Moving Forward and Upward
Profile of David Goldberg, CEO of DHL Global Forwarding U.S.
David Goldberg was working as general manager, sea freight, Hong Kong for DHL Global Forwarding when the company asked him to take a new position in Guangzhou, China. There, he would serve as director for South China, his first role that entailed managing an entire regional operation.
“I immediately said yes,” Goldberg says. “And then my next question was, ‘Where’s Guangzhou?'”
The courage to jump at an opportunity, even when that means leaping into the unknown, is one quality that helped lift Goldberg to his current role as CEO of DHL Global Forwarding, U.S. From his headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, Goldberg manages approximately 3,800 employees and 38 stations, with warehouse operations in 32 of those locations across the United States.
Goldberg recently spoke with Inbound Logistics about the path to his current leadership position and his priorities for the business today.
IL: How did you get into transportation and logistics?
From a very early age, I was interested in all things international. I studied international business, and when I started looking for a job, a friend got me an interview at Air Express International (AEI), which Deutsche Post later acquired and integrated into DHL Global Forwarding. I had expected to go into banking, and I didn’t know anything about transportation. But he told me AEI had offices all over the world. It sounded appealing.
I took the interview and got the job. It was in operations, creating bills of lading and taking routing orders and bookings from overseas. Some people who trained me on day one are still in the office with me today.
IL: What early experiences helped to shape you as a leader?
If you want to be successful, you have to surround yourself with successful people and try to emulate them. When I started at AEI, I had the good luck to work with one of the people who ran the company. The work was successful, and it formed the basis of a good relationship.
Other people were extremely cautious around this person, but I was very open with him. He appreciated that. He kept giving me increasing opportunities to develop and improve. And that got me to Asia, which was the first step in a long career. That’s one example of how I’ve benefitted from relationships with mentors over the years.
IL: What’s at the top of your agenda these days?
There are five or six projects we’ve been working on since I became CEO in January 2017. The biggest one focuses on quality. I want DHL Global Forwarding to be the United States’ quality-leading forwarder. One aspect of that is becoming the nation’s talent leader. So we’ve created a team, based in New York, to recruit talent for vacancies around the country. They’re in-house recruiters, so they know the types of people we need to fill those roles.
We’ve also added more training programs for current employees and assigned mentors from the U.S. management team to each of our high-talent, high-potential people. We’ve restarted our management trainee program and started a summer internship program. We put a lot of effort into talent because transportation and logistics is still a people-oriented industry, and I want to have the best people in the market.
IL: What are the biggest challenges your customers face today?
Businesses like predictability and reliability. Unfortunately, the world today is anything but predictable and reliable. In our Air Freight product, for example, space was not available during 2017’s peak season, and rates went up by 200 percent, maybe even more. That was driven by e-commerce.
To help alleviate the pressure, DHL has put its own capacity in place in the airfreight market to support customers year-round, and in the peak season, with reliable service at predictable and competitive rates. Now we have five weekly flights from Asia to the United States. Some flights go back to Asia, and some go on to Europe.
IL: How about challenges with other services?
Everybody knows there’s a shortage of trucks and truck drivers in the United States. We’re working with our customers to improve forecasts and, again, find ways to provide predictable service. On the customs broker side, new tariffs, and the prospect of more tariffs, also make things unpredictable for many customers. We’ve been holding seminars around the country to keep customers as updated as possible.
In ocean freight, with the recent creation of a few large alliances, the number of services and available options has been shrinking. We’re trying to work with customers to find solutions for balancing their cargo among the different alliances, rather than have all their cargo in one basket.
IL: What qualities make you a successful executive?
It might sound like a cliché, but I’m not afraid to build a team of people who are better and smarter than I am. Also, I was lucky enough to start at the bottom in freight forwarding and go through many different departments, roles, and countries. When I talk to people, whether at the desk level or the management level, I’ve done some or most of their roles. I’m the CEO, but I can still make a basic bill of lading in our system, although I might not be as fast as the people who do it every day. People are more receptive to what I have to say because they realize I know the details.
Finally, I have passion for what I do. When you love what you do all day, every day, it’s not work.
IL: What aspects of your job do you find most fun?
I enjoy seeing us deliver results for our customers and the company, and working together as a team. When people become aligned, working in one direction, in one fashion, one person can finish the sentence that someone else starts. I also enjoy going out after hours with the teams from our various locations for bowling, pool, or whatever people like.
IL: Outside of work, what else do you love to do, especially to unwind?
Nearly every weekend, I play pool in different places around New Jersey, with different people and often with my 16-year-old son. It’s a good opportunity to do something completely different from what I do during the day. We also enjoy go-karting.
Attracting and managing talent in today’s tight market is a tricky challenge, especially now that millennials make up a big piece of the workforce, says David Goldberg. For one thing, members of that generation seem less willing than their predecessors to pack their bags to embrace new opportunities.
That’s a big change from members of earlier generations, including Goldberg himself, whose past jobs took him to Hong Kong and South China, as well as New York. “Now, as I try to get young people to move even around the United States for different roles, I find they don’t want to,” he says.
Members of the newest generation also seem to want instant success in their endeavors, Goldberg observes. “Success comes step by step, no matter how aggressive you are,” he says. For a company that needs to cultivate talent, these changes have significant consequences. “There are big differences between Generation X and Y, and the way we look at managing people today,” he adds.