C.H. Robinson lays off about 650 employees

CEO: ‘Got ahead of ourselves’ in head count, didn’t expect freight markets to cool this fast

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the number of layoffs confirmed by the company. 

Truck brokerage giant C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. laid off approximately 650 employees this week, the company confirmed Thursday. Sources close to the situation originally estimated the number would be closer to 1,000, possibly up to 1,200.

The move comes a week after the Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based company (NASDAQ: CHRW) reported weaker-than-expected, third-quarter results and strongly hinted at impending labor cost reductions to combat the impact of slowing demand and increased costs.

“We got ahead of ourselves in terms of head count,” said Bob Biesterfeld, Robinson’s president and CEO, on a post-earnings call. Robinson employs nearly 17,000 people.

Biesterfeld said he did not forecast truckload demand declining as rapidly as it did, as well as spot market and contract rates deflating considerably.

In a statement Wednesday night, the company said:

“As we said last week in our Q3 earnings, changes in market conditions, coupled with many successful endeavors on our digital roadmap directed at scaling our model to be more efficient, mean we are in a position to reduce our overall cost structure.

“As a result, we’re eliminating some positions at C.H. Robinson. These are not easy decisions, because we recognize the significant contribution of the impacted employees. We have tried to approach this with as much respect and empathy for our former colleagues as possible and are providing transition assistance.”

In late February, Robinson entered into a cooperation agreement with Ancora Holdings Group LLC, an activist investor group. It also named Henry Maier, a former CEO of FedEx Ground, the U.S. ground delivery unit of FedEx Corp., (NYSE: FDX) and Jay Winship, a financial executive, as independent directors.

In addition, Robinson’s board formed a four-member capital allocation and planning committee, which the company said would recommend capital allocation, operations and strategies, including enhanced transparency and disclosures to shareholders. The panel is chaired by Winship and initially includes Scott Anderson, the company’s chairman, as well as Biesterfeld and Maier.