Trade and Investment

John Pearson of DHL Express: Keep business - and leadership - simple

John Pearson, CEO of DHL Express

John Pearson, CEO of DHL Express Image: DHL Express

Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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  • Meet the Leader is a fortnightly podcast from the World Economic Forum that features the world’s top changemakers, showcasing the habits and traits effective leaders can’t work without.
  • DHL Express CEO John Pearson shares the phrases and strategies this shipping and logistics company uses to help simplify a complex business and keep communication clear.

John Pearson has worked for DHL Express, a division of the global logistics company Deutsche Post DHL Group, for 35 years. During those years, he's moved 15 times and been responsible for each continent. And as the firm's 111,00 staffers deliver 484 shipments to nearly 3 million customers annually - he's also developed a special appreciation for bringing simplicity to complex organizations.

DHL Express uses a few key strategies to keep staff aligned - including its 'Certified International Specialist' program. This special training program ensures staffers, regardless of where they are based around the world, deliver service in a consistent way.


It also provides a special sense of pride and community. Staffers mark new trainings in a special passport and people are more likely to lose their real passport than their Certified passport, says Pearson. Some even bring their Certified passports to be signed by execs at informal events such as company soccer games.

Certified - as well as a special supervisory program for front-line managers - ensure staffers master company essentials and protocols, and make sure leaders can clearly communicate needs up and down the chain. These basics became doubly important during a time of rapid change, such as during the COVID-19 crisis. "I think certified and supervisory were written for COVID."

Have you read?

Pearson talked to Meet the Leader about other ways the company sidesteps complexity, from formulas that replace long-winded strategy documents to easy-to-remember phrases that drive home core values and expectations. "If everyone keeps things simple, then everyone understands things more," Pearson said.

Read these articles by Pearson:

He also shared how his appreciation for global trade has evolved during his time at DHL Express. As an essential business, DHL Express had a special window into the role trade plays during crisis, and Pearson shares what he expects the company will need to prioritize in the months ahead as the world continues to grapple with the COVID pandemic.

Learn more about the strategies Pearson depends on, the book he recommends, and how trade can heal economies in this week's Meet the Leader podcast.


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