Dialogues

Altruism: The Heart of Logistics

Interview with Bill Meahl, Chief Commercial Officer, DHL

DHL has plenty going for the company. It has one of the strongest global networks that spans over 220 countries and territories worldwide, four solid core divisions that have been steadily developing over the years, and a relatively strong corporate image.

Despite its current successes however, the megacorporation is not resting on its laurels. DHL continues to work on further expanding its global footprint as well as investing in technology and innovation. While DHL (like any other company) is naturally doing what is best to stay relevant and profitable in this unpredictable economy, being in the logistics industry means the company’s drive to do more has a positive spillover on the masses. After all, the success of a logistics industry has a direct correlation with people’s quality of life.

“Logistics is about building a better world. It may sound a bit sappy, but if a doctor does not get an implant on time for an emergency operation, or a child’s gift is not delivered in time for Christmas, the consequences can range from something as drastic as lost lives to a child’s moment being negatively impacted. People’s quality of life is on the line. I always thought that it is an interesting business because of that reason,” says Mr Bill Meahl, Chief Commercial Officer of DHL.

In this issue of Supply Chain Asia, Mr Meahl discusses what it means to be the chief commercial officer, the importance of innovation in the industry, and his experience of working at DHL for the past 34 years.

The man to raise DHL’s international platform

“My main responsibilities include building the next generation of customers for DHL. Currently, many of our large Fortune 500 clients are either of an American or European origin. We want to expand our services to emerging markets, such as China, India, Brazil and Mexico. While they are not our traditional customers, we want to reach out to them. We want to grow these markets,” explains the former chief operating officer of DHL Supply Chain.

With the company’s aim to boost its revenue in emerging markets to 30 per cent of total revenue as reported in its Strategy 2020 plan, a substantial portion of that dream boils down to DHL’s performance in these markets. Being one of the leaders behind this movement means Mr Meahl has plenty on his shoulders to drive towards this major goal. In addition, he is in charge of providing solutions to five focused market verticals, which are automotive, life sciences & healthcare, technology, energy, as well as engineering & manufacturing, ensuring that the company offers solutions that are beyond just logistics. As the chief commercial officer, he also spearheads the Customer Solutions and Innovation team.

“We provide our customers, who frequently engage our services across our four business units, with one main point of contact. It is all about ensuring seamless communication and transparent work processes. I also look after our innovation centres and keep an eye on supply chain trends and challenges,” says Mr Meahl, who lives in Boston and works out of DHL headquarters in Bonn.

Innovation driven by customers

While Asia generally lags behind its Western counterparts in terms of technology adoption, the company notes a steady increase in interest in recent years, which is one of the main reasons DHL has set up its Advanced Regional Centre as well as Asia Pacific Innovation Centre in Singapore.

“I think more companies are adopting our innovative solutions because they are already relevant today. Companies do not need to wait years into the future before they can see the results. This is why we work together with our customers and technology partners to ensure that the latest technology can be adapted and adopted now to logistics applications,” explains Mr Meahl. But technology should not be focused on just improving the company’s bottomline. There should also be an effort to improve the lives of workers.

“We need to respect the guys who are driving the forklift and picking the orders. It is a very physically demanding industry. Until you have driven a truck or picked parts for 10 hours, it is difficult to imagine the physicality of the job. We have to make some of these logistics jobs less physically demanding and more interesting. I think this is already being achieved through augmented reality, robotics, self-driving vehicles, and vision picking. Whatever we can do to improve employees’ work experience will be helpful to everyone,” says Mr Meahl, who feels an affinity with truck drivers when he was the manager of a truck fleet in his younger days.

These innovative solutions may not be ubiquitous anytime soon, but Mr Meahl believes that some technologies, such as the self-driving vehicles, should play a major role in logistics within the next five years. With some parts of the world facing an ageing workforce and shortage of logistics workers, autonomous vehicles should take centre stage sooner rather than later.

A wild ride

“I did not get into the industry because of a well thought-out plan. It just sort of happened,” reminisces Mr Meahl, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in political science from Colgate University and an MBA in finance from Babson College. But ever since he entered the industry over three decades ago, he always thinks of himself as a trucker, which is where he started and has never looked back.

“It has been an absolute wild ride. I started by working for a company that had a revenue of US$5m, and today, I am part of this €59bn company. That is mind-blowing. I remember once I was driving in Sao Paolo, Brazil. I was on the phone talking to someone in China about a problem we were having in Europe. It was an amazing feeling,” says Mr Meahl, who believes that the industry will be even more transformed in 10 years than the past 34 years. The industry continues to move towards the perfect logistics. With predictive logistics being the next step for the industry, Mr Meahl feels that soon “we will not talk about next-day, same-day or next-hour delivery.

It will be about getting the products before the consumers even know they need them.” Amazon is already working on a strategy to ship products to customers before they even shopped for them, calling it anticipatory shipping. While these amazing innovative solutions represent a sophisticated future logistics, the American-born senior executive believes in the important of keeping it simple. “Logistics has one simple objective, which is to move things from Point A to Point B. How do we do that with all these nifty gadgets? Keeping the processes simple is what makes the business intellectually stimulating,” says Mr Meahl.

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