GA interview

“We must be prepared for a no-deal Brexit”

Bonn. John Pearson, head of DHL Express talks about preparations for Brexit and the effect of trade disputes on business.

DHL Express has been part of the Deutsche Post DHL Group since 2002. The company employs around 100,000 staff globally. The express delivery company is active in nearly every country in the world. The Briton John Pearson has been managing the Post division since the beginning of this year and is also a member of the Group Management Board. Claudia Mahnke spoke to him.

 

Are you worried about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit for DHL Express?

John Pearson: We are optimistic that there will be a deal between the EU and Great Britain. But of course, it is our job to be prepared for a no-deal Brexit. In this case, we want to be the ones who are best prepared.

How is DHL preparing for Brexit?

Pearson: We have contingency plans for different scenarios. We have analysed how the supply chains will change, and which extra permits we will need. We have various working groups meeting on a regular basis and preparing all the issues. Of course we are also telling our customers as best as possible what to be prepared for. But a no-deal Brexit would obviously be very complicated, to say the least. Brexit is the biggest issue concerning me at the moment. Hopefully it will quickly become a minor issue.

A lot of manpower is needed to prepare for all eventualities.

Pearson: We have been recruiting new staff members for the last three months. They are working at the DHL hubs and are primarily responsible for customs clearance.

Could Brexit actually benefit your company in the short-term?

Pearson: If we are really well prepared, it could be that extra customers come knocking at our door. But that is not our objective. In this situation we want to help our customers as much as possible – the long-standing and the new ones. The transition to new processes should go smoothly.

Global economic growth is supposed to be somewhat weaker in 2019. What does this mean for DHL Express?

Pearson: This means that our quality must remain high and we must make good use of our existing capacities. We need to determine where growth can be achieved: by outperforming our competitors. The question is where we can find new business: There are always regions in the world with above-average growth. There are always industries growing faster than the economy as a whole. E-commerce is a good example of this. DHL has an excellent starting position because customers want to receive a lot of things quickly. It's about fashion, luxury goods or sports equipment, for example. In the 32 years I've been with DHL, I've experienced times with a lot of growth and times with little. It is important to look for the starting point where we can generate additional revenue.

How detrimental are trade disputes for your business, like the ones we have seen not only between the US and China but also between Europe and the US?

Pearson: I personally believe that globalisation brings people the greatest prosperity. Our study, the Global Connectedness Index, shows the effect of the exchange of capital, goods, information and people on the economy. There are more winners than losers. Obviously trade conflicts are harmful when they are badly managed. But there is also a counter movement: Many free trade agreements have been signed, the recent agreement between Japan and the EU being a good example. Politicians and business managers must support this trend by speaking out against protectionism.

In which region of the world is DHL Express most successful?

Pearson: We have been successful in all regions. We have seen very strong growth in Europe over the past two or three years. In some countries in the Middle East and Africa, the political situation may be difficult, but trade continues to function well.

DHL also delivers in the big cities across the world. How do you deal with the increasing traffic problems?

Pearson: Mega cities are a global phenomenon of increasing prosperity, which unfortunately also means an increase in inner-city traffic. The ideal mix of transport modes in these cities is something that concerns many of our employees. We are using electric bicycles, for example. In addition, our company has developed the Streetcooter, an innovative electric van. On the one hand, we select the means of transport with which we can deliver the fastest. But with a view to sustainability, we also use transport options that help to reduce C02 emissions.

You have worked in many countries in the world. What is your impression of Germany?

Pearson: Germany is a fantastic country to live in. Economic development is so good that many other countries would love to import the German systems and processes.

You have a British passport. Have you considered changing your nationality in light of Brexit?

Pearson: The former Manchester United trainer Alex Ferguson once said: You don’t change your passport just like you don’t change your passion for a football team. I am British and I will remain British - regardless of Brexit.

(Original text: Claudia Mahnke, Translation: Caroline Kusch)