Bellville Rodair International


Bellville Rodair International (BRI) we know today looks a lot different than it did when it started in 1996. Back then, the company held three people in a small office in Mississauga, Ontario. With lofty ambitions from the beginning, BRI was determined to become a world-wide logistics provider. Thirteen years later, the company has grown (organically) to 23 offices in 12 countries and employs about 300 people.

If you ask Jeff Cullen, CEO, what BRI does, he breaks it down like this: “In the most basic terms, we are a travel agent for freight,” he says. “There are lots of sexy terms like ‘transportation intermediary’, but travel agent is easier.”

As a non-asset based freight-forwarding company, BRI doesn’t own the goods, the modes of transportation or the warehouses. Instead, they coordinate the movement of said goods all over the world—from the factory to the retail floor, production line or show room.

While BRI offers supply chain services for general commodities, the company specialises in four niche sectors on a global scale, including high-fashion, automotive, energy and project services (which caters to the construction, power, mining, oil and gas, and civil engineering industries).

Cullen explains that BRI has developed expertise in each sector. “In fashion, for example, we created patented containers for moving hanging garments around the world,” he says. “The clothes we move don’t come in a box; they are hung up, like they are in the store. Other companies just don’t do that.”

BRI has become so renowned for its specialized services, they were contracted to move a machine featured on Mighty Machines, a show on the Discovery Channel. “We had the very distinct pleasure of moving the world’s largest machine,” Cullen beams. “It was the size of a square city block, weighing 28 million pounds and standing at six stories tall. We moved it from mid-Ohio to Australia, spending six and a half months dismantling it and shipping it overseas.”

Secret to success
Last year, BRI earned over $160 million USD in sales—a considerable jump from the $3 million earned in the first year. So how did a logistics company get to be so successful in just over a decade? According to Cullen, BRI owes its achievements to three things.

“First, we had a vision when we first started out,” he explains. “I think having a direction has been extremely helpful. Our second strength is our niche sectors. We’re not the biggest company out there, but we are recognised because we honed our skills in certain verticals. Last, we have spent a lot of time building a corporate culture, which allows us to attract and retain some of the best talent.”

Cullen spends a lot of time in the interview talking about company culture. To him, it’s not a buzz word to which he pays lip service; rather, it’s a real aspect of BRI’s day-to day operations.

“A lot of people talk about their people and how they’re the greatest asset to company,” he continues, “but then you meet the people and you don’t get that sense from them. Here, our people have an energy that’s palpable. It’s not something we put on. It sounds trite, but it’s true.”

Maybe it’s the gym with hired trainers; maybe it’s the ping pong tables or the video games in the lounge. Whatever it is that seems to put employees in a positive and productive frame of mind, it seems to be working. Cullen agrees, adding that people spend too much time in the office environment. “Having fun is better for brainstorming than sitting in a big boardroom with pads of paper.”

Part of what makes the culture work BRI is everyone’s responsibility for it. The company’s unifying philosophy statement is ‘Building Reliability’ and under that philosophy are five bridges that make the statement a reality: Awareness, Accuracy, Enjoyment, Communication and Imagination. “Each of those bridges touches on how we deal internally and externally with people,” says Cullen. “It is a 360-degree philosophy that applies to everyone, no matter who you are in the organization. Everyone plays a part.”

One of the interesting things about the logistics industry is that it’s a leading indicator of the global economy. Companies like BRI are the first going into downturns, as well as the first heading out of them. They see the movement (or lack thereof) of goods before they reach their destination.

“Over 13 years, we’ve seen ebbs and flows,” says Cullen, “but the last few years have changed our industry. There has been a huge shift in where production happens. Parts are manufactured in various countries, shipped somewhere else for final assembly and then shipped for distribution. It’s a good thing for us because we will remain relevant; people need to move products around the world.”

Sending production off-shore certainly has its costs—not the least of which is fuel. Security is also an increasing expense. “There is a lot of money going into insuring the global supply chain,” Cullen continues. “The product is a month away, so you have to spend more on securing inventory. Add that to the higher costs of transportation and it gets pretty expensive. The offset of cheap labour isn’t as beneficial as it used to be—the cost of logistics is almost outweighing the savings.”

Growing into the future
Not complacent with where they are now, Bellville Rodair International has a lot more up its sleeve. “We are looking an aggressive growth strategy for the next five years,” Cullen says. “Our intention is to double our current sales, which is significantly easier to do when our sales were $3 million. It becomes more of a feat.” As the company continues to expand, Cullen talks about their new appetite for acquisition. “In today’s economy, it’s a good time for it,” he says. “I think our approach to acquisition will be different than what other people are doing. There are some vultures out there, looking to take advantage of people who are feeling a lot of financial pain. BRI wants to find these hurting companies and go in respectfully with a win-win plan.”

Growth also involves moving to more locations. BRI sees huge opportunities in increasing its prevalence in Asia, as well as Latin America. “The world is still a big place and we are still a small part of it right now,” Cullen smiles. “We’re still very, very excited about where we’re going.”