From Used Cars to Jetliners

DHL has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a currier in the late 1960s. Today, the shipping giant is a globally recognized carrier, which continues to make history and headlines.


Nearly 40 years ago three entrepreneurs; Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom and Robert Lynn, came together and created a currier service shuttling bills of lading between San Francisco and Honolulu. Little did its founders know that within the next three decades their little business would become one of the world’s largest and most well-known international cargo carriers.

Their efforts were officially recognized 31 years later when all three men were inducted to The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) Hall of Fame. TIACA recognized the men posthumously for “their significant contribution to world trade and as a major contributing factor in air cargo transportation.” According to TIACA, Adrian Dalsey, a Wheaton College dropout and sales manager and Larry Hillblom, a law student and currier, came together and were later joined by Robert Lynn to form the company DHL, a combination of their last initials.

In 1969 the company began with a second-hand car and was financed primarily by cash flow and credit cards. The company grew quickly though, and by 1971 DHL became a partner to many companies and had expanded its territory to include the Far East and Pacific Rim. The company continued to reach important milestones, including its formation in 1986 of a joint venture with the People’s Republic of China, becoming the first active express company in the communist country. In 2002 Deutsche Post World Net completed its acquisition of DHL, the same year the company entered into a joint venture with Cathay Pacific for express air cargo. In 2003, DHL increased its share in China’s state-owned import-export company Sinotrans to 5 percent and also launched a $200 million USD investment program to significantly expand its capabilities in China.

“Thanks to our 20-year alliance with Sinotrans in China, we can provide a seamless supply chain, express shipment, air and ocean freight, overland transport and logistics services — all of which adds up to a distinct competitive advantage,” explains Red Alexander, DHL’s vice president of aviation and commercial transportation. “In February 2007, we announced the company will invest more than $100 million USD in our China business over the next few years to further strengthen our market-leading position in anticipation of continued strong growth. DHL has been very successful in implementing its ‘First in China’ strategy, which comprised a series of initiatives launched in April 2006. These included building a new DHL-Sinotrans headquarters for our express operations and increasing our number of branches from 56 to 72 nationwide. We have, in fact, exceeded our target and currently have 73 branches in China.”

Today the company continues to expand and improve its on-time delivery performance to remote areas of the world.

“A strong global network is the lifeblood of our business,” Alexander says. “We operate an unmatched global system covering more than 225 countries and 120,000 destinations. As the world’s largest and most experienced international air express network, DHL was the first to bring international air express services to many key regions, including the Eastern Bloc countries and the People’s Republic of China and we were the first to re-establish service to Kuwait after the Gulf War.”

It was obvious the goals of expansion and firsts have been met and exceeded when the carrier was named winner of Georgia Tech’s annual Great Package Race — a non-scientific study in which DHL competed against rivals UPS and FedEx to deliver packages to isolated destinations such as Yangon in the Union of Myanmar (formerly Burma). DHL not only won the competition with the most completed deliveries, they also proved to be the most economical and were said to have the best customer service department by the students conducting the study.

DHL employs a mixture of ground handling practices in its cargo operations which no doubt played a major role in the on-time deliveries which won it the Georgia Tech race.

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