Berry & Donaldson : Half a Century of Logistics

Editorial Team
Editorial Team

Berry & Donaldson is one of South Africa’s largest private forwarding and clearing agents.


This is a year of 50th anniversaries. It’s the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, of the assassination of JFK, the Beatles debut album and, according to the poet Philip Larkin, sex. One of the auspicious 50th anniversaries being celebrated in 2013 is that of global supply chain and logistics company Berry & Donaldson.

Berry & Donaldson is one of the largest forwarding and clearing firms in the whole of South Africa and it’s not surprising the company is using this as an excuse for both celebration and reflection.

“We’ve had a bit of a media splash,” explains Stuart Friedmann, Berry & Donaldson’s Managing Director. “We had an internal party and a conference for some of our clients. The industry has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, becoming more technologically integrated. We’ve acquired a new software system called CargoWise and we have a huge forwarding network we’ve forged over the last 50 years. Our overseas agents are owner managed, picked for their size and ability to work within their own regions. We have our own fleet of vehicles and air freight warehouses, and with our office in Hong Kong our international presence is opening up.”

While Friedmann is firmly focused on the future of the company he’s also extremely proud of how well established the company is already.

“We’re a family company that started off as a clearing house and branched out into forwarding, logistic services and project freight,” he tells us. “We have six offices, three in Cape Town including our HQ, and three more in Durban, Johannesburg and Hong Kong.”

The last 50 years has seen the company grow at a remarkable rate but Berry & Donaldson has never lost sight of what’s important.

As Friedmann points out, “We exist in a unique space in the market. We’re big enough to have infrastructure and stability, while being small enough to provide that personal touch that comes with being a family run business. We’ve a turnover of around R3 billion a year and the full range of logistic and supply chain management offerings but we’re still a privately owned family company who deal with customers on a personal level. We still view each and every one of our customers as a business partner.”


Of course you don’t last 50 years without navigating at least a few difficult times and recently businesses all over the world have been feeling the pinch. So too has Berry & Donaldson.

“The current economic climate is a challenge because of a huge trade deficit that needs to be closed,” Friedmann admits. “Economies are pretty slow right now while our Government is rightly trying to make it less appealing for people to import rather than using our own goods and there is stiff competition in the sector. People are quite cost conscious, sometimes at the expense of service, so we’re having to cut our cloth accordingly, working to maintain the levels of service our customers expect while remaining ahead of the financial challenges they face.”
The challenge that Berry & Donaldson faces is that it has built a history of providing a comprehensive, cutting edge service, and so is working hard to maintain that while keeping one eye on matters of economy.

“It’s particularly challenging when you’re offering a one stop shop, providing all our customer’s logistic needs in one package,” says Friedmann. “The business is growing all the time and the industry changes rapidly. Supply chain management is very dynamic and we have to respond to that. The technological improvements are a double-edged sword. It gives us great tools but it can be difficult to keep up.”

With that in mind the firm has been retooling itself, looking at how it has worked so far and considering where it is going to go next. Friedmann is excited to talk about what’s to come. “The last year has been one of consolidation,” he tells us. “We’re looking forward to where we’re going and back to the where we’ve been. We need to take a more strategic approach to how we grow as opposed to the more organic growth we’ve been experiencing so far.

“We are looking to become an international player, opening more branches overseas. We don’t acquire offices just for the sake of it; we need a good reason to open up a new market. We’re currently looking at the trends happening over the next five to ten years, strategically planning our future.

“Our projects division is growing, our project freight is working on solar, oil and gas projects. That division is really taking off and we’re very excited about the projects we’re involved.”


One thing that has remained a constant from the company’s foundation in 1963 through to its plans for the future is that Berry & Donaldson’s people are its most valuable asset, and when Friedmann talks it is clear it is serious about investing in its staff and recruiting new staff from the right places. “We have lots of long serving members of staff – some as many as 25 to 35 years. We recruit within the industry and a lot of our expertise comes from our practice of hiring staff from a customs and excise background. We grow talent within the company. We have people who started as drivers who are now working at management level. Our people progress through the company by learning organically and through our structured programmes. We also firmly believe in employment equity codes. The company staff complement reflects the race and gender make-up of the community in which it serves. We’re very committed to that.”

We can’t wait to see what Berry & Donaldson does with the next 50 years.

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