ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: An interview with DHL's Nour Suliman
Nour Suliman is CEO of DHL Express Middle East and North Africa
From humble beginnings in 1969, DHL has emerged as the most international express and logistics provider in the world.
In this region, DHL was first in the industry to set up shop in 1976 and 40 years later the company continues to dominate express delivery here, with a presence in 19 countries, over 200 facilities and a workforce exceeding 4,500 people.
We sat down with Nour Suliman, DHL’s CEO for the Middle East and North Africa, to get his views on what makes the company tick, his outlook for this region, and the trends and innovations shaping the industry.
How has DHL worked its way up to its position today?
DHL is a pioneer in logistics. We have revolutionised this sector and continue to set industry benchmarks along the way.
Our strength lies in our ability to find solutions that make our customers’ businesses thrive; to do that we have to both anticipate and drive change.
Our business formula is farsighted and tailored to meet future demands and socio-economic trends, especially in a region like the Middle East with prevailing volatility and a complex political and social climate.
How is the logistics market evolving?
In a recent study published by Deutsche Post DHL on the evolution of logistics in the coming decades, the role of logistics is poised to undergo major transformation yet in every scenario, demand will most certainly rise.
There is no surprise there considering that globalisation is a prevailing driver in our industry and world markets are becoming increasingly interconnected.
In a globalised world, logistics is a necessity but right now, the shift towards sustainable logistics is a must. This is where innovation in products, services, facilities and even strategies is most needed.
As the leading global logistics providers, we do not want to be caught off guard by developments and trends. Our role is to make responsible decisions that help shape the industry and fortunately we have the means and expertise to achieve that.
Tell me about your approach to recruitment and investing in your workforce.
It is not enough to make predictions and formulate strategies – you also need the right type of people to drive the vision forward, especially in our line of business where customer service is a priority.
The bulk of our operations centre around express time definite deliveries – everything we do, all our investments and product/service upgrades are to improve transit times so that our customers are served on time, every time. This is fundamental to our business success.
At the heart of everything that we do lies the customer, so instead of 'going the extra mile' being a sporadic act of kindness shown by our agents and staff members, it is an attitude, a culture, and a part of their daily routine. Our people go to great lengths to make sure that our customers receive the level of service they have been accustomed to – fast, efficient, reliable and, above all, personal.
We employ almost 5,000 people across the MENA region, and they handle a portfolio of more than 60,000 customers and process over 26 million shipments a year.
Our customers rely on the ability of every single person working with us, from account handlers to the person sitting behind the counter to the people picking up their shipment or answering their call.
Each one understands that we have an obligation towards our customers and each one is instrumental in satisfying that client. If we pick up a shipment from Dubai and it goes through our new facility in Meydan onto a well maintained high-class aircraft and clears customs quickly, but you then have a bad experience with the courier who delivers it to your office, all that investment is put to waste.
The trick is to create a working environment that helps bring this culture to life. It is not enough to just say you are willing to go the extra mile, you have to put words into actions. When you see this actually happening then you know you have the right combination of talent that is eager to serve the customer, and processes that help them deliver that service.
Particularly in this region, considering the challenges of operating in some countries, our people continue to go to work every day and serve clients with the same focus and dedication.
This level of commitment is what gives DHL its competitive advantage and has won the company numerous awards year in year out for exceptional customer service. Our aim to sustain our reputation as ‘employer of choice’ has pushed us to continuously invest in our human capital.
Our approach goes beyond just training and development; our human resource efforts are guided by the Certified International Specialist scheme, which is a company-wide initiative put in place to inspire employees.
The idea is to connect them to the company on an emotional level and build pride in the fact that they work for the most international company in the world.
This is not to say that mistakes don’t occur, but our customer service people ensure mistakes are rectified immediately – how fast and efficiently we turn around a hiccup is what gives us our edge. Our people are the friendly, capable, qualified voice that clients can rely on for support and solutions at any given time. In saying that, we also have to give employees the necessary tools to help them reach their optimum efficiency levels. This is where the marriage of innovation and technology come into play.
How important are innovation and technology to the company?
DHL is big on innovation, especially technological innovation which we consider a catalyst to our growth. We have dedicated teams that tirelessly pave the way with value-adding solutions to enhance our operational efficiency.
According to our new Trend Report on the Internet of Things (IoT), which we recently released at the DHL Global Technology Conference in Dubai, there will be 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020 compared to 15 billion today.
This holds huge potential for the logistics industry across the entire value chain, from cargo movement to tracking and stowing. We are continuously exploring ways to improve efficiencies via smarter inventory systems, faster, more accurate and secure tracking and tracing products, and optimisation of last mile delivery.
What this means for our customers is that we are inventing technology to provide an even faster, more reliable and cost-effective service. This is another step in our sustainable growth strategy.
How do you foresee the logistics industry in this region developing in the near future?
In terms of the business outlook for this region, I am very confident that logistics will continue to enjoy robust growth for many years to come.
The Middle East economies are thriving with strategic powerhouses such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia gaining momentum as significant cargo hubs.
New trade patterns are shifting eastwards placing the Middle East as a pivot for freight movement between Europe, Asia and Africa.
Trade between this part of the world and the global marketplace is booming and the region’s governments are realising the tremendous potential and investing in enhanced infrastructure, multi-modal capabilities, regulatory frameworks and their connectivity to exploit untapped opportunities.
There is no question that all eyes are turning to this part of the world and as veterans in logistics, we are enablers of growth.
We are here to help build international trade routes and strengthen the region’s connectivity to the global marketplace. In just two years we invested over $170 million on new state-of-the-art facilities across Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, in an effort to increase our capacities and logistical capabilities.
We recently opened a new gateway in Riyadh and another is due to follow in Jeddah by the end of the year, and this is in addition to the increased flight frequencies and new routes continuously being added to our network.
These developments form part of DHL’s wider sustainable growth strategy that aims to boost the region’s links to DHL’s major distribution hubs and key trade centres around the world for the next 20 years at least and enable our customers to reap the benefits of the fast-changing yet very lucrative economic landscape.