Ruediger Fromm: On the Road to Success

Motorcycle Fan’s Journey From Apprentice Forwarder to Head of Logistics at Siemens Energy

By Jeremy Bowden

Breakbulk sat down with Ruediger Fromm, head of project logistics at Siemens Energy, to talk about his three-decade career in the industry, his love of motorcycling and why keeping calm under pressure is the hallmark of any successful project professional.

From Issue 3, 2024 of Breakbulk Magazine.

(7-min read)

It’s been a long road for keen biker Ruediger Fromm, who began his career as a humble apprentice but is now responsible for global end-to-end project logistics at Siemens Energy.

Fromm has been with Siemens and its subsidiary for about 16 years, working his way up to his current position (officially, Head of Logistics Project Entity, Siemens Energy).

Based in Erlangen, Germany, Fromm says he is now an “old man” at 52. The divorced father-of-two – he has a 22-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son – holds degrees in economics, transport management and engineering, and is a member of the advisory board for Breakbulk Europe.

Fromm was born and grew up in Luebeck, northern Germany. After he left school, he had planned to be a teacher, before deciding to switch to project logistics. “Starting from scratch, my initial plan was to teach apprentices in the shipping sector – economics, engineering and that kind of thing. But then I applied for an apprenticeship with a heavy-lift trucking freight forwarding agent because that was a prerequisite for teaching in this field.”

His first job was with Otto Longuet GmbH & Co. in Luebeck, where he trained as a Speditionskaufmann, or forwarding agent, from 1992-1994. Fromm recalls:

“The manager who hired me told me, ‘Ruediger, you will do your apprenticeship here in my company and then you will go to Bremerhaven and study transport economics and engineering there, and then you will be ready to make a career in the heavy-lift business.’ To be honest, before that, I had no clue about logistics or heavy-lift. So, I said ‘okay’, and from there everything went like clockwork.”

He attended Bremerhaven University of Applied Sciences, gaining a Diplom-Wirtschaftsingenieur (graduate industrial engineer) in business administration and engineering, and transport management and engineering between 1994 and 1997.

“After I completed my studies at Bremerhaven, I started with several positions in heavy-lift and project logistics companies,” Fromm recalls. “By then any thought of teaching apprenticeships was behind me, although when you are a manager and responsible for people, you are also a sort of teacher. In fact, sometimes it feels like a kindergarten – but that’s the normal life for a manager, I think!”

His first job after leaving university was as a technical expert with C. Gielisch GmbH in Stuttgart, and by 2006 he reached the position of managing director at Felbermayr Deutschland GmbH in Hilden, before moving to Siemens.

Career Challenges

As far as challenges are concerned, Fromm says there are many in his role, but perhaps one above all: “How to say this in a diplomatic way – when the coach of the national soccer team does something wrong, then you have 50 million head coaches who know better – it’s the same in the UK as in Germany.

“With a company like Siemens or Siemens Energy, it’s sometimes a bit like that, everybody else seems to think they know more about logistics than you do. Siemens is not a logistics company, obviously, we are an engineering company producing great products – and logistics is a function.

“But if something goes wrong then everybody knows better! Perhaps the most challenging thing is explaining to colleagues what the dimensions and constraints of logistics are – sometimes it’s fun, sometimes not so fun.

“I realize quickly if there’s someone that I’m talking to who is unaware of these dynamics, from the way he or she is asking questions. Sometimes people need to be informed of the basics associated with moving such large and complex pieces of equipment – for example, a generator bus, which weighs 300 tonnes or more. We are not in the parcel business; it is a much bigger business.”

Ruediger’s successful career is evidence that he has earned the trust of his colleagues. “It helps that I worked for heavy-lift companies – the other side of the desk from now. I can contribute with my market knowledge and the network I have, and of course my operational know-how and experience – I know what a heavy-lift configuration looks like and how it functions and so on.”

Complex Projects

He said that each and every job was complex, so it was hard to pick the most challenging. “We have one project right now that is still ongoing, but it is somehow related to the war in Ukraine so I can’t talk about it – a pity not to be able to. There was also a tough project in Brazil where we had to deliver big transformers more or less to the middle of the Amazon rainforest. And also in Africa, where it’s quite often a challenge – we have big projects in Kenya and Ethiopia.

“And to be honest, more and more the European projects are becoming more complex, harder and more challenging generally – partly due to erosion of the infrastructure. Previously we would have a plan A and at least a plan B, and many times a plan C and D. But nowadays it’s even difficult to find a plan A or to make the job feasible.”

He said this was caused not only by infrastructure issues, but also by challenges arising from climate change. For example: “Bridges are becoming weaker – in Germany there are new requirements regarding aesthetic analysis of bridges, which makes them more expensive and complicated. In the wind business, fast-rising demand means a shortage of heavy-lift equipment, and with one wind turbine needing at least 10-15 transports, coordinating is getting tougher.

“Climate change means inland waterways, which we use whenever possible, are less predictable. Projects are not as easily planned as before because you have high waters in times when they are normally low, and the other way around as well. It seems everything is in motion right now, and we have to be more flexible and agile to adapt to new requirements and situations.”

Fromm said regulation was less of an issue as “everyone has to deal with it,” and permits were normally forthcoming once a project had been approved. “It’s not an advantage for one company over another – so it doesn’t really hinder our business, at least in the transportation of the goods. To build a power plant, of course, many permissions are needed, but if permission is issued to build a power plant, then it would be crazy not to get a permit for transportation – authorities are collaborative once planning has been approved.”

Outside Europe, in Africa and South America, he said logistics was improving – “There is a business case now, so companies are investing in equipment in these regions and facilities are steadily improving over time.”

Keeping Calm Under Pressure

For Fromm, the best way to deal with an often high-pressure work environment is to always trust that there will be a solution. “Sometimes you cannot get a fix straight away – if you have a thin skin and quickly become stressed then it’s not the right job for you. You need to count, turn around and think about it – sooner or later there will be a solution.”

In his spare time, Fromm likes to ride a motorcycle to relax. “That’s my way of meditation, for one or two hours after a stressful day, then I’m relaxed again because I have to concentrate on the road.” He brushes off any safety concerns. “Yes, everything is dangerous, but you can reduce this by riding in the right way. I’m not a racer, but sometimes it is fun to drive a bit faster!”

Looking ahead, Fromm believes that, technically, little is likely to change in the sector, although increased digitization will make a difference. “We still have to move things using heavy lift vessels by sea, road or rail, so technically not that much will change in the future. You cannot beam a cargo from A to B!

“I think via digitization we should gain more transparency through data to find more opportunities to work smarter – becoming more effective by bundling more shipments and so on. But in the end, I think software will definitely not take over our business. In the end, it’s still mechanics.”

He suggests that in the future, companies will have increasingly diverse supply chains, which could make his job more complicated. “In the past, almost everything came from China or Asia to Europe, but in the future more of a mix from Europe, the Americas and Asia. For us in logistics this could make it more complex, at least in the tender stage when we do not know which continent the components will come from. How to calculate contract budgets for this type of situation could become more of a challenge.”

Summing up, Fromm returns to the football analogy. “I’m convinced working in the area of project logistics is like playing in the Champions League because it contains all transport modes and all parts of the logistics business.

“So when you’re building a power plant, you not only have all the really heavy stuff, but also the tiny screws and widgets, and all the timing and storage considerations – altogether, it’s one of the most challenging disciplines.”

Siemens Energy is a member of the Breakbulk Global Shipper Network.