COVID-19 has had complicated effects on the logistics industry: even as demand for essential commodities shoots up, massive supply chain disruption is shaking up the industry's ability to keep cargo moving.
People Matters asked Ken Lee, CEO of DHL Express Asia Pacific, how he and his team are managing the regional operations of one of the world's largest logistics providers amid the pressure and uncertainty. Ken, who was appointed Asia Pacific CEO in 2016, has spent almost his entire career with DHL and held a variety of leadership roles, including positions on the Asia Pacific management board and the global management board. Here's what he said about the COVID-19 situation for his company.
Logistics has been affected in quite a number of ways by this pandemic. What are your top priorities now?
Ever since the pandemic started, our priority has been in ensuring the safety of our employees first. We make sure that our employees can operate as safely as possible and observe social distancing, while still supporting our customers’ needs and maintaining our people’s incomes and livelihoods. On the business front, from global travel restrictions to flight cancellations and border lockdowns, these challenges have put pressure on the entire logistics industry in general. Whilst we have been working round the clock to maximize our network efficiency, we are also working closely with our partner airlines to ensure we pull together the capacity that we need to meet the demand. If anything, this crisis has demonstrated the importance of our industry as an essential service.
Because your industry is essential, most of your people absolutely have to be on-site at some point. How are you helping them to cope?
The safety of our employees is paramount. DPDHL Group's task force monitors the situation daily, coordinates with international organizations (the WHO, CDC, ECDC and Robert Koch Institute) and provides the necessary information to all employees and relevant operations. We have activated our business contingency plans across the region, and are empowering country management teams to implement safety and preventive measures following policies issued by the local authorities. This is done to safeguard our employees’ health and well-being during these challenging times.
In some countries, we have employees working remotely when their roles do not require them to be on-site. For those who have to be on-site, they frequently sanitize their hands, vehicle keys, locks and controls, as well as scanners and any other handheld devices. Frontline staff are also required to wear personal protection equipment such as masks and gloves.
DHL's culture is described as based on "Respect and Results": how has this manifested in the current crisis?
It is during extraordinary times like these that the foundation laid by having a ‘Respect and Results’ culture truly bears fruit.
From a leadership perspective, I know that we can trust our employees to continue doing their job to the best of their ability despite the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. At the same time, our employees can trust the leadership of the company to have their safety and well-being at the top of their minds, so that they can continue to deliver great service quality to our customers.
For example, we know that it is not easy for working parents to have to home-school their kids while fulfilling their work obligations at the same time. If they are on a conference call, and their kids come into the frame, we say hi! If working parents need to block out some time to manage schoolwork for their children, all they have to do is come to an agreement with their managers to do so. We respect everyone’s need to balance their work and life demands, and trust that we would still see the results we need from them.
Looking back at the last couple of months, what would you say was the most important factor in keeping things going smoothly?
I believe that the most important factor in keeping things going smoothly is the long-term trust built between supervisors and frontline employees. I am heartened to hear that when faced with difficulties, the first question that came into our supervisors’ mind was “are our people safe?” Likewise for our frontline employees, the first question that came into their mind was “is our shipment being delivered?” or “is the customer’s enquiry being answered?”
Our frontline employees throughout the world have really made a heroic effort to come into work, keep our operations running and ensure that our customers’ shipments are moving in a very challenging environment. Equally, our support staff has been working tirelessly to constantly communicate and strategize new workflows, ensure that IT systems are stable, network efficiencies are maintained, customers’ needs are attended to and team morale across the board is high.
In our business, it is critical that everyone comes together to do their part in maintaining the flow of supplies and goods in communities, and also in supporting the continuity of trade activities for businesses. It is impressive that our employees are showing more commitment than ever in the current challenging situation. They have always demonstrated a high level of trust and commitment pre-COVID days, and I’m certain they will continue to do the same well after this is behind us.
For yourself personally, how have you changed or adapted your leadership style to this crisis?
Throughout my career, I have always preferred to meet people face-to-face, to hear what they have to say in person and truly connect with them. Needless to say, this crisis has prevented me from doing that, so that is one of the key areas which I have had to change. Thankfully, technologies like video conferencing, our internal social platforms, and instant messaging has made it much easier to stay constantly connected to our teams across the region. If anything, I find myself interacting far more frequently with everyone because I can be in multiple countries all at once!