As can be seen with his site visits to various branch offices during the NFE crisis, Frank Appel may appear to be a hands-on CEO, ready to dive in and solve problems. In reality, though, he said his first inclination is to let his staff do their jobs without interference.
“It’s right that I’m quite often out in the field, but I don’t intervene in the day-to-day operations,” he said. “The purpose of my visits is to appreciate the hard work of the front-line people. You can’t run an organization with half a million people if you don’t love our business. And you have to see them in person.”
Appel said he travels for roughly a week every month on intercontinental trips to observe DP-DHL’s operations, although recently his schedule has been curtailed since he took over the additional role of CEO of the DHL-GFF division after Roger Crook stepped down last year. At some point in early 2017, however, the highly regarded Tim Scharwath, formerly with Kuehne + Nagel, will step into the CEO position for the division, which should free up more of Appel’s time.
One other reason for Appel’s extensive travel is the emphasis he places on establishing unity for a global organization that has grown rapidly through acquisition over the last two decades, including logistics providers Danzas and Air Express International in 2000 and contract logistics provider Exel in 2005. “We have really focused since 2008-09 on creating one culture to give the company a common purpose, a common mission,” he said. “We have not changed our strategy for many years, we have not changed our vision, our guiding principles. And that helped tremendously to unify the organization.”
At the same time, Appel said the four major divisions that have coalesced around the DP-DHL name each have a specific identity. “The Express division is a global network, which is very consistent,” he explained. “Global Forwarding is a trading business, Supply Chain is an outsourcing business, our Post – eCommerce – Parcel [PeP] business is, again, more of a networking business. We believe that the success factors in these divisions are all different.”
This has caused some confusion, since DP-DHL keeps its Global Forwarding division separate from its booming Express business. However, the two divisions rarely compete for the same business. “The Express people really want to have the lower-weight shipments – up to 70 or 100 kilograms – and the forwarders can’t produce that type of product very efficiently,” Appel said. “The forwarders are using the DHL airline intensively, so we are by far the largest customer for general cargo on the DHL freighters. We have a great synergy between the two divisions without integrating them.”
Meanwhile, in 2014, Appel decided to change the name of its Mail division to “Post – eCommerce – Parcel,” to better reflect the growing influence of e-commerce volumes. “We wanted to copy our great success of the parcel business, which is B2B and B2C, between Europe and the world,” Appel said. “But we felt that people who are best equipped are not the forwarders or the express people. We said the best people who really understand domestic parcel delivery, for business and consumer customers, are the Deutsche Post people – the Mail Division, as we called it at that time. And we said we have to extend that.”
Another reason for the PeP name change was pure marketing. “When people hear ‘Mail,’ then they think this will be out of business soon anyway,” Appel added. “When we changed the name to Post – eCommerce – Parcel, we made it clear that this is a growth engine and not a dying business.”