By David Binks, President, FedEx Express
The significance of the first 100 days in any new senior leadership role at a business should not be underestimated. The first three-and-a-half months in office provides any new leader with an opportunity to take stock of the wider economy, understand what needs to be done and deliver a strategy that ensures the business continues on a prosperous path. The concept dates back to the first 100 days in office of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who successfully passed legislation having had the chance to survey the country's ailing economy in the wake of the Great Depression. In 2014 we are fortunately far away from the kind of challenges faced by the FDR administration at the time. On the contrary: it is now not a question of whether we are in recovery mode in Europe, but at what speed that recovery is taking place.
After 100 days at the top of FedEx Express in EMEA I have had the chance to make some observations and now want to share with you some insights into the wider economy and our role in helping businesses grow across Europe.
The logistics sector has been described as an early barometer of global economic trends as it is among the first to see changes in demand from businesses and consumers. After more than 30 years in the industry, I have witnessed the sector transform into an engine for fast-paced global trade.
One of my priorities during the first 100 days in my new position as President has been to attain a 'view from the ground' in our European markets - to understand how customers have been responding to the early signs of economic recovery, and what they need to build on this momentum.
Spain, for example, was one of the European countries that felt the economic crisis most severely, but from my team I have received a first-hand insight into how Spanish businesses have grown in confidence, and how their exports are now more competitive on the global market. Regions such as Andalucía have demonstrated a new wave of optimism, thanks in part to its thriving aeronautics and automotive engineering sectors.
This resurgence has led to Spain recording their highest ever value of goods exported since 1971, with a 5.3% increase in real terms during the first two months of 2014 compared to the year before.
Indeed, our own shipping data show a significant increase in the number of packages transported each day by FedEx Express from Spain to the rest of Europe in the first quarter of 2014, compared to 2013. An interesting example of a Spanish SME I heard about during my visit is "Gaston Y Daniela", a high-end interior decorating company from Bilbao which is taking advantage of the new tailwind in Spain. Founded in the 19th century, this traditional family business wanted to grow beyond its domestic borders. Working together, we were able to identify the right shipping solutions and provide them with local support and expertise to reach new markets in the Middle East and Asia. Now they are shipping to over 40 countries worldwide.
Similarly, many businesses in the UK are also experiencing a recovery. A recent study from the Centre for Economics and Business Research indicated that the UK has the potential to be Europe’s largest economy by 2030, whilst the IMF has revised its growth figures for the UK to 2.9% in 2014, up from a January estimate of 2.4%.
In April, I visited our main FedEx UK ground transportation depot in Stoke-on-Trent. Through listening to customers at every level, I recognised that a key factor supporting the upturn in the UK economy is its strong position within our global networks. At the same time, the wider European recovery is a key contributor to the UK’s growth. 'Win-win' can be an overused expression, but it was evident to me during this visit that UK businesses were reaping the rewards from the wider European recovery.
In a recent television interview with an international broadcaster, I was asked to explain how these trends will drive change in the logistics sector. My response - and the key takeaway from my visits to Seville and Stoke - is that there is a real need for us to provide businesses across Europe with local expertise and local access to global market opportunities.
Solid foundations for a greater presence in Europe at the local level were laid during a period of significant investments in our network from October 2011 onwards, through a combination of network expansions, acquisitions and organic growth. We added more than 100 new stations across Europe - at a rate of almost one a week - and over 3,600 new team members. And we introduced significant service improvements such as faster shipping times, later cut-off times and earlier delivery times to meet growing demand.
After my first 100 days in office I can see clearly that success now lies in getting the most out of how we organise ourselves and the way we work, so that we maximize the infrastructure investments we have already made. Simply put: this means adapting our strategy for the coming years to move us beyond services and into solutions for the benefit of our customers.
Overall, I have seen a virtuous circle at play over the past 100 days. The present economic stability encourages businesses, small and large, to seek success overseas and expand into new markets. These exports, in turn, will I believe, speed up the European economic recovery.
The challenge for logistics providers is to help drive forward this recovery and maximize opportunities for businesses across Europe. It is a challenge I accept with pleasure.
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