12 Dec 2014
Born in 1961 in Hamburg, Frank Appel completed a masters in chemistry from the University of Munich in 1989 before going on to obtain a PhD in neurobiology in 1993, during which he was involved in spinal cord regeneration research with ETH (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). He then sharply changed direction at the age of 32 and started working as a consultant with McKinsey & Co in 1993, becoming a partner in the firm in 1999.
Having begun his career in scientific research before moving into management consultancy, Appel then took another volte-face in joining Deutsche Post, assuming the position of Managing Director of Corporate Development in 2000. He rose quickly to prominence, becoming a member of the board in 2002, holding a number of positions thereafter. Finally, he was appointed CEO in February 2008, following the unexpected resignation of Klaus Zumwinkel, as a result of the latter’s criminal investigation for tax evasion.
Frank Appel CV
Doctorate in Neurobiology, ETH
1993: In search of new challenges, Appel, aged 32, left his scientific career as a neurobiologist and joined McKinsey & Co as a management consultant
2000: Seeing an opportunity to rise further in the business world, Appel then left consultancy and joined Deutsche Post as Managing Director of Corporate Development
2002: In recognition of his abilities and achievements in his short time at the company, Appel was then appointed to the board at Deutsche Post just two years after joining
2008: Following the ignominious exit of Klaus Zumwinkel, who resigned while under investigation for tax fraud, Appel became CEO of Deutsche Post
On becoming CEO, Appel’s first task was to try to restore morale at Deutsche Post, in light of the shadow cast over his predecessor. He also had to tackle a number of issues within the business, including the significant losses incurred by the group’s US parcel business. During his tenure at the top, Appel has overseen Deutsche Post’s acquisition of more than 100 companies, meaning that the company today operates in more than 200 countries with over 470,000 employees.
One of the most important developments that Appel has spearheaded has been the expansion of the business into Asia, where he has overseen the investment of more than $2.5bn. In 2013, this region contributed nearly 20 percent of DHL’s total revenue. Furthermore, projections for the next five years estimate that the Asia-Pacific region will amount to approximately one-third of the group’s total global income.
A scientific approach
According to Appel himself, his background in a science environment has helped him achieve his goals as a CEO. “What I’ve learned is definitely to digest a lot of information and figure out what is important and what is not important. So if you give me a deck of 30 pages of numbers, I can tell you afterwards what is more important and what is less. If you digest that information all day long [as I did] in chemistry for almost 10 years, then it is easy. You start every morning doing experiments and 95 percent of experiments go wrong.”
He adds: “I learnt during my studies that you have to start every day in a good mood and be excited even if you know in the last five days, everything you tried
Since his appointment, Appel has re-positioned Deutsche Post as an organisation that is able to meet the service expectations of individual clients. Traditionally a corporate business courier, the continuing rise in E-commerce has been a driving factor for new business for Deutsche Post. So, while traditional orders involved large volumes of parcels travelling regular routes to business customers, today, online orders involve small deliveries to individual households.
This means that Appel has had to rethink the way that the Deutsche Post group perceives its client base, and, leading on from this, he has an ongoing project of reducing the cost base in the wake of more and more smaller parcels being delivered to a more disparate client base.
Deutsche Post in numbers
In July 2012, Appel launched the $175m DHL Express North Asia Hub, a facility for the company’s international airfreight service and the biggest of its kind in Asia. In addition to this, he now plans to invest a further $132m over the next two years to pay for eight dedicated aircraft which will fly between North Asia, Europe and the US. This service is expected to be able to process some 20,000 parcels and 20,000 documents an hour. Across the North Asia Hub, it will serve Taiwan, South Korea and western China.
“Colleagues regularly ask me one question: ‘how can we best plan for the future?’ and my response is always ‘by asking the right questions at the right time’. [Although] people are negative, what usually happens from our past experience is not as bad as everybody expected. I was very idealistic when I was 18, as all teenagers are. You always hope that tomorrow is a better day, that we can do so much for so many people and you wonder why so many are still living in poor conditions when the world is so rich.
“The number of negative messages increases from the bottom to the top of the hierarchy. On my desk I get all the problems that others cannot solve because if my board members could solve them, they wouldn’t come to me. They come to me when the problem is too big and they don’t know what to do next.”
As a CEO, Appel wants to motivate and influence people and to lead with a clear purpose: “I want to shape things and make a difference. I want to influence things, to find something that may help people. You need to have your head to give direction, your heart to show empathy and compassion for the people you are working with, be it employees, customers or suppliers, and the guts to make significant decisions under significant uncertainty.”
However, he also believes in keeping a work-life balance, choosing only to work Monday to Friday so that he can spend weekends with his family. “My leadership philosophy has many elements; you have to give people a purpose. People want to work for a company that makes a difference every day because we help countries to grow. We enable prosperity.
“You have to generate results because without that the company cannot survive for long. Without respect for employees, customers, investors and society, the company would not be around tomorrow. You have to train people so that they are easily employable elsewhere in case you have to restructure. I would be happy for all employees to say that they are ready to go but happy to stay. So they have prospects somewhere else but they can’t imagine the grass being greener anywhere else.”