Career Advice Successful High flyers’ story

Leung moves company forward

Kelvin Leung Kai-yuen has one clear mission as DHL Global Forwarding’s chief executive for North Asia-Pacific. It is to establish the company as a dominant player in the region’s logistics industry, building on its core strengths in air, ocean and overland freight, and providing services of “the utmost quality” for clients moving every conceivable type of goods.

In doing this, he has the support of between 5,000 and 6,000 staff to run the business on the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Japan and Korea. Essentially, the job is to increase volumes and revenues, while improving processes and the physical flow of goods, and overseeing strategic investments.

Leung came to the role with a master’s in general engineering science from Cambridge University and close to 20 years’ experience in the airline business and freight forwarding. He talks to John Cremer.

What experiences have made you  a better leader?

You probably get to learn most from the crises. For instance, last year was unprecedented, with some really drastic changes. It required a lot of stamina and concentration, and constant communication with the team. First and foremost, it showed me the importance of being extremely close to the market and listening all the time to customers and staff. Everyone has items of information that can be useful for management decision-making. In the earlier part of my career with another company, there was an airline strike in the Philippines. Senior managers were away and couldn't get back. In helping to deal with the situation I realised how much you must count on your team to get things done.

What does it take to  be a good people manager?

I believe in mutual respect and always dealing with people fairly. That applies across the board, not just with your colleagues, boss, or subordinates, but also with business partners, customers and anyone else. I try to apply the same principles in the work context as I would in dealing with family and friends. It comes down to proper communication and setting the right tone on both sides. Being "gentle" doesn't mean you have to be lenient. You can be firm and fair at the same time.

What aspects of your career have given you the most satisfaction?

I have always enjoyed all my jobs. It is something to do with how you look at them and how you approach life. But I have also been lucky to have good bosses, which is an important component in enjoying what you do. In the past few years, DHL has been through a series of mergers and acquisitions.

I would say those periods can be really challenging, but there is always something [new to learn].

What are your key corporate targets  for 2010?

The primary goal is to continue along the path we've been on for the past couple of years. That means strengthening our expertise in specific industries like life sciences, pharmaceuticals, fashion and apparel, and electronics, and further enhancing service quality with features like GPS tracking.

We are also planning to provide more services, especially in China [which is doing more trade with Central Asia]. We need to build up our cross-border capabilities to give customers new options and any combination of services.

How do you keep ahead and  maintain perspective?

Firstly, you have to be organised so that administratively you are on top of things. For that, I depend on good assistants and gadgets like a BlackBerry. You also have to have priorities and know what is important and what is urgent. People tend to confuse the two.

Besides that, I make sure to get sufficient exercise by playing basketball regularly with friends younger than myself. This helps me to handle things faster and think more logically. I always block off some time during the week just to think and step away from the day-to-day issues. I find that reading philosophy - whether Oriental or Western ideas, religion or politics - gives me different perspectives.

Career path

  • Spent the first 12 years of his career with Cathay Pacific, finishing as manager of global network operations
  • After joining Danzas AEI, later acquired by DHL, he was instrumental in more than doubling business in the three years to 2005
  • Among other official appointments, Leung  sits on the Advisory Committee on Admission of Quality Migrants and Professionals