INTERVIEW: DHL Express CEO Ken Allen

We interview DHL's CEO, EVP & country manager for the UAE.
(L-R) Ken Allen, Frank-Uwe Ungerer & Nour Suliman at the July 2014 launch of DHL’s logistics facility in Meydan, Dubai.
(L-R) Ken Allen, Frank-Uwe Ungerer & Nour Suliman at the July 2014 launch of DHL’s logistics facility in Meydan, Dubai.

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Logistics Middle East sat down with ‘the best employer in the UAE’ to find out how DHL Express maintains a productive workforce and the company’s commitment to growth in the Middle East

DHL Express is a company that needs no introduction. Recognised the world over, the logistics powerhouse prides itself on providing express deliveries virtually everywhere, including to countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea.

In the Middle East, the company has achieved remarkable feats year-on-year, hitting milestones even in the face of a sluggish global market in recession-recovery mode.

In line with its buoyancy in the Middle East, which is partly due to strong leadership, sizeable investments in infrastructure, facilities and services, and new product launches, 2014 saw DHL hailed as the best company to work for in the UAE by the Great Place to Work Institute UAE.

In addition, the firm’s CEO for the MENA region, Nour Suliman, came out on top for the second consecutive year in Logistics Middle East’s rankings of the 25 most powerful 3PL executives in the Middle East.

To discuss the incredible progress in the region and how DHL Express motivates its growing workforce, Logistics Middle East sat down with the self-described world’s leading logistics company’s chief executive officer and executive vice president of global network operations, as well as the country manager for DHL Express in the UAE.

Amid significant developments, Ken Allen, who became CEO in February 2009, said now is an “exciting time” for DHL.
“The Middle East is the fastest growing region in the world and we believe in the long-term future of it,” he said. “We’ll be here forever and we’ve invested heavily here.”

In terms of USPs, Allen stated that DHL Express “invented” its industry in 1969 and rather than being just the most international express company, it is the most international company in the world.

“A lot of companies say they’re global but not many can say they’re in 200 countries. Even in counties where, for legal reasons, we have to use agents, those companies really feel part of the DHL family and we retain management control,” he commented.

The company’s commitment to the region is evidenced by its continued investment, with the launch in Dubai of its largest ground operations facility in the MENA region, and three similar sized centres in three provinces in Saudi under construction, as well as an air site facility in Cairo, which it hopes to replicate in Qatar.

Speaking about the new Dubai centre, Allen said: “As we’re the most international company in the world, we have to be everywhere, so while this investment can be called our Middle East investment, it’s also bringing shipments from China and the US, for example, so everything we invest in is to keep this global network operating at maximum efficiency. The Middle East has always been a big market for us and it continues [with our other investments].”

EVP of global network operations Charlie Dobbie reiterated this message: “Every one of our major customers sends shipments to the Middle East, so our new facility is a network facility as much as it’s a UAE facility.”

The $27million centre, located at Meydan in Dubai, spans an area of 186,000 square feet, equivalent to 2.5 football pitches, and was built over a period of about 15 months in partnership with MGE Middle East General Enterprise.

The ergonomic building boasts impressive eco-credentials, as Frank Uwe Ungerer, country manager for the UAE, elaborated: “We are combining operational and office facilities in one, and it is energy saving in terms of its shape – the roof is specially designed so that it doesn’t heat up the room. We have lighting in zones so if we have only 10 or 15 people in over the weekend in customer service, for example, we can light just that area.

We also don’t cool everything at the same time to save energy and our couriers will save 15 to 20 minutes en route because of the strategic location [of the facility].”

He added that the location between Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International Airport would benefit customers by offering faster pick-up and delivery services.

Dobbie noted that besides being built to make life easier for customer and employees – citing the example that its design is engineered to absorb noise – the environment was an important consideration to the company.

“One of our platforms is sustainability and there are various elements to that; go teach (out in the community), go help (disaster relief) and go green (reduction of carbon footprint and all the modern technologies that are available to use),” he explained.

“We have a 30 percent target of reducing emissions globally by 2015 and it is part of the agenda of the corporation as a whole so when it comes to any facility around the world that we’re revamping, remodelling or rebuilding, we adhere to those standards and make sure we’re adding to that objective of reducing stress on the planet.”

The environmental focus extends beyond construction work to upgrading modern vehicles and using alternative fuels, such as electricity, where possible and Dobbie said the company designs its routes to save fuel, as well as time.

Speaking about DHL’s ubiquitous couriers, Ungerer said: “We work with our motorbike couriers to provide special training and train our other couriers and supervisors on safer driving…. we’re encouraging an understanding of defensive driving and what safe driving means, which is especially important in Dubai where there are a high number of road deaths.”

Dobbie said this also pays dividends in terms of customer satisfaction as “this sort of attitude and mannerism carries over to the road”.

“We’re very aware of our brand and what it means – high quality, professional – so a courier is conscious of that when driving along the road, demonstrating good road manners. It spills over into sensible driving, which leads to sustainability and saving of fuel. It all flows and adds to us being an international specialist in our industry,” he elaborated.

A source of pride for the company is its consistency of training around the world and Allen cited employee development as central to the firm’s success.

He noted that DHL Express has a similar strategy to other businesses – “most strategies are designed on the same principles of motivated people giving great service quality, leading to loyal customers and a profitable network” and stated that DHL “cares very deeply about custom first of all”.

He continued: “To get the customer fully delighted with the service, we need all our people to seriously believe every one of them has an integral role to play in the company.”

This is where DHL’s Certified International Specialists programme comes in, which has been running for about five years and involves each employee collecting stamps in a Passport to Success booklet for areas in which they come certified, such as management and customer service.

“Our big ambition is to be the greatest international express company in the world; this is what we tell all employees… we tell all our people that they’re working for a great company and to do that we need everybody to understand their role in a massive network,” Allen shared.

“Once they have the training and the understanding of how they fit in the systems, we want everybody to be an ambassador for DHL; everybody’s a salesman and you’re not going to sell the company unless you feel it’s a great place to work and it’s doing great things for our customer and the planet.”

It was Ungerer who saw the potential in this programme to win external awards, prompting DHL to successfully apply to the Great Place to Work institute. That announcement came on the back of 2013’s success in being named the region’s Best Employer by Aon Hewitt in light of the company’s commitment to delivering employee engagement.

Dobbie remarked that this commitment to what “exceptional training” manifests itself in a practical level.

“If you walk around [the Meydan] facility you’ll see it is a high quality facility designed to take the noise away in the customer service area and provide a good environment,” he reported. “The couriers are inside on the ground floor and the vehicles back up to the conveyor belt, which makes it easier, and it is all air conditioned. Then they get into the air conditioned vans so that when they see the customers, they’re not hot and or uncomfortable.

“We have excellent canteen and bathroom facilities, and this is the standard we have for all of our facilities globally. If you were to fly to India now, you would find the same design and standard facilities in Delhi and Bangladesh, and you’ll find the same standard in the new facility in Cairo Airport. We give people the best tools, equipment and facilities to enable them to ‘have the best day everyday’ in doing their job.”

Allen picked up the theme: “The secret of good management is making your strategies come alive, so for example recently we held appreciation week globally. Management went out to all the frontline people to say thank you, give them a gift and enjoy a BBQ as part of a series of events.

We want employees to know we appreciate what they’re doing because we can invest hundreds of millions, have great facilities and great aircraft, but if our courier turns up at your office and he’s having a bad day, all that investment means nothing. It’s all about building a good environment for employees.”

Employee satisfaction is monitored by way of an annual anonymous employee opinion survey (EOS) that in turn creates work groups that respond to any issues.

“Part of managements’ bonuses are based on the outcome – not the employees’ bonuses – so we do have a vested interest in keeping people happy,” explained Dobbie. “If couriers turn up at offices rushing or not being attentive due to having a bad day then customers will choose someone else next time. There are so many elements that are integrated in making us the best employer.”

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