Société Norbert Dentressangle S.A. History
Saint Vallier sur Rhone
Telephone: 33 4 75 23 25 26
Fax: 33 4 75 03 18 7733 4 75 23 22 20
Sales: EUR 1.22 billion ($1.5 billion) (2003)
Stock Exchanges: Euronext Paris
Ticker Symbol: GND
NAIC: 484121 General Freight Trucking, Long-Distance, Truckload
With 180 agencies in Europe, all operating to the same quality standards, Groupe Norbert Dentressangle has a truly European network and can provide you with: a broad range of transport possibilities to and from every country in Europe; ideal logistics solutions for every country.
- Georges and Therese Dentressangle move their trucking business, originally established after World War II, to Saint Vallier, in the Rhone Valley region.
- Son Norbert Dentressangle joins the family business.
- Norbert Dentressangle decides to set up a separate trucking business in England serving the French-English market.
- A second company is established in the Rhone Valley and business focuses on the Saint Vallier-London route.
- The first warehouse opens.
- An acquisition drive is launched, starting with Transport Romulus and Philibert & Sylvester.
- The company acquires Translittoral, becoming the leader of the cross-channel transport market.
- The company goes public with a listing on the Paris Stock Exchange's secondary market.
- A dedicated logistics division is established; a subsidiary is opened in Portugal.
- The company acquires Freeflag (England) and Navamar (Spain).
- The company enters Germany with the purchase of Thier; its listing is transferred to the Paris main board.
- The company acquires Soluzione Logistica, in Italy, establishing ND Italia.
- The company acquires Van Mierlo in The Netherlands.
- The company acquires Cidem in Italy.
- The company announces plans to enter China by 2005.
Société Norbert Dentressangle S.A., named after the company's founder, is one of France's top three freight trucking and logistics groups. The group has a decidedly international focus, with fully 65 percent of its traffic serving foreign destinations. The English Channel has long been a central part of Norbert Dentressangle's operations, and at 650 crossings daily, the company is the leading European company on this route. Positioned in the United Kingdom since 1978, Dentressangle is also one of the top two transporters in that market. Norbert Dentressangle serves most of Western Europe through its network of 190 agencies and fleet of more than 4,500 tractors. The company also has been expanding its operations to include the new Eastern Europe members of the European Union. Nonetheless, France remains the company's primary market, accounting for 56 percent of its revenues, which topped EUR 1.2 billion ($1.5 billion) in 2003. Transporting of conditioned goods represents 61 percent of the company's sales. Since the early 2000s, Norbert Dentressangle has adopted a strategy of expansion into the logistics services sector. The company has grown rapidly in this area, and by the end of 2003, logistics services, including warehousing and fleet rentals, accounted for 39 percent of the company's sales and much of the company's revenue growth. Norbert Dentressangle is listed on the Euronext Paris stock exchange. The Dentressangle family remains primary shareholder, controlling nearly 68 percent of the stock; the company's employees own an additional 28 percent of the company's shares. Norbert Dentressangle continues to be led by founder and Chairman Norbert Dentressangle.
Channel Transport Pioneer in the 1970s
Georges and Therese Dentressangle established a small trucking firm in France's Ardeche region shortly after World War II. In 1966, the couple moved the business to the town of Saint Vallier, in the Rhone Valley region not far from Lyons.
The Dentressangles were joined by their son, Norbert, in 1974. As Dentressangle himself told L'Entreprise: "They pushed me to join the business rather than starting a long course of study." The younger Dentressangle proved a natural at organizing transport traffic and working with the company's clientele. Into the mid-1970s, Dentressangle had become interested in developing the family company's international business--and the potential held in the growing demand from England for the wines and cheese and other products of the Rhone Valley.
By the end of the decade, Dentressangle set himself a new objective: that of becoming a leading transporter across the English Channel. In order to put this plan in action, Dentressangle went to England in 1978, and established ND European Transport in the Leytonstone section of east London. Rather than place his parents' business at risk, Dentressangle set up the new company as a separate operation.
From the outset, Dentressangle was determined to develop his company into the leading transporter connecting the French and British markets. As Dentressangle told the Financial Times: "I understood that the market for commercial exchanges between different countries, especially between the UK and France, was an important development." Elaborating, he said, "I understood that the market was difficult because of the insularity of the UK and the geographic barrier. Also there was an imbalance of trade in the two directions with much more traffic moving towards the UK. That is why I created my first company in the UK: to build up market share for the return journey." Yet developing the market proved difficult, as Dentressangle continued: "At the beginning, it was very difficult, we needed a lot of tenacity and courage--but the UK is a country with which it is very interesting to work."
By 1979, Dentressangle had decided to focus his business on a route connecting Saint Vallier and London. For this, he created a second business, Société Norbert Dentressangle, in Saint Vallier. The new company then took over the fleet and operations of the original family-owned company. Dentressangle also set out to build an agency network, bringing his fleet closer to potential customers. Focusing at first on the market for conditioned products, especially fruits and vegetables from France to England, Dentressangle began expanding the fleet in the 1980s to offer built tanker and refrigerated transports as well. The company also began offering storage and warehousing services, opening its first warehouse in Saint Rambert d'Albon, also near Lyons. By 1988, the company's sales had topped FRF 800 million (approximately $125 million).
Rapid Growth in the 1990s
The run up to European economic unification and the prospect of the elimination of trade barriers slated for 1992 led to the first wave of consolidation in the heavily fragmented European trucking and logistics sectors in the late 1980s. Dentressangle quickly positioned itself as one of the more ambitious consolidators, and in 1988 the company launched its first series of acquisitions.
In that year the company acquired Saint Uze-based Romulus, then Philibert & Sylvestre, based in Chanas. Yet these proved the first of many purchases completed over that year and the next, and included Volutrans, Bianco, and Bellmas, among others. By 1990, the company had topped FRF 1 billion in revenues.
Dentressangle's acquisition drive continued into the early 1990s as it moved to build on its growing status as a French and European trucking leader. By 1993, the company had completed some 25 acquisitions, boosting its sales to nearly FRF 2 billion. Among the company's most important purchases during this period was its acquisition of Translittoral, which specialized in trucking across the English Channel. With that purchase, Dentressangle established its position as the leading cross-channel trucking group, with 85,000 crosses per year.
The opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 gave another boost to the company, which boasted of becoming the first to send a truck through the tunnel. By the end of the decade, the company's Channel Tunnel business included more than 650 crossings per day. Unlike many of its competitors, which preferred to focus on ferry crossings, Dentressangle embraced the new connection between the French and British coasts, and shifted a large percentage of its traffic to the Channel Tunnel link.
Dentressangle went public in 1994, listing its shares on the Paris Stock Exchange's secondary market. The Dentressangle family nonetheless maintained strong control of the group, through its holding company Financiere Dentressangle, which maintained close to two-thirds of the group's shares. Another major shareholding block was formed by the company's employees, some 42 percent of which acquired shares. Altogether, the employee shareholders represented another 28 percent of the group's stock.
Changing Focus in the New Century
The latter half of the 1990s saw Norbert Dentressangle grow along two complementary lines. The first of these was the group's decision to enter the logistics sector--itself fast converging with the trucking sector as more companies sought to provide a broader scale of services to companies seeking to outsource more and more of their warehousing, transportation, and distribution needs. In 1995, Norbert Dentressangle set up its own dedicated logistics division.
Dentressangle's extension into logistics went hand in hand with its other major growth initiative--that of developing a truly European network of operations. From its leading position on the French and British route, and its leading position as a trucking operator within both national markets, Dentressangle began building up a European-wide presence. The company moved south, to Portugal, establishing subsidiary ND Portugal in 1995. The company also strengthened its operations in the United Kingdom that year, acquiring OTA International, serving western England, and Sheddick Transport, based in Wales. The following year, Dentressangle added Freeflag in England as well.
Spain came within the company's sphere of operations with the acquisition of Navamar in 1996. The company also began its first shipments to the Eastern Europe markets that year. In France, the company acquired Confluent and UTL the following year, a move that boosted the company into the top ranks of the country's transport logistics operators. Also in 1997, the company added its first operations in Eastern Europe, with the purchase of Hungary's Deltasped. By the end of that year, the company's sales had topped FRF 3 billion ($500 million).
Continued acquisitions enabled the group to top FRF 4 billion by the end of 1998. Among the company's purchases were international groupage company AJG, based in Britain, and Seroul in France. Dentressangle also deepened its expertise through the addition of temperature control specialists Mani and bulk products operator Thier. The latter acquisition also enabled the company to enter Germany's transport market. Also in 1998, the company shifted its stock listing to the Paris bourse's main board. By then, Dentressangle's share price had nearly tripled.
Dentressangle adopted a growth objective in 1999, with plans to achieve sales of EUR 1 billion by 2002. As part of this objective, the company began to step up its logistics operations. Acquisitions again played an important role in the company's strategy. At the end of 1999, Dentressangle acquired 60 percent of Via Location, a specialist in industrial vehicle rentals with sales of nearly EUR 100 million. The following year, the company entered the Italian transport and logistics market with the purchase of Soluzione Logistica, which focused on that country's prominent textiles and clothing sectors.
In 2001, Dentressangle bought up Savam, formerly held by Rentokil Initial, which focused on large-volume, low-density transports. A year later, the company expanded its presence on the North Sea with the acquisition of The Netherlands' Van Mierlo. That purchase also backed up the group's winning The Netherlands and Belgium logistics contract for home furnishings giant Ikea. In France, where Dentressangle already provided logistics services to Ikea, the company deepened its logistics operations through the purchase of money-losing Stockalliance. That company, despite its losses, brought Dentressangle a complementary network of 20 warehouse sites across France.
By the end of 2003, the company's logistics operations already claimed 39 percent of its total revenues of more than EUR 1.2 billion. Adding to that growth was the group's latest acquisition in Italy, of Milan's Cidem, adding four more warehouse sites in that country.
Dentressangle continued to set ambitious growth targets for itself into the middle of the decade. Despite the sluggish European economy, the company planned to continue to seek out growth opportunities in the region, most notably in the logistics market. At the same time, the company announced its interest in expanding beyond Europe for the first time, with plans to extend into China as early as 2005. Under the leadership of Norbert Dentressangle himself, the company was en route to becoming a global logistics and transport leader.
Principal Competitors: United Parcel Service of America Inc.; FedEx Corporation; Stinnes AG; ICA Detaljhandel AB; Exel PLC; SNCF Participations; Kuhne und Nagel International AG; SCHENKER AG; Bidvest Group Ltd.; Posten Logistik AB; System Alliance GmbH; Hays PLC; John Swire and Sons Ltd.
- "Il a fait de son nom une marque," L'Entreprise, May 30, 2002.
- Morris, Lucie, "Norbert Starts a Lorry Exodus Over Brown's Budget Rises," Daily Mail, April 6, 1999, p. 19.
- "Norbert Dentressangle veut croître plus vite dans la logistique," Les Echos, September 24, 2004.
- "Norbert Dentressangle veut s'implanter en Chine d'ici à 2005," Les Echos, May 27, 2004.
- Owen, David, "Unfashionable at the Start," Financial Times, May 5, 1998, p. 3.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.67. St. James Press, 2005.