Logistics giant DHL is taking more than just shipments to war-torn areas, as Nour Suliman, CEO - Middle East and North Africa, explains
It would be easy for Nour Suliman, DHL’s regional CEO, to boast about how the logistics giants can deliver to all areas of the Gulf.
“We are the only company who will deliver to every single village in Syria and in Libya and Yemen, which is unique. If you give me a shipment now to any area in Libya, if you give us a shipment to any place in Syria I will do it. Yemen to Iraq and Afghanistan, it can be done.”
However, the success is not without worries. Sanctions in Iran have suspended the company’s full delivery service throughout the Middle East when civil wars and other conflicts didn’t stop the distinctive yellow and red vehicles from reaching their destinations.
It’s an achievement, but Suliman takes nothing for granted. And while he is obviously delighted that DHL is able to carry on, business as usual, his immediate concern is for the wellbeing of his employees.
“Before business comes the safety of our people. They work in very difficult areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria.”
DHL MENA employs around 6,000, with an average of 300 members of staff in every country. While the lure of Dubai and Abu Dhabi is an easy sell for potential employees in the UAE, the same cannot be said for the aforementioned troubled areas, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen.
That’s where the local touch is vital, as Suliman explains: “Our DHL employees come from the difficult areas so they know it inside out and I think this is key in the business when you employ somebody from a certain area. His knowledge, skills, experience, history and background help him to do something others cannot do. It will cost you less [to hire] because you are employing a local guy. If you have a foreigner it will cost you more and ultimately the employment may be for a much shorter period of time.” It seems that in dangerous or volatile locations, local knowledge will always trump other skills sets. But it’s not simply a case of employing staff and letting them loose in their respective countries. Suliman stresses how important it is to make them feel part of the team.
“This is why we go and visit them and meet them,” he says. “I try my best to go and visit. I have been to meet our teams in Jordan and Lebanon and Syria. We also meet in central places such as Lebanon, when it is too difficult to meet in other places. We bring our workforce over and we hold a town hall and spend two or three days together tto keep their motivation going. This is very important, they cannot be on their own for prolonged periods. These are difficult times, but we are all together,” he adds.
Understandably, the lack of job opportunities in the ‘troubled areas’ is a significant problem. According to Trading Economics, unemployment rates in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, as of 2018, were 14.9 percent, 12.9 percent and 8.8 percent respectively, while 2017 figures for Libya were 18.40 percent and 15.10 percent in Iraq.
However, Suliman views this as an opportunity for his company. He says: “They are local people and they need to work. In Iraq you have Iraqis, in Syria you have Syrians, in Afghanistan you have Afghani people, so the people there are desperate to get a job and the market is not really promising for them, so they jump at the chance of finding a decent job.”
In terms of the ‘troubled areas’ served by DHL in the region, Libya witnessed the highest increase in shipments, with a 20 percent year-on-year growth in the region, despite the continued instability.
And Suliman believes they are delivering more than just shipments to customers in these countries.
He says: “All of our staff are local so everyone feels like it’s his own problem and his own responsibility to make his country better. It’s important that we contribute to these places because when onlookers see a multi-national company like DHL in these places, people might think ‘it’s not that bad’.”