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Janine Milne

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Talent Spot: Susie Robinson, DHL’s executive VP of HR for EMEA

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Susie Robinson has been with DHL since 1998 but, as the logistics giant has gone through a merger roughly every couple of years, she feels as if she has had to constantly reinvent herself – and the HR department.

“Although the business is large, it is still relatively young and changes massively, so trying to implement and change things is obviously challenging,” she explains. “But if the world changes, you reshape to fit the new world.”

Robinson’s career in HR began after a stint teaching English in Spain. She joined the personnel department of a national distribution company and became general manager of the business at the tender age of 28, before joining an aggregates company as head of HR.

Her entry into DHL began in 1998, however, after she joined freight company, Exel, and was given responsibility for electronics and technology first across Europe and then worldwide.
 
Exel merged with Ocean Group in 2000, an acquisition took place in 2002 and finally in 2005, Deutsche Post DHL bought Exel in order to create the world’s largest logistics and freight company. “The world never looks the same on the day after an integration. It’s a massive change in scale of business,” Robinson says.

After 14 years of working for the organisation, she is now executive vice president of HR for Europe, the Middle East and Africa as well as of global talent and says that the HR department has grown in terms of professionalism.

 
Active leadership
 
In fact, one of its key roles is to help create more brand consistency. “Our challenges are that our brand is concerned with solutions across the world, so 80% of that should be relatively the same across the world. Therefore, we deploy strategies on how to do that,” Robinson explains.

As to the main areas that the HR department focuses on, these comprise: pipeline (career and talent progression); engagement; performance (recognition and reward mechanisms) and the integration of new business.

 
“Aligning with the business is such a major part of what we do. People have to have curiosity for business,” Robinson notes.

She also carries out an annual employee engagement survey “with a vengeance”, with the idea of focusing on a couple of key issues each year. One of these this year is ‘Active Leadership’, which is about ensuring that employees receive personalised attention from their boss.

 
The whole management team has been involved in the initiative, which has also been carefully measured and tracked. As a result, it has been possible to introduce standard approaches to communication across different sites and to share best practice around engagement across the organisation.

But Robinson warns: “You can’t design it and put it in and think that’s done. You have to keep it fresh: what motivates me today might not motivate me tomorrow. Part of that is managing the employment relationship.”

Despite the fact that the business is “so vast” and has all sorts of jobs to offer, however, it is still important “to be creative in finding ways how to keep people,” she acknowledges.

And finally…

Who do you admire most and why?
 
Nelson Mandela. His book ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ is a story of selfless sacrifice. I also admire Muhammad Ali. He was one of those people with charm and charisma. He wasn’t educated, but he was so articulate.

What’s your most hated buzzword?
 
Engagement – it should be a good word, but it gets used for everything these days.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Know your position and strength.

How do you relax?

Exercise, shopping, reading and spas.
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