In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.



CEO, DHL Express U.S.


Background:  

DHL Express provides international shipping, among other services, to customers around the world. Its parent company is Deutsche Post DHL Group, which is based in Germany. 

The Mistake:

I’ve been lucky—from an experience standpoint—to be able to go through a couple of mergers and acquisitions within the same field. During the first one that I took part in … there’s a number of things we didn’t do well. We did a lot of damage to the business.

Back in 2002, 2003, I was the VP of sales, marketing and customer service for a business called Mayne Logistics Loomis. We were a big player in the Canadian domestic transportation world, and our parent company had decided they wanted to go in the direction of healthcare and IT, and were looking at divesting assets globally. … The people that came through and made the purchase are the place I work at today: DHL. 

I think the biggest thing that we did wrong was we became altogether focused on ourselves and on bringing the business together. I call it navel-gazing. And we forgot that the customer is the center of everything that you do and that the No. 1 thing you need to stay focused on is driving customer satisfaction, improving customer loyalty, listening to them and growing with them. 

I was shocked when I started to tour around the business and talk to customers. The old DHL International customers would express their frustration and anger that this domestic company, Mayne Logistics Loomis, had come in and “wrecked this service.” And then I would go to the domestic customers, I knew them well, and they’d say, “This DHL company’s come in and they’ve destroyed our service and they’ve changed what you are and now you’re not meeting my needs.”

We were actually eroding the confidence of both sets of customers. We weren’t meeting either of their needs, and that obviously has a big impact on your profit and loss. … Ultimately, what happened is the profitability of the two businesses declined. We lost market share, we lost revenue and we lost profitability.

I was shocked when I started to tour around the business and talk to customers.

The Lesson: 

That integration, despite being difficult to remember because we did so much wrong, really helped me learn about the way I would behave if I was in a leadership role—and the things that I would do differently if I were given the opportunity down the road.

Well, in 2011, I got that chance. … In Christmas 2010, I had been working in Europe with DHL and I got a call from Ken Allen, who’s the CEO of DHL Express globally. He told me that he had found a buyer for the domestic business in Canada. He wanted me to come back and lead the project to separate and sell the domestic business to a company called Transforce.

Once we got started on the transition, I really made sure we focused on customers. One of my key points to the board was, we are going to improve the service quality every month to our customers as we go through the transition. We will measure ourselves against that, and we will measure customer retention to make sure we don’t lose a single customer. That was the mindset.

I’m proud to say that we improved the service quality every month through the six month transition. Unfortunately, you do lose some clients, but it was not because we had lost sight of them. 

You can’t get too caught up worrying about yourself when you’re going through change. You have to look outside and you have to stay focused on customers.

Follow DHL Express U.S. on Twitter at @DHLUS.

Photo courtesy of DHL Express.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email jfisher@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for our newsletter at Crain’s.