The Chairman of the Board and former CEO of DSV celebrates his 70th birthday today.
A good result
Kurt K. Larsen has been with DSV since 1989, when he joined us as part of an aquisition. During his period as CEO, most of it with founder Leif Tullberg at his side, DSV grew from a local Danish company to one of the largest freight forwarders in the world.
So the Chairman has reason to be satisfied with his work, and he is. When asked if he has any regrets, Kurt smiles: "No, I don't work that way. And look at the company I helped create. It's healthy, profitable and in very capable hands, including my own for now. I think we have a healthy organisation and excellent leadership throughout. I am very happy."
A young man discovers he wants to be in charge
His rise to be a knighted captain of industry was by no means clear at the start of his career. Like many in his generation, schooling was not very important, so he left after middle school and took up the trade of freight forwarding.
"I learned freight forwarding at Gyldenstein Eftf. I remember they were very sweet people. Then I went to Rich. Frederiksen in 1969. We started out with six trucks, and since I was one of the first forwarders there it only seemed natural that I would be in charge of the new people coming in as we grew."
From then on, a career in leadership took form although Kurt is quick to point out that he did not have any real ambition to move up at first:
"I found out that I was pretty good at being a leader, and since I really hated having others tell me what to do it worked out well that I took control. I didn't really have a plan, but when my wife, Vibeke, and I had twins, it became more serious, since I now had to a family to support."
The part about not liking others to be in charge led to a peculiar clause in Kurt's contract when he was hired as CEO of Borup Autotransport in 1976:
"I was able to decide my own contract when I went to Borup, so I got a clause that said that I 'was not obliged to accept any equal or superior competency.' In other words, I was in charge."
During those years, Kurt grew his businesses on what we now call the DSV DNA: an overriding focus on delivering bottom line profit and a clear people-management strategy of rewarding key personnel and recruiting from within.
Moving to DSV and growing an empire
After an already solid career in freight forwarding in companies that had either competed with or been acquired by DSV, Kurt finally moved to DSV when Borup Autotransport was acquired in 1989. Here, he partnered with Leif Tullberg, one of the founders of the company:
"Leif and I worked very well together. He took care of the gravel business that DSV came from as well as all the corporate work with our Board of Directors and with the banks etc. I was in charge of the business."
The first major acquisition came in 1997 when DSV bought Samson Transport Co., more than doubling its revenue in two years.
"The decision to buy Samson Transport was a bit of a coincidence. We had a lot of money, little debt and a good cash flow. So we had to expand by acquisition. Then Samson, a fine old forwarding business was put up for sale, and we ended up buying it," says Kurt.
The two CEO's would refine and improve on acquiring large companies during their time at the helm.
"We didn't know it was something we were good at when we started. But we discovered that we were. Good at integrating different companies and exploiting the synergies. And it happened fast. Our share price went up and people realised that we could acquire a company that was not making money and quickly start turning a profit."
Leif Tullberg (left) and Kurt K. Larsen (right) together with a young CFO Jens H. Lund (2004)
CEO and Chairman
As mentioned, Kurt has strong opinions on leadership and about running a business. And he is never shy about discussing them. He will probably deny it, but he is a master communicator who uses his natural charm to disarm his often brutally honest message. This is something our current CEO Jens Bjørn Andersen appreciates:
"I have always liked Kurt’s style and the fact that he is blunt about how things are. When one makes an agreement with Kurt, one is never in doubt about what the terms are and what he thinks,” he says and continues: “Kurt makes it simple and that is reassuring. One never feels that he does things for tactical reasons or tries to make you insecure. That doesn’t mean that one isn’t being evaluated, but there is never an ulterior motive and that creates a sense of security."
The sense of loyalty goes both ways. Kurt is obviously happy with the leadership of DSV and he speaks fondly of working in the company for so many years and of the trust the board put in him as a CEO:
"We had an excellent Board consisting of old hauliers when Leif and I were in charge. They trusted us, even when we screwed up, and we did. But we learned as we went along, and that is really the story of my life; I’ve learned by doing – and I’ve been lucky to have good people around me my entire career."
Happy birthday, Mr. Chairman.
DSV over time
*some quotes and pictures in this article are from an article on finans.dk by Bertil Fruelund.