Business leaders share insights on logistics and trade across the decades


Fifty years can make a world of difference to business. Since that time, globalization has made supply chains an invisible but increasingly essential part of our lives; China has become an economic powerhouse; Dubai has transformed into a global logistics hub; and a growing middle class has fueled massive demand for consumer goods in Africa and Asia. Six business and thought leaders select their most significant developments over the past decades – and forecast what the business landscape might look like in the future.

Dr. John Gattorna

Executive Chairman, Gattorna Alignment

Supply chains are all-pervasive in our lives and have been around since the dawn of mankind. But it is only in the last 50 years that we have become more conscious of their underlying presence. This was largely due to two factors: the study of distribution management/logistics/supply chain management becoming an official management discipline in the late 1960s; and the increasing pace of life in the latter half of the 20th century and first few decades of the 21st century. This operating environment has placed a huge emphasis on the sustained performance of supply chains at domestic and international levels. Today, contemporary supply chains are undeniably the world’s central nervous system.

It is no coincidence that the great period of sustained growth and prosperity through the globalization of cross-border trade that the world has experienced post-World War II largely coincides with the rapid development of contemporary multinational enterprises and their associated supply chains. This development has seemingly only faltered once, during the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2007/2008, and that was caused by financial failures rather than supply chain failures.

The original DHL startup has been in the vanguard of the entire development from the very beginning (1973), and has since grown into DPDHL, one of the world’s major global supply chain providers.

And now we are entering the new era of digitisation, driven by technology, in which data is moved instantly around the world, thus driving our supply chains even faster and providing customers with more security, assured provenance and ultimately greater satisfaction. All that remains to be done now (and it won’t be easy) is to improve the alignment of our organization designs at corporate and government levels, and global trade will again accelerate to the next level – and thus overrun the “disruptive” effect of the rising nationalist movement that has raised its ugly head in recent years.

Dr. John Gattorna is an educator, author and Executive Chairman of -Gattorna Alignment, a Sydney-based specialist supply chain advisory firm. For over 40 years, he has been a key contributor to shaping the thinking, understanding and practice of logistics and supply chain -management across the globe.

Chris Folayan

Founder & CEO, MallforAfrica

Global e-commerce trade has exploded over the past few years with the advent of more free trade agreements being signed, the cost of getting online reducing globally, and more people being able to start their own e-commerce sites easily within minutes without programming knowledge. As a pioneering platform for e-commerce in Africa, has seen the growth first hand and DHL has been part of that growth with us. The world has seen a huge positive shift with no end in sight. By 2021, online retail e-commerce will account for approximately $5 trillion. E-commerce needs two major ingredients to survive: payments and logistics. 

Delivery has always been a huge factor in e-commerce success and we have seen shipments get to our customers faster year-over-year with both our brands, and As a platform that ships millions of items to over 100 countries, we haven’t found a better and stronger partner than DHL to help deliver products to our customers.

Chris Folayan is a successful serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in marketing, technology, startups and corporate companies. He is the founder of the Mall for Africa and the Africa Made Product Standards (AMPS), serves on several boards and mentors various CEOs in companies based across Africa.

Liza Ng

Chief Operating Officer, Air Hong Kong

Fifty years ago when DHL started its operations in the U.S., Hong Kong was still shaping itself as a key manufacturing base. Nobody back then could have imagined that Hong Kong would become the major international trading, logistics and financial hub it is today.

Air Hong Kong started carrying DHL express cargo with our overnight express network back in 2002. Back then, we would never have imagined exports from Asia could grow so fast. Since 2010, we have become a key contributor to HK International Airport – the world’s busiest international cargo airport for nine consecutive years, with an annual throughput of 5 million metric tons.

With the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the third runway due for completion in 2024, huge emphasis is being put on infrastructure connectivity and economic development within the Greater Bay Area. With this and the vast increase of purchasing power from Asian countries, including China, I strongly believe that Hong Kong is again strategically positioned for this wave of robust growth, this time more so from the opposite direction. The expansion of DHL’s Central Asia Hub in Hong Kong is timely and we look forward to growing the business together at this exciting time.

Liza Ng joined the airline industry in 1990 and has broad experience across many customer and commercial service areas for Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon and Air Hong Kong. She is currently an Executive Member of the Board of Airline Representatives Hong Kong and a member of the Hong Kong Immigration Department Users’ Committee.

HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum

Chairman of Dubai Airports; Chairman and CEO, Emirates Group

One of the most common questions people everywhere ask about Dubai is how a city that was just a small fishing village barely 50 years ago managed to establish itself as a world-leading logistics and aviation hub and a global tourist destination. What is not widely known is that none of the long list of Dubai’s achievements over the years is a random occurrence, but the outcome of a carefully crafted strategy based on a bold and ambitious vision and collaborative approach.

It started with the opening of Dubai’s first airport in September of 1960 – a humble affair involving a strip of compacted sand for a runway and a small terminal building, but still a major undertaking at the time – and one that would change the course of the world’s aviation history. It was the brainchild of Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who not only understood the importance of developing the infrastructure necessary to support transportation and logistics, but also the significance of global connectivity. His decision to opt for an open skies policy from the get-go was the single most important development in transforming Dubai into a global hub.

Guided by this vision, Dubai went on to create some of the most successful brands in the world of aviation, including Emirates, Dubai Duty Free and Dubai International (DXB), the world’s number one airport by international passenger traffic since 2014. Dubai’s leadership understood that aviation and logistics were the very heart of a thriving economy and invested in top-class infrastructure to enable its success and growth over the years.

Today the aviation sector is one of the most important contributors to Dubai’s economy and creates employment for hundreds of thousands of people. It is estimated that by next year, the sector will collectively constitute 37.5% of Dubai’s GDP and account for 29.5% of employment in the emirate. Based on a collaborative model, Dubai’s aviation and logistics sector also owes much of its success to the contributions of our local partners, as well as to international businesses that embraced Dubai in its early days. One such partner is DHL, with whom our partnership goes back 43 years to when it launched its operations in Dubai in 1976. This year DHL is celebrating a landmark anniversary of 50 years, which is a tribute to its ability to develop and deliver on its ambitious vision. On this occasion, on behalf of Dubai’s aviation community, I would like to congratulate DHL on its tremendous success and thank the team for its significant contributions to supporting the ongoing development of Dubai’s logistics and aviation

His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum is Chairman of Dubai Airports, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Chairman and CEO of Emirates Group. He is Chairman of the Dubai Supreme Fiscal Committee, and Second Vice Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council. His career in the aviation industry began in 1985, when he was appointed President of the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation. Emirates, the national carrier, was launched at the same time, with His Highness appointed Chairman.

Prof. Richard Wilding OBE

Professor of Supply Chain Strategy Logistics, Procurement and Supply Chain Management, Cranfield School

2019 is a significant birthday for both DHL, which is now 50 years old, and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, which is 100 years old. We can commemorate the past, celebrate the present and, importantly, look to the future. One hundred years ago, the first transatlantic crossing by an airship took place, Bentley Motor Cars was founded and diversity championed with the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons in the U.K. Fifty years ago, we had the first flight of a Boeing 747 and the first man on the moon – and DHL was formed! 

Global trade has similarly accelerated, enabled by innovation in transport and -information technology.  A critical challenge today is the increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) that logistics and supply chain professionals face. This presents a challenge because what worked 100 years or even 50 years ago no longer works today. Our supply chain processes, infrastructure, information systems and leadership skills all need to adapt to facilitate trade that is both economically beneficial and environmentally viable, but importantly also kind and beneficial to society. That means facing up to the injustices that create poverty, marginalization and exploitation. This is a responsibility of every leader in logistics and the supply chain so as to ensure a sustainable future for all.

Professor Richard Wilding OBE is a recognized expert in logistics and supply chain management and Chair of the Centre for Logistics & Supply Chain Management, Cranfield School of Management, U.K. He is also Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport U.K.

Aisha Ali-Ibrahim

Port Manager, Lagos Port Complex, Nigeria

Over the past decades, logistics has traditionally been a male-dominated environment – though not exclusively so. At DHL too, women performed crucial work even in the early days – like Marjorie Dalsey, who supported her husband Adrian and DHL’s other co-founders by doing the billing and paying bills from 1969. My own career has grown through the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) and, as a Council Member, I founded WiLAT in Nigeria in 2010 with the aim of promoting the industry to female members and supporting their career development. We have now grown to over 2,000 members globally – a number we are looking to steadily increase.

Diversity has paid off, as more women have joined the institute and made CILT their career partner. This year’s annual WiLAT meeting marks another remarkable milestone – we will be in Manchester, U.K., celebrating CILT at 100 years! I am proud to promote WiLAT within CILT as a unique platform for encouraging, empowering and supporting professional women in the Logistics and Transport industry.

Aisha Ali-Ibrahim has over thirty years’ experience in the seaport industry. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, a Fellow of the African Center for Supply Chain, a Fellow of the -Nigerian Institute of Shipping and a Fellow of the Institute of Management Specialists, as well as a Fellow of Port and Terminal Management Academy of Nigeria.

Published: September 2019

Images: Adobe Stock; private; Mark O. Rogers; Yung's Harmony; Adobe Stock; Ahmad bin Said Al; private; private