Champion of Champions: Philippe Higelin

When Philippe Higelin first joined the freight transport business Flash as CFO 20 years ago, the venture was worth about €10 million. Since then, Redspher, as the company is now called, has multiplied its revenues by 30, while profitability has gone up 300 times.

Philippe had a “gut feeling” that the company had huge potential when he joined. He knew demand was surging for urgent, on-demand transportation for businesses. A new market was emerging in premium freight thanks to just-intime production, which meant companies were increasingly demanding that raw materials arrive exactly when they were needed.

“This was still a new thing for the transportation world, a new service,” Philippe shares. “We were working for big customers, which was really a dream. My motto was: if we work with champions, we will become a champion.”

Arrive fast, pay fast

With access to a network of 15,000 carriers, Redspher is able to serve major clients like Airbus, Volkswagen, Renault, Bosch and Continental. However, rather than owning its own fleet, it has developed hundreds of longstanding partnerships with freight handlers and other delivery agents, making its fleet lean and highly adaptable.

Redspher serves its customers, active in retail, automotive and various other industries, through a network of local offices in all EU countries and adjacent regions like North Africa, Turkey and Russia, where roughly 600 transportation professionals offer tailored transportation solutions to support production plants’ continuity while also acting as a high-quality service partner to enhance end-customer experience.

The company’s main selling point is its ability to be anywhere in Europe within a matter of hours; customers know if they need something delivered fast, Redspher has the network to get it done. “We have an absolutely brilliant reputation in our market,” Philippe smiles.

“We stick to our commitments with our partners. We don’t pay them the best price on the market, but we pay fast and reliably, and in transport, it’s all about getting business and getting paid. It seems quite obvious that you should pay reliably, but it wasn’t a market practice 20 years ago. Since then, we’ve improved a lot in this area of the business.”

Redspher also offers its carriers support and guidance to help them become more competitive. “We helped them by growing ourselves, and now we are focusing more on directly helping our partners grow, become more efficient and achieve better performance,” he explains.

The company’s main strategy for growth is to become the go-to platform for on-demand delivery in the countries where it operates. The shift towards digitalisation, Philippe says, was initiated in the organisation two years ago and continues to be a chief priority in its day-to-day agenda.

We have an absolutely brilliant reputation in our market.

“Digitalisation absolutely reshapes our market and the competitive landscape,” he confirms. “The transformation of our market, driven by new customer pain points and changing needs that we address are reshaping the competitive landscape. Our historical competitors are not the same as our current or future peers. Becoming a platform is an amazing journey but also an absolutely huge challenge. It’s not just a matter of technology; you have to move your organisation, your governance, your everything to become a platform.”

Changing yourself first

Throughout most of Redspher’s history, it has operated as a group of people supported by software. Becoming a platform essentially reverses that, putting easy-to-use tools and software front and centre, and backing it up with people. “This turnaround is absolutely the greatest challenge we’ve faced in our history,” Philippe admits.

“I’m convinced that if we are not able to succeed, then we will not continue to grow further. This is the only way to have a great future in our niche of the logistics market.” According to Philippe, changing the governance of the organisation – from a more traditional system to one that is competing with startups and technology companies – is something that starts at the very top. “To change everything like this, you first have to change yourself. You have to be the head of the transformation. You have to have a great vision for the future,” he says.

“You have to be really involved in the transformation, and you cannot delegate it to a committee or to a manager. That’s the most difficult thing: to ask yourself, ‘What is your future? What is your role here?’”

Working at Redspher has already changed Philippe as a leader. His background is in banking, where he learned a more rigid, hierarchical managerial style. Here, he was able to add value with that structured and disciplined approach while also learning from his colleagues to be more creative.

“The transportation world was, comparatively, really old-fashioned, paper-driven and informal. It was a big shock,” Philippe recalls. “I brought some more structure to the group and, at the same time, the group taught me how to be more of an entrepreneur and less of a manager.”

Frugal innovation

To support entrepreneurial spirit within the company, Redspher offers its staff the opportunity to become shareholders. A fifth of them now own stock in the company, and they are regularly encouraged to behave like entrepreneurs with a focus on frugal innovation.

Digitalisation absolutely reshapes our market and the competitive landscape.

By giving staff a stake in the company’s success and pushing for new solutions without racking up costs, Redspher is ensuring it stays nimble, reliable and competitive as it undergoes a major transformation. That, in turn, means it remains prepared for the unpredictability of an increasingly dynamic market.
“We want to do more for our customers with fewer means,” Philippe says. “That’s something that has helped us bring innovative solutions to our customers while being more competitive. In the transport market, competitiveness is something that is absolutely key and is desired by our customers.”

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