DHL Express CEO Phil Couchman on leading an £800m-turnover company

Q&A on growth strategies, exporting and managing 4,500 people

Phil Couchman, chief executive of delivery company DHL Express UK, has been in his role for less than three years, but under his tenure the business has grown to reach a turnover of £800m.

The company employs over 4,500 people, and has been awarded a Top Employers Institute 2013 certification, recognising the high standard of conditions for employees.

To add to this impressive track record, Couchman has recently been shortlisted for the prestigious leader of the year award at the National Business Awards in November. spoke to Phil to find out what his expansion plans for DHL Express are, and how his leadership strategies have delivered success.

Q. Hi Phil, where can you see the greatest growth opportunities for DHL at the moment?

It’s definitely in exports. I can really see that DHL can play a strong part in being a vehicle for exports for the UK as a whole. There are so many opportunities for exports and exporting if you consider the connection between online retailing and international exporting. We’ve grown international exports from online sales by 30-40% and it’s still increasing enormously. The point being that DHL is a particularly easy way to export – you can circumvent all kinds of things.

The market’s changed a lot during the two-and-a-half years I’ve been here. There’s been a big surge in companies interested in exporting their products internationally. They’re selling them online, and the UK happens to be probably better placed than anywhere in the world in order to make that go. That’s because of the English language, the currency’s been quite favourable, and there’s a very high level of development and professionalism with online retail.

The sophistication of the sites of our customers is very high, so it’s a happy combination, and as well as that, the government’s doing everything they can to help, through things like UK trade and industry and terms of commerce and so forth, so it’s just a really good environment and we’re seeing it in our traffic.

Q. What do you see as the biggest threat to business?

Well there could actually be a threat to exports due to a happy uptick in the domestic market and people might become less interested in exporting if the domestic market continues to pick up. I suppose that’s a possible downside. Threats otherwise – I don’t look for them and I don’t see any in the short term.

Q. What have been the greatest challenges for you as a CEO and how have you overcome them?

To me it’s a matter of getting your customers on board and loyal, and also getting your employees motivated and loyal. Everything that we do focuses on those two strands and we come up with the winning combination.

I personally spend a lot of time with employees in the field. I do things with my management team and independently – I do road shows, I do what we call the board-walk, I do reviews. We’re basically out in the field.

With our customers, all the focus is on service. Our service KPIs are running very high, as high as they’ve ever been and if you get great service quality then you get loyal customers. It’s as simple as that.

Q. In July you appeared on the Channel 4 programme Undercover Boss. What did you learn from that experience?

Well, being in disguise and talking to people who didn’t know I was a manager added a different dimension and I learned things from that that I wouldn’t have learned, or did not learn with all the meetings and the board-walks and the reviews. It was a genuinely helpful experience, no question about it.

I took three or four main things out of it and changed them and changed them for the better. Aside from the branding and the publicity and stuff, which was very positive, more importantly it truly and genuinely did help me understand aspects of the business better.

Q. What do you think the sale of Royal Mail will mean for other delivery companies like DHL?

I think it’ll be quite healthy for the industry - it’s an unknown quantity and it’ll probably make the environment even more competitive.

Q. Finally, what do you think are the essential leadership qualities you’ve developed?

I am very results-driven, and in the two-and-a-half years that I’ve been here we’ve got a revenue high of over 60%, we’ve got market share knocking on 50% and the bottom line looks pretty good too. So it’s respect and results really. It’s the results and respect throughout the organisation for employees and customers.

Thanks Phil.





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