We speak to CEO of Emirates Post, Peter Somers, and winner of the Industry Leadership category at the World Post & Parcel Awards 2021. We discover the principles he runs the Post by, how Emirates Post has evolved as a result of the pandemic and why he believes the human touch will continue to be important to customers despite the increasing use of online channels.
You have over 25 years in the industry – what drew you to the sector in the beginning?
I started my career in B2B logistics and transport in Europe. In the year 2000, through networking channels, I was head hunted to join bpost, the Belgian postal operator. At first, I questioned joining them, I knew they were the biggest employer of the country, but at the time, I was not keen on working at this public service company.
It was going to be a big challenge, professionally and personally. In the end, I joined with the aim to contribute to the organisation’s transformation and the advancement of the sector of my country, and …I have no regrets! At first, our efforts focused on getting the basics right domestically and then to the international business to have bpost become a globally listed, profitable commercial operator.
What has kept you in the sector?
I would have to say the world of e-commerce presented a dynamic array of possibilities and triggered further interest in exploring global logistics solutions.
After leaving bpost in 2014, I continuedon as a consultant and co-founded e-commerce logistics ventures in Europe and Asia.
The business transformation that Emirates Post is currently in the midst of also presented a welcoming challenge. I felt I could strengthen the existing capabilities through sharing my knowledge and expertise.
What are the key ways the industry changed since you began?
When I joined the postal industry in 2000, the European market had still been operating in monopolies without the needed liberty to run their operations. The internet was starting to change the way we communicated and slowly affect mail volumes. We needed to be careful not to cannibalise our business as we addressed the changes at the time.
At bpost, the solution was not to digitise all our mail and communication products, because that would be a failed strategy; it was about revising cost margins, improving efficiency, diversifying the portfolio, and shifting focus beyond the local market. New business lines meant new revenue opportunities to tackle the decline of traditional mail.
The postal industry continues to change today due to digitisation, the rise of an e-commerce society, competition, and the shifting needs and behaviours of consumers. The increase of parcel volumes is a promising prospect for our industry since we have an existing network to support its growth. It is just a matter of adopting the necessary solutions, systems, and processes to re-organise supply chains.
What principles do you run Emirates Post by?
There are a few principles that we go by at Emirates Post: ‘Transparency’, ‘Equality’, ‘Customer Centricity’ and ‘Engage to Succeed’.
Communicate, communicate, communicate – that is effective transparency. It is needed across all touch points – internally with employees and externally with our stakeholders, partners, and customers. We keep them informed on what we stand for, the challenges we are facing, and where we are in our business journey. Only then can you have effective synergy and achieve success.
Tolerance happens to be a key value here in the UAE. Within a diverse workplace at Emirates Post, we ensure that everyone is treated equally and with respect. We also carry this value on to our dealings with our customers who are also multicultural.
When you operate with the principle of having everything revolve around your customer, their needs, expectations, aspirations, it pushes you to ensure that you are delivering on quality and that you remain relevant.
And last but not least, it is important to operate with your people at the heart of your business. By establishing a corporate culture of teamwork, by motivating your staff, developing their talents, by rewarding their performance, and engaging them in the business strategy, you create an environment that is a great place to work. After all, it is the employees within the company that drive its success.
What is the best piece of business advice you have received and by whom?
There are two pieces of business advice that I often reference.
The first is, ‘as a leader you can’t take anything for granted’’. In business, everything that happens needs to go hand in hand with tangible results – measurable KPIs, effective financials, a firm focus on quality, keeping an eye on what is next – the basics that form the foundation. And you build from there, it is a continuous endeavour.
The second is, ‘every organisation is the shadow of its leader’. You must live the example that you are trying to set, walk the talk, live the values that you and the management team advocate. It is about creating trust and maintaining a 360 authentic approach with your board, colleagues, employees, and community.
The last 12 months have been quite challenging, how has Emirates Post had to evolve?
Our number one priority is to support the wellness of our employees, customers, and the communities we serve. We are proud at Emirates Post to be one of the first postal entities in the world to have all eligible customer-facing staff fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. With our front-line employees vaccinated, we ensure their wellbeing and provide our customers with the confidence and reassurance to use our services.
Emirates Post was one of the first organisations to activate “contactless deliveries” by our couriers, and “contactless transactions” at our branches. We increased our front-line workforce, recruited new drivers, and increased our fleet to support our e-commerce partners with the surge in demand.
During the strict lockdown period, we provided administrative employees with the online support needed to work remotely and ensure business continuity. Free delivery of mail items to PO Box subscribers that were 60+ years of age and People of Determination was provided. We offered customers the chance to book pick-up and drop-off services for premium and express shipments online and have their mail items delivered to their doorstep.
The pandemic accelerated many of our digital projects including the launch of our new website and our own retail webshop, the introduction of smart services with the renting/renewing of PO Box subscriptions and the launch of ‘epbox.ae’, a virtual PO Box enabler to help customers digitally manage their mail and parcels, and ‘registered communications’, allowing customers to send communications by email, SMS, or any web-based service with full legal admissibility. We introduced ‘Smart Places’, a digital product to help businesses connect with customers and be easily located across way-finding platforms and the ‘epostcard’ app, a way for communities to stay connected.
How have you had to evolve as a leader?
On one hand, I moved to a new country a few months before the pandemic. And so, it has been a learning process having to discover new cultures and habits. What may work in Europe, US or China does not necessarily work here and vice versa. With time and careful attention, I have come to understand the specificities and enjoy living and working here in the UAE.
On the other hand, when the pandemic hit, everything moved from physical to digital. I had to do the same, from holding all meetings virtually, conducting the internal ‘CEO road show’ remotely, and managing matters from my apartment rather than the office. This presented a challenge in of itself: how do you communicate over a virtual platform, often with no cameras to see people’s reactions, assess body language, address emotions … of your own team and that of customers? It was a completely different ball game. Thankfully, we have been able to master it.
Where do you see the industry in 10 years what will there be more of/less of?
In the past and to a certain extent even today, postal companies’ core activity is ‘mail’ delivery and to a lesser extent ‘parcel’ delivery. There is a shift underway to operate like a ‘parcel’ company where delivery of ‘mail’ is less and less part of the core activity. Looking at the changing dynamics and strong digitisation, I believe ‘mail’ does not need to be delivered five days a week, one day a week will be enough at a certain moment in time.
I expect there will be less and less government shareholders in our industry with posts becoming full-fledged commercial companies focusing on the need for last mile and e-commerce logistics.
We need to keep in mind that with further penetration of digitisation and increase of online shopping solutions, we will be the remaining physical touch point of the customer. We will be the human touch, the smile accompanying the delivery of parcels – and ultimately, shaping the experience.
What challenges do you anticipate in the coming year?
The challenges will mainly revolve around managing the fast growth of e-commerce volumes, harnessing the opportunities from cross boarder business, and continuing the transformation of our retail and back-office activities.
What next for Emirates Post?
Emirates Post will continue to deliver on its strategy – to focus on diversification and new business streams, to defend our retail business by adding an advanced touch-point network to our existing reach, and to build the best-last mile solutions for the UAE. We will continue to manage the growth of our business both domestically and internationally and most importantly, remain committed in ensuring a safe and conducive environment for the wellness and betterment of our employees.
How do you feel about winning the Industry Leadership award?
I am delighted and honored to have been recognised for my years in the industry and I am humbled to share the accolade with the past winners. I dedicate the award to the teams I have worked with and continue to work with today.
About Peter Somers
Peter Somers joined Emirates Post Group in October 2019 as Emirates Post’s Chief Executive Officer. In his role as CEO, he is responsible for driving forward the day-to-day activities and operations of Emirates Post and strengthening the existing capabilities through transfer of knowledge, developing Emirati talent, upskilling employees across the organisation and building on existing leadership capabilities.
Possessing over 25 years’ experience in logistics, Peter is a strategic executive and entrepreneur in the Postal & Logistics industry with in-depth expertise in designing and implementing distribution systems, new market entry, M&A, business development and innovation. His previous roles include executive positions in leading distribution, e-commerce logistics and postal companies.
Peter is also the co-founder of the e-commerce logistics company SprintPack, and SKS & Partners. Prior to joining Emirates Post, he was the CEO of RetailDetail and was a member of the Executive Committee of bpost, the Belgian Postal Operator until July 2014. Peter spent nearly 15 years at bpost and was CEO of bpost Parcels & International, overseeing its rapidly growing business unit covering bpost domestic and international parcels, as well as mail activities in Europe, the Americas and Asia.