The acquisition of Christian Salvesen in 2007 was a watershed moment for Norbert Dentressangle. Not only did it nearly double its turnover over night (from €1.8bn in 2007 to €3.1bn in 2008) it was the catalyst for a major international acquisition spree that has seen it expand its interests into Spain, Italy, Portugal, Russia and the USA. This boom also saw it buy TDG, and its annualised turnover of £700m.

Last month ND revealed an annual global turnover of €4.7bn (£3.44bn) for the year ending 31 December 2014 (up from €4bn in 2013) with EBITDA rising from €251.5m to €288.1m and EBITA from €141.7m to €167.9m – including a four month contribution from its US contract logistics and haulage business Jacobson, the fourth largest operator in the US market.

As reported in MT 9 February the UK accounts for 29% of ND’s annual turnover, or €1.34bn.

Herve Montjotin

Norbert Dentressangle chief executive Hervé Montjotin

Hervé Montjotin, chief executive of ND, acknowledges that the acquisition, and integration, of Salvesen set ND on its current path: “The Salvesen acquisition was a real, key milestone for us in 2007. Since then we have been able to grow at a good pace of compound annual growth. Part of that growth has been made in the UK, either by acquisition, or where we have been relatively successful in getting new business in the UK.

“But whatever the pace of Norbert’s growth over the past few years, what I am really proud of is that we have kept our managerial DNA. There is a risk that you can lose your DNA and weaken your company control, but it is all about management and execution,” he says.

ND’s growth curve over the past eight years has not come about purely via M&A activity. Montjotin points to 11.4% organic growth rates globally since 2009, and 4.4% year-on-year organic growth in the UK in 2014. “We are pretty satisfied with our performance in the UK,” he says. “Recently I was visiting a new customer, a British business that is outsourcing their operations. I met with the CEO and I wanted to know the catalyst for moving to ND? Firstly, outsourcing the logistics gave the competitiveness and they knew the quality of our team. Secondly, it was a good fit for their business because of the global reach of ND.

“As a business we are interested in having a good local answer, and we need to have a good global answer, and I heard this from the customer.”

Another key indicator of progress is profit performance. Montjotin says that ND has a target of being above 3% EBITA margin, and it achieved a 3.6% EBITA margin in 2014. Two issues held its performance back; one was the profitability of its Antwerp logistics operations and Montjotin says that ND is “clearly in a turnaround process” in that area. Second was closer to home, with two of its Midlands sites being consolidated into one national hub in Crick.

“This was a very difficult situation,” he says. “But it has been fixed. The service is now OK, as is the profitability.”

Hopkinson Transport

Hopkinson Transport was bought by ND in April 2014

Last April ND also made a small, bolt-on acquisition, adding Derbyshire-based Hopkinson Transport to its Tankers division. The 25 vehicle firm specialises in the storage and transport of bulk powder and PVC resin with ND using the business to develop its presence in bulk polymer distribution. “That was a good job done locally by the UK team,” he says.

Montjotin says he is not expecting any major challenges for ND is 2015: “The best growth will come from the UK and Spain. I do see our macroeconomics a bit more favourable than in 2014, but I do not see any significant threats coming from the market in 2015.”