Panalpina was founded in 1935 with the takeover of Hans im Obersteg, an established forwarding company who can trace their origins back to 1836. From the 1940’s to the 1960’s further takeovers, as well as the establishment of new companies, saw Panalpina expand their operations first into Europe and North America, and then into Latin America, Africa, Asia and Australia. The company became independent in 1954 and named itself Alpina, which was changed to Panalpina in 1960. Since the 1970’s, Panalpina’s strategy has been to strengthen their position in specific industry segments, most notably into oil and gas with the takeover of the Houston-based J.P. Harle Group in the late 1970s, and further takeovers of established players in this segment during the mid-2000’s. Panalpina has been listed on the SIX Swiss stock exchange since 2005, prior to which it was owned by the Ernst Göhner Foundation.
With the financial collapse in 2008, company revenues dropped by around one third, and following a series of uneven results in the years since then, their revenue is yet to recover. In 2009, global revenue dropped to almost six billion Swiss francs; in 2018 this figure stood at just over six billion Swiss francs. The same pattern of mixed results resulting in no overall growth is reflected in other company metrics – the 14,539 staff employed in 2018 is lower than the 14,804 employed in 2008, and the 2018 gross profit of 1.5 billion Swiss francs is only slightly above the 2009 gross profit of 1.38 billion Swiss francs recorded directly after the financial crash. This can be contrasted to the performance of the two largest worldwide providers of intercontinental air and ocean freight, Deutsche Post DHL and Kuehne + Nagel. Global revenue for both these companies dropped between 15 and 20 percent in 2009 due to the financial crash, and both have seen somewhat uneven results since then. However, by 2017 global revenues of both companies had recovered to around their 2008 pre-crash levels, while Panalpina’s global revenue was still 38 percent lower.