Business / Q and A with CEO

Singing a positive tune while moving along

By Zhong Nan (China Daily) Updated: 2016-10-28 09:01

Singing a positive tune while moving along

Ken Allen, chief executive officer of DHL Express. [Photo/Agencies]

Courier giant's boss motivates employees, stimulates creativity with company songs

German companies usually conjure up a serious, no-nonsense image when it comes to management styles. But Ken Allen, CEO of DHL Express, often belts out a song with spirit at work.

People can frequently hear him sing I Wanna Be a Billionaire, a popular song within DHL Express, to encourage employees to reach their life goals, as well as Ain't No Mountain High Enough, the theme song for the company's promotion campaign-to stimulate creative ideas and a hardworking spirit.

Allen, in charge of the world's biggest international express delivery service provider by market share, said his company has been focusing its services on "time definite international" services, meanwhile ensuring growth with quality. Dedicated to time-critical business, DHL mainly serves customers who have high demand on safety, timeliness and reliability, to deliver high-end goods between China and the rest of world, such as electronic devices, precise manufacturing parts, and healthcare products.

Not long after it was established 47 years ago, DHL pioneered international express delivery in the Asia-Pacific region and became the first such service provider to enter the Chinese market in 1986.

"The scale of this business will continue to surge in the long run," said Allen, a British national who has been working for Deutsche Post AG, the world's biggest logistics group by sales revenue, for more than three decades.

DHL-Sinotrans International Air Courier Ltd, a joint venture in charge of DHL Express's business in China, has the largest geographical coverage in China, covering 390 cities through its network of 209 facilities. China has also become a stand-alone region for the company this year.

Recently, Allen spoke with China Daily about the company's strategy and his management style. The following are edited excerpts from the interview:

How do you promote your business in China?

We are always investing in China. Whatever we do in the rest of the world helps China. So for example, if we put on a plane to go from New York to Hong Kong, that could be carrying packages for Chinese customers. In all our training, every IT system that we have developed globally will help China, because it all links into the Chinese market.

For example, at the moment, because of the big amount of B2C customers, we have invested in a lot in IT systems. When a shipment arrives you get a SMS message, on where would you like your shipment delivered.

In China, since we have such a big coverage, we constantly buy new vehicles, facilities as well as set up services centers. Every single year we are spending millions in investments in China.

What's the secret of DHL Express's success in China?

I think the relationship between DPDHL and the DHL-Sinotrans has almost mirrored what has happened in China. We formed a joint venture and each provided the best for each other. Sinotrans gave us a complete view about the Chinese market and how to operate here.

The growth of our company reflects the growth of the economy. I think for many reasons, the Chinese government is very focused on developing the economy and improving people's lives. We are trying to do the same thing: we want everybody that works for DHL to feel that they have a great future and we give them great training and we want them to grow with our customers here in China.

How do you assess business prospects in China over the next decade? Are there any new market growth points that you can see?

We are very opportunistic. On the one hand, China is moving its focus more to domestic consumption. What's happened over time is that within China you have this very vibrant middle class, which has immense purchasing power, which is buying more and more things outside and bringing them into China.

Europe and the US are selling a lot of things to China. In the beginning, China made everything for the world and it was all outbound, but now we see the biggest trade coming out of say Spain, Italy and UK and coming to China. That's because China's middle class is buying goods everywhere.

The economy is still very vibrant and a lot of people are saying that China is only growing at 6 percent, but most of the rest of the world would die to grow at 6 percent.

How do you ensure the continuity of your culture and service across 220 countries and regions?

The good thing for us is that we invented this business back in 1969, so the international express business was invented by DHL. Over that period of time, we have built up global standard operating procedures. What we call our business is this big yellow machine, which for example makes a shipment in Beijing which comes out in Australia.

It's very important to have the processes and the IT system but the thing that makes it all happen, the most important thing, is the people. Making sure that your people are exceptionally well-trained, but not just well-trained in what they do, but that they understand how the whole network works.

What is your biggest achievement as CEO of DHL Express?

We want to be the employer of choice, the provider of choice, and the investment of choice. When you have those three things in balance, that's a great achievement. I think the real heroes are the ones growing the business every year by 5 percent to 10 percent revenue, keeping the bottom line moving up as well, being consistent over a long period of time.

How do you handle the hardships or setbacks at work?

I have a great team. When you are doing a job like mine, it's all about the bottom line and the balance. I think the secret is balance. We want to be the employer of choice. We want the people that work for us to be motivated, well paid and happy. I'm very lucky that my wife changed countries with me four times and she's always been supportive of me. If you don't have a very happy settled private life, you can't do these jobs, or you put your family life at risk. Secondly I'm lucky to be with a team that has been at the company for almost as long as I have.

How do you encourage your employees?

Let's just talk about the singing for a minute. Our song for motivating people is an old advertising campaign jingle called "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". It reflects what DHL wants to do.

When we were losing money, and we wanted to make a billion, we came up with the song "I Wanna Be a Billionaire." It's all about talking to people.

When we first train our people, we give them a DHL 'passport.' Every time they do a training course they get a stamp and people like it. It's a bit of a gimmick in a way, but it shows that they are part of the DHL family, and over a period of time when you pass or do a course you get the stamp.

What are the differences between Chinese customers and those from Europe and the US, in their preferences and habits in choosing a service?

I don't think there are differences, because most of our customers are buying relatively expensive items. They are middle class and above consumers who want something very quickly, and they are prepared to pay a premium for that.

How can digital technologies improve your company's business?

The interesting point is that it's a mixture. There's the big data element, to process all this data to improve our quality-and then there's digital marketing to talk to all of our customers.

Like most companies, we understand the power of digital marketing. We understand that's the way the world is going, but what do you actually do? It's all about trying to get the attention of millions of people through our social media channels. In China maybe it is about Weibo, WeChat or any other new digital means, and we keep investing in new digital technologies.


Age: 65

Nationality: British


2009 onwards: CEO of DHL Express; Deutsche Post AG-Member of the Board of Management

2008: Deutsche Post AG-CEO DHL Express USA

2006: Deutsche Post AG-CEO DHL Express EEMEA

2004-06: Deutsche Post AG-President DHL Express Canada

1985-2004: Various responsibilities at DHL Express Middle East

1985: Entry into DHL Express

1982-85: International Catering& Hotel Company

1972-82: Various UK manufacturing companies


1971: GCE 'O'-levels,'A' level in accounting

1982: F.C.C.A. (certified accountant)

Family: Married with four children

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