“This,” Petra says, hooking her finger around the trunk of an elephant. “This is really something good.”
The elephant, wrinkly with a wandering right gaze, has floppy ears that sit stiffly in motion. It stands a towering 9cm over a highlighter on Petra’s desk.
This ‘something really good’ is the beauty of nature transformed into a child’s toy. Petra believes in the product and the journey of the company behind it, which is an important connection to do her work well.
That work revolves around orchestrating processes that result in the delivery of thousands of containers full of life-like elephants, horses, giraffes, lions and other creatures both magical and majestic made by the company Schleich. It’s the work of a shared vision to become more sustainable across the supply chain.
Petra is the Key Account Manager. In corporate words, she takes care of the Schleich account as their key point of contact.
In real-world words, she picked up the phone in January 2020 and made the first call to introduce not only herself, but a new way of working together.
A key account with your freight forwarder. What does it mean?
To become a key account, size of the company and established multi-national operations play a role. In the case of Schleich, their business is growing. They import. They export. They transport containers mostly by sea with supporting touchpoints in road and rail—and on rare occasions that demand extra speed, by air.
Their supply chain has touchpoints across the globe, and the joy of their toy is in healthy demand.
These elements presented an opportunity to re-think the working relationship—to add another layer of trust to the partnership by having one person, a Key Account Manager, coordinate and communicate the needs of a robust supply chain.
And that one person is Petra.
In her first call to Schleich just a month before the first pandemic lockdowns, Petra remembers thinking: I’ve got my work laid out for me.
Because although it’s a story about two companies, communication happens between two people. “This is exactly why I enjoy my almost 30 years of work in Sales. The people that are the most different from me are the ones I am the most interested in. I’m drawn to understand them, to make it work,” she says with a nod of confidence.
And so far, it has worked.
Building trust, while establishing new ways of work, takes time, empathy, and in this case creative logistics solutions that help the customer and the partnership grow.
“But to be clear,” Petra says, pausing, “the real solutions come from my colleagues in the customer care location (CCL) team.”
The import logistics operator
In the southwest corner of Germany, Christian can walk into his local supermarket to find a galloping horse on his way to buy an apple.
“Every day, I have a proud moment working with Schleich,” Christian says. “I see those little figurines in stores and around the city, and I think ‘yeah, that was my container’. I coordinated that with Schleich.”
Schleich’s business works in import and export, keeping their supply chain activities busy all year round. Christian runs the daily, weekly, and monthly import activities coming in from the teams in Shanghai, Yantian and Haiphong. In a sentence, he’s making sure each booked container is full and optimised, moving and arriving on schedule in the closest European port city: Bremerhaven, Wilhelmshaven, Rotterdam, and Antwerp.
If anything goes amiss or if Christian sees room for optimisation, he doesn’t hesitate to reach out directly to Schleich and—when more holistic solutions are required—to Petra.
“I’m not the type of person who accepts things just because we always did them that way. I will challenge and double check our processes.”
Schleich is Christian’s first customer since he started at Kuehne+Nagel in autumn 2022. The work feels like one team with mutual respect. When supply chains disruptions happen, the communication always leans toward a shared goal to find creative logistic solutions. “They’re just great to work with,” he says.
Managing the import container bookings of Schleich’s business is one portion of the toy producer’s supply chain. Another is export. And the person managing those bookings sits just kitty-corner to Christian’s desk in a part of the office that could be mistaken for the jungle lair of a prowling T-rex.
The export logistics operator
This is where Kerstin sits.
Apart from her skills of taming dinosaurs in the more wild parts of the office, she also knows all the particularities of sea freight carriers between Europe and the Americas. She and Christian are both part of the customer care location (CCL) team.
“It was difficult in the beginning,” Kerstin explains. “When Petra took over the account, the ports in the United States were congested. Sea freight carriers you counted on in the past suddenly didn’t have space for you anymore. Truckers weren’t available to drive the goods to the ports. We had to re-think a lot of things.”
That re-thinking has led to positive developments in the operations. Kerstin now has tried and tested, alternative options for when disruptions happen. It’s at the core of what she loves about her work. She likes to be on the front lines, arrange the bookings. She is known for always having a plan B.
Kerstin is also the eyes and ears for the export freight of Schleich’s supply chain. If containers are stuck in the Czech Republic or Poland because of customs, driver shortages, or an array of other things, she relays the info to Petra and other supply chain stakeholders in finding a solution.
“It is sometimes a lot. But I have a good working relationship with Schleich. They have told me they like working with me,” Kerstin says shrugging off a smile.
The shift from customer to partner
Two years after Petra’s first intro call, during a time when in-person meetings were avoided, Petra, Christian, and Kerstin finally met Schleich as a team. They had a dinner and were invited to the Schleich headquarter to tour the facilities. A giant T-rex greeted them at the entrance.
“In German, we call it a ‘tragende Beziehung’. It’s a relationship that withstands the blows from tough circumstances,” Petra explains.
Petra has worked at Kuehne+Nagel for almost 18 years. She is the master of ceremony both in her professional work and bringing a room full of people together. Kerstin enjoys the front-line work of logistics operations. She joined Kuehne+Nagel over 12 years ago and has a little Schleich turtle on her windowsill. In his first months at Kuehne+Nagel, Christian has earned the nickname “the Refresher” for challenging standard ways of work.