, adds Lennart: “We often leave work where it is. It's not that my father is constantly looking over my shoulder.”


Non-ferrous metal, steel and foreign captains

When we ask the two men what type of business makes their hearts beat faster, the answers are diverse. Sander: “We handle a wide variety of different cargoes such as: containers, all kinds of steel products, non-ferrous metals, project cargo, you name it. As you can see, these are all types of cargo that require very careful handling. It is also amazing to see lay-bys like the Seaway Strashnov, for example, at the Rhenus Deep Sea Terminal on the Maasvlakte. I like seeing such a massive vessel on our quay and having personal contact with the crew.”

Going on board is Lennart’s daily routine: “When I go on board, having a chat with the captain is the best thing to do. They have often come from exotic corners of the world and always have some great stories to tell.”

Rhenus Logistics is known as being a real family business. Is that your experience too?
Sander agrees: “Together with passion is our motto. It truly is a family business and we are not listed on the stock exchange. You can see it in our management strategy too; everything we do throughout the company is not always strictly 100% driven by results. We are given the opportunity to explore new areas of business. If things don’t work, then at least we tried it. What’s more, we have a very open business culture. To give an example: our Managing Director Peter van der Steen will regularly call whoever has ultimate responsibility in Germany. He might skip a few people, but that is fully accepted. This facilitates a positive and trusting environment.

What's it like to have your father working in the same company? And, Sander, what is it like for you to work with your son?
This question makes Lennart chuckle: “Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we sometimes went to events like the Shipbrokers Dinner together with other families within Rhenus Logistics. That was always a lot of fun, often meeting people that I deal with directly, but who I would otherwise actually never see in person.”

Sander, on the other hand, answers with a proud look towards his son. “I had always secretly expected that he would end up working in the harbour sector. And when I see what he is doing and how much he uses technology in his work, I realise that I am more old school.”



The romance of the port

To round off our conversation, we ask the Klapwijk men what attracts them to the Port of Rotterdam. Sander starts to laugh, but then continues with a deep sigh: “If you want to get rich, you better not work in the harbour. It is not a romantic place, but a diverse one instead. You may think that you know it all one day, but you can still be completely surprised the next.”

Lennart agrees with his father, adding that: “Rotterdam is the port of the world; we are simply more complete than competitor ports. However, I do believe that the port is falling behind in terms of digitization. There are so many ways to automate processes. Although I have only been working in this sector for a short time, it is nice to be able to contribute as a young professional – sometimes calling on the experience of my father.”