From Courier to CEO

by Liz O’Reilly

Mon, 31 December 2018

From Courier to CEO

We chat to Nour Suliman, CEO of DHL Express MENA, who is celebrating 40 years with the business.

You are celebrating 40 years with DHL. Please tell us about the organisation as it was when you first joined.
I joined DHL in 1978, a couple of years after the company had set up its first distribution centre in Bahrain. Back then, DHL had only just started to expand its footprint in this region, with offices in Bahrain, Saudi, Egypt and the UAE. In Bahrain we only had six employees, today we have 1,000. We have definitely come a long way since then, from a small courier company to the express and logistics giant that DHL is today.

What was your starting role and what led you into the field of international logistics?
I started off as a young flying courier. It was a great opportunity at the time to join an international company that was just setting up in the region. The job seemed interesting and indeed it was; there was a lot of flying around the world, meeting different people of varying backgrounds. I found that to be very fulfilling. The company took good care of its people, it always was a great place to work and it truly invested in its employees, grooming its talent to grow and develop in logistics.

How did you progress within the company?
I loved my job. I was very ambitious and always pushed myself to do better. I held multiple positions in various DHL Express divisions and countries while climbing the corporate ladder. I worked hard and accumulated experience across the logistics spectrum, working in junior and managerial roles from Customer Service to Commercial. The turning point in my career was when I took on the role of Country Manager for DHL Express Bahrain, after which I moved to manage our office in Saudi Arabia, a challenging move considering the size and scale of the market. The next quantum leap was my appointment as CEO of DHL’s regional operations.

You must have seen enormous changes in your time with DHL both in terms of growth and technology. Can you tell us about the most significant developments you have experienced?
DHL was the first to bring logistics services to the MENA region in 1976, and has pioneered the industry ever since, helping to shape logistics and pave the way for industry development. In the past 42 years the company has been an integral driver of the region’s industry growth. We have invested heavily in enhancing DHL’s reach, capabilities, capacities, technologies and fleet size to boost the region’s emergence as a significant global logistics Hub.

What I think is impressive and truly demonstrates DHL’s competitive edge is the way we have overcome the business challenges related to the region’s volatile geo-political temperament and socio-economic landscape. From state wars, which still continue to impact our operations and disrupt road connectivity, to fluctuating oil prices and more stringent government regulations, the company has pushed through with its investments; this to me demonstrates a solid strategy and a strong commitment to this region.

Today DHL has grown to be the largest express and logistics provider in the MENA region; and has a strong presence in 19 countries, over 160 dedicated domestic and international weekly flights, a fleet of approximately 1,900 vehicles and a staff count of 5,700 employees. We hold an impressive 80,000-plus client base and process 32 million shipments annually.

Have you been posted throughout the region?
I started off in the Bahrain office but was then stationed in Cairo, the UAE and Saudi Arabia for extended periods of time. In the last eight years I have been based in Bahrain.

How long have you been CEO MENA?
I took over as CEO of DHL Express Middle East and Africa almost in 2011.

Please tell us a bit about the role – number of employees, range and scope of operations.
I took on the role of CEO with a mandate to steer the company’s regional investment and expansion strategy to support the shifting economic landscape and emerging trends. The MENA is a very important region for DHL’s business, and one of the highest performing in terms of revenues. Our focus has been to strengthen the region’s connectivity to the global marketplace and give our clients access to high yield markets.

During my time as CEO I spearheaded the roll-out of DHL’s regional infrastructure developments which saw the company open eight new multi-million dollar gateways in KSA, Egypt, Morocco and Dubai while simultaneously upgrading DHL’s air and road networks, increasing flight frequencies, improving technologies, and enhancing customs clearance competencies. The ultimate aim has been to enhance the company’s reach, logistics capabilities, and capacities across key regional states to better transit times and customer service and support the growing logistical demands of our clients.

I currently oversee DHL’s operations across 19 markets and lead a strong team of 5,700 employees

What is the break-down of the workforce locally in terms of Bahrainisation?
We have over 90 per cent Bahrainisation rate in our local operations. When it comes to our workforce across the region, our approach is very simple; we believe it is important to hire people that best know the market and there is no one better than the locals themselves. We strive to empower local talent and grow the nationalisation rates, building local experts with global knowledge in express and logistics.

DHL was awarded Aon Best Employer 2017 – what makes DHL a good place to work and what are some of the initiatives that led to this award?
DHL is committed to employee empowerment. We put a lot of emphasis and dedicate HR resources to motivate, engage and train our employees, recognising and rewarding talent, which has led to the company winning the Top Employer Award in the MENA for four consecutive years and exceeding in the Employee Annual Survey results. We encourage staff participation and the exchange of ideas and entrust our people to run the business. We trust in the experience and knowledge of the DHL team and give them the empowerment and means to perform their roles to the best of their ability.

What is your personal management philosophy?
I believe in an ‘open door’ policy and I am a phone call away from everyone that works with me; I expect the same approach to be implemented by my senior management and all managerial teams.

What advice would you give to anyone seeking a career in logistics?
he logistics continuum is quite broad and offers plenty of opportunities for recruitment. It is a demanding business. It is a heavyweight business that requires constant attention, late hours and innovative minds. Logistics thrives on innovation due to its fast pace, it seeks people that bring new ideas to the table, people that are willing to think outside the box.

Within your field, you must have experienced some amusing situations in your 40 years. Can you tell us any?
The one that comes to mind is when I went running after a plane on the tarmac. I had a shipment to get to Saudi and as I waited for the plane I realised that it had already started to taxi out so I started running next to it on the tarmac. Luckily for me the captain decided to stop and let me on. They were simpler times back then.

Highlight question – please tell us something about yourself that’s not common knowledge.
Perhaps, if I had not gone into logistics, I would have pursued a career as a football player. I am also an avid writer and, back in the day, I used to write short columns for the local newspapers.