Meet The Boss interviews DHL’s new Regional Director in charge of West & Central Africa, Randy Buday, who shares his views on the current state of innovation and the strategies the logistics company has used over the years to consistently deliver outstanding results in the parcel delivery business. Clearly, as this excerpt shows, DHL is committed to customer-focused innovation:
Could you tell us a bit about the history of DHL?
DHL was founded by three young shipping executives Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom, and Robert Lynn who were looking for a way to increase turnaround speed for ships at ports. They reasoned that if the shipping documents could be flown from port to port, they could be examined and processed before the ships arrived, and speeding up the process would decrease port costs for shippers. With this in mind, the trio combined the first letters of their last names to form the acronym DHL, thus beginning an air-express company that revolutionized the delivery industry.
DHL rapidly developed into an express delivery service between California and Hawaii, then quickly expanded to points east. So that evolved from California to Hawaii; then it branched into the international market in the early 1970s by entering both developed and developing countries coming with the solution to move documents at a very quick pace.
What is role of DHL Express within the scope of the DHL Deutsche Post Group?
DHL Express transports urgent documents and goods reliably and on time from door-to-door in more than 220 countries and territories, and operates the most comprehensive global express network.
What are the challenges of coordinating and moving parcels and documents on a worldwide scale—and the opportunities that presents?
You have customs related challenges, challenges with other regulatory authorities, local politics, landing and territorial rights and so on. There are lots of interests for the various postal regulators and sometimes, international express operators can be considered to be competition to the post office but if anything, we are an added enhancement to the post office because in most cases, we work with them.
What portion of the market does DHL represent within Nigeria as well as the West/Central Africa?
We operate in all sectors but this is also dependent on the specific market in question. For instance, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola are oil-based economies so we have a lot of clients within the oil and gas industry in those markets. In commodities based countries like Ghana, we work with the NGOs, life sciences, high tech and communications companies.
Bearing in mind the growing number of delivery companies, what’s your view of the current level of competitiveness in West/Central African market?
The industry is very competitive here and it’s a good thing because it ensures that customers get a reasonably sized pool to choose from. Over the past 34 years, DHL Express has invested significantly into equipment, vehicles, aircraft and facilities as well as into the training and development of our staff. More specifically for Nigeria, in addition to our fleet of vans and motorcycles we have a state of the art DHL Gateway and DHL Hub located on the airside of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos, which is the logistic home to our aircraft operations and distribution model for West Africa.
Within the Nigerian Gateway, we have dedicated customs officers as well as other regulatory aviation authorities to ensure the rapid clearance of our inbound shipments coming into the country. Recently, because of the heavy traffic often experienced when going from the Lagos mainland to Victoria Island, we added a boat to our fleet to ferry our parcels and documents from Victoria Island/Ikoyi to the mainland, which connects to our international and domestic aircrafts based at MMIA. And that has really saved us quite a bit of time by utilizing the waterways to move our materials back and forth.
What is the movement of goods from West Africa to Europe like? Is this merchandise traffic still in its infancy, or has a development become noticeable?
For most West African countries, the major lanes are US and parts of Europe as well as South-East Asia. However, on the inbound, we are starting to see a lot of the traffic shifting from the traditional western countries to South-East Asian markets like China, and India, which are becoming big players in global trading. It’s evolving and it continues to evolve.
How have you managed to maintain a productive workforce and the company’s commitment to growth?
If your people are happy, your business will flourish and at DHL, we have identified continuous training and employee empowerment as important drivers to ensure that we have motivated people, which is an important pillar of our global focus strategy.. We have an internal learning and development platform called Certified International Specialists (CIS). The programme is a global initiative which has reached over 100,000 DHL Express employees in 220 countries and territories; it has been a principal factor in the company’s impressive global performance. As a change management initiative, the award winning programme has been instrumental in instituting a cultural transformation within DHL Express and reinforcing the company’s international market leadership. All DHL Express employees in Nigeria have been trained on CIS as well as many other specialized programs which fall under the umbrella of Certified International Specialists. The CIS programme is both educational and motivational. All the trainers are company employees and I’m one of the facilitators.
How significant is the West/Central African markets for future growth?
There are many opportunities here in West Africa and there is an abundance of opportunities outside of the oil and gas industry. With a lot of investments and trading being done here, West Africa is very strategic not just for us but many businesses. You have one of the largest African economies here, and if you also look at the diversity of all the economies all the way from Senegal down to Cameroon and across to Central Africa and Chad, there are multiple business opportunities and it hasn’t reached maturity. So if anything, we are still in our infancy in this particular side of the world but one cannot deny the fact that the opportunities exist and with the ongoing trends in the global markets, we believe the odds favour this region and this is one of the reasons why West/Central Africa is very strategic for our business in Sub Saharan Africa.
How do you see the trend in the Nigerian mail and parcel market?
The trends have evolved quite a bit. As we know the oil and gas industry is being suppressed because of the drop in the price of crude. What we’ve seen in the last couple of years is the emergence of the high-tech industry especially the advent of smartphones with people wanting to get connected. The other sector that is booming down here is e-commerce with the likes of Jumia, Konga, Yudala competing in the market.
How involved is DHL Express with e-commerce expands and also, how do you manage security concerns?
We are heavily involved with e-commerce and it has continued to grow. Recently, the mechanics of e-commerce has started to evolve from the traditional e-commerce system to a more market-based one where buyers and sellers are brought together and a company like DHL provides transport or logistics to the buyer and seller. Nigerians are very high-tech savvy so e-commerce is a natural progression for growth. More than that, a lot of Nigerians who went overseas for education are coming back to help drive the economy. So, despite the sheer fact that we have the largest population in Africa, we have a very big consumer market so if you’re in the consumer segment of the market, this is really the place to be.
If you have to move e-commerce, you need fast and reliable speed to market. When people buy something online, they want it quick and if you look at the growth of our industry, probably the fastest growing segment is e-commerce not just here but worldwide. That is why we have a lot of investment in technology and handling these person-to-person deliveries to our consumers is becoming a very important part of our business and it will continue to be that way in the years to come.
Security is a top priority for DHL Express. We have aircraft that not only fly domestically within countries but internationally across borders so we have to be careful with what we put on those aircraft so as to ensure we continue to remain compliant with our security policies and procedures.
To what extent does the Nigerian economy rely on logistical services and express shipping companies?
Logistics facilitates connectivity which is important for economic growth. DHL’s own research, conducted with IHS Global Insight, has shown that SMEs who trade internationally are twice as successful as those who trade only within their own market – so connecting with global opportunities is key to success.
Innovation is one of DHL’s key strategic priorities. Why does innovation occupy such an important role in the group’s strategy?
Innovation is critical to ensure that we continue to make incremental improvements to our processes – and the end goal of improving the customer experience. On the e-commerce side, we have some locations called DHL Pack stations so we don’t actually make a delivery to the end user, we provide a service point that has multiple electronic lockers and the clients can collect their shipments at a convenient time, using protective passcodes to access the lockers. We have also introduced scanner units in 26 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, as part of our Global Courier Application deployment. These pocket sized Android-based scanners come equipped with touchscreens, built-in location services as well as GPS navigation capabilities, enabling customers to track parcels in real-time. With the new scanner units, customers are able to sign on the device’s touchscreen and within 15 minutes, the electronic proof of delivery will be made available on the DHL.com website.
How would you describe your role in driving the culture at DHL?
I am the chief energy officer for the West and Central African region so I live by example and keep my team motivated, well trained and happy. We have shared values, goals and targets because it’s a large company but at the same time, it’s a family company. I’ve been in the company for 35 years now and I learn something new every day.
Retraction: Last Monday, the print version of this interview erroneously omitted attributing the introductory note to African Business Magazine. We regret this error.