Quick, name a shipping company?
Chances are FedEx or UPS sprang to mind. Maybe the U.S. Postal Service.
Greg Hewitt would like to change that, at least when you need to ship something overseas. He runs the U.S. operation of DHL Express, which delivers more packages to places outside of the United States than any of those other three.
“A lot of people are surprised to learn we are No. 1 internationally,” Hewitt said on a recent visit to Tampa. “We’re in more than 220 countries and territories.”
DHL Express, which has 100,000 employees, including 10,000 in the United States, is a division of Germany’s massive Deutsche Post DHL Group. The division’s Americas headquarters is in Plantation, west of Fort Lauderdale.
Hewitt, 48, took over as chief operating officer in 2016. A graduate of Queen’s University in Canada, he worked his way up with Loomis, a shipping company acquired by the DHL parent company in 2003.
Hewitt sat down for an interview recently with the Tampa Bay Times at the new DHL Express facility in Tampa, near the Florida State Fairgrounds. Here are excerpts, edited for length and clarity.
How is DHL doing in the Tampa Bay area?
Business here is good. Volumes have increased consistently for the last five to eight years. They’re growing at about 20 1/2 percent, which is higher than the national average. That led us to open this new building in Tampa, a $5 million investment that doubled our size here. Once the trucks arrive from Orlando, we can sort 2,000 pieces an hour.
So DHL doesn’t fly into Tampa International Airport?
No. That’s always our debate, Tampa versus Orlando. Right now, there isn’t enough volume to have a direct flight into Tampa. But the two cities are close enough together that we can get the trucks across early every morning.
Who’s the typical new DHL customer?
Often they are a small or mid-sized business that has gone into e-commerce or online sales. They start selling in their own city, their own state, they expand to the rest of the U.S., and then they say, okay, where next?
Usually, the first three places they look are English speaking places like the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. That’s where we can help them sell their products, given that we are the No. 1 international player. When they start to move to more difficult places, where language comes into play, markets like parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, our expertise becomes invaluable. We can make things like tariffs and customs clearances easy and simple.
FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service are better known than DHL in this country. How do you compete?
We show clients that there is a big world out there that we can help them access. We help them get over the anxiety of moving beyond the U.S. We help eliminate the risks that make them nervous. Once they see that they can do it, they become the ones saying, man, there’s a lot of money to be made out there.
We can also get the products from overseas, even the most far flung places, and deliver them to their business or doorstep.
Does anything keep you up at night these days?
I sleep very well. But I do worry whether there will be enough talent out there to fulfill our transportation needs and allow us to keep growing. Will there be enough truckers, enough carriers. I don’t know if today’s millennials or the generation behind them think of those as exciting career opportunities when you can be a video gamer or a blogger or a YouTube entertainer.
One of the options down the road will be autonomous vehicles. But I don’t think that will be my biggest game changer over the next five years. There are still too many political, technological and legal hurdles.
Are you having trouble hiring today?
No. Not yet, at least, other than in a few locations. One of the things that we’re really proud of is the investment we make in employee engagement.
What about technologies like 3D printing? One day people might be able to manufacture products nearly anywhere at anytime, instead of shipping them all over the world.
In the short term, I don’t see the technology moving far enough to make the shipping of goods obsolete. I think of it like how email was supposed to eliminate the need to ship documents. We still deliver a lot of documents. In fact, in Tampa the banking business is one of our biggest industries. That’s because they need documents delivered.
FedEx, UPS and the postal service all advertise heavily on TV. DHL not so much. Why?
I’d rather put the money back into helping customers understand how we can help them grow their business internationally.
DHL has sponsored Formula One racing for years. What does that entail?
We are the logistics partner, which means we move everything associated with the Formula One races as they travel the globe. We move the cars using a dedicated fleet of trailers. For the overseas races we use jumbo jets. We move everything including the fuel. That’s proof of our commitment to international movement of goods.
You are a bit past midway in your career. If you could step back in time, what would you tell your 22-year-old self?
Embrace technology and innovation early, be an early adopter. Don’t be afraid to be a maven that embraces change and disrupts industry. I’d also tell myself, don’t be afraid to be patient and to persevere. It wasn’t all an ascent to the top. It had its ups and downs. I certainly wouldn’t be here where I am today if I hadn’t embraced that.
Contact Graham Brink at [email protected] Follow @GrahamBrink.