Bernd Wilkes founded MBS 35 years
ago. Since then, the successful medium
sized company has been on a
steep uphill climb. In an interview
with Tamara Häußler, Head of HR &
Corporate Communication, he takes
a look back and a few forward
When you founded MBS in Siegburg
near Bonn 35 years ago - what was
I wanted to become the top dog in Cologne.
Have you managed that?
Today we are one of the largest freight
forwarding companies in Cologne and
very successful internationally.
You were the successful branch manager
of another large forwarding
company. Why the leap into self-employment?
The management structures had changed
and I was no longer satisfied in this
constellation. In addition, I had been aiming
to become self-employed for a long
time because I didn't want to be determined
by others all the time.
Were you born an entrepreneur?
No, not at all. My father was in the German
Armed Forces. Job security was very important,
but I told my father: "I'm not going
to be a civil servant". As a self-employed
person, this security no longer existed, of
course. In the first year of MBS, I had a loss
of 6,800 D-Mark. I was very proud of that.
With how many employees?
At that time, you could count them on one
or two hands. I had imagined a forwarding
agency with 20 or 25 employees in the
future. But then I met Johannes Steckel.
What happened then?
Johannes was better positioned internationally
than I was and he brought with him
expertise in air freight. We then founded
our first GmbH for a new location in Kelsterbach
at Frankfurt Airport, which is still
very close to my heart today.
But your expansion plans did not only
refer to further locations in Germany...
Yes, that's right. In 2007, we opened our
location in Hong Kong. That was very important
because it enabled us to handle
our own air and sea freight shipments to
and from China. We didn't want to rely
on agents alone.
More and more locations followed.
Did you have certain focal points
Bernd Wilkes: "Ich wollte der Platzhirsch in Köln werden".
Bernd Wilkes: " I wanted to become the top dog in Cologne."
according to which you chose
No. Our expansion plans had one thing
in common: opportunity. We didn't have
any grand strategic plans, but took advantage
of good opportunities to bring
attractive locations with good people
under our MBS umbrella. I believe this
is part of our success. Not planning
and developing strategies for a long
time, but doing! This is how we became
bigger and bigger and more and more
Finding good people means networking.
What share did this part of your
Certainly 50 per cent. The rest was distributed
between sales and looking after
our partners and existing clients. You
what that means.
I spent a lot of
c u s t o m e r s ,
partners and finding new ones.
If you compare the work then with the
work now. What has changed?
Not much, actually. We are and remain
freight forwarders. We are intermediaries
or brokers. Not much has changed
in that respect. What has changed is,
of course, technology. No one can get
around digitalisation. On a personal
level, however, things have changed.
Due to the compliance regulations of
the companies, the personal connection
is often no longer as possible. I have
invested a lot of time in customer care
and have created a basis of trust with
most of our customers, and with many
people even a friendship has developed
that goes beyond business. You could
talk about problems and the quality of
service also played an essential role.
MBS is not the only one undergoing
a transformation process. You also
went from being a managing director
to a shareholder. How does this retreat
I think it has worked out very well for
me. I try to take a neutral position, but
of course I consider MBS my life's work.
Letting go completely is not quite possible.
A few years ago, for example, I
was able to establish Anytime as a new
product at MBS together with Barbara
Moll. An extremely successful one, if I
may say so.
Is there a day
that goes by
that you don't
What are you grateful for?
I am grateful for having healthy children.
I'm thankful that I haven't had any major
illnesses myself. And I am thankful
that I have healthy grandchildren. Yes,
and of course I am grateful that I have
been very lucky in some situations in
my business life and that I have been
able to use it.
Would you recommend becoming a
logistician to your grandson?
Yes, definitely and without any ifs and
buts. Despite all the changes, logistics
has a great future. ■
MBS IS MY LIFE'S WORK
Photos: © MBS Logistics
"I WANTED TO BECOME THE
TOP DOG IN COLOGNE."
INSIGHT 2 . 2022 23