Kawal Preet, at the helm of the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa region, tells Brittany Coles how she will transform and strengthen the FedEx network to become the most successful package delivery company in AMEA.
FedEx Express, the world’s largest express transportation company, has a new president of Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions (AMEA). Kawal Preet, previously Senior Vice President of Operations, North and South Pacific regions FedEx Express is now one month into her new role as AMEA president. She is managing nearly 40,000 team members across 103 markets and territories that make up the AMEA region. Accounting for nearly half of the destinations FedEx Express serves, AMEA is bursting with opportunities for global trade and businesses.
Q: Congratulations on your new role! What are your goals as President for the AMEA region?
A: I will work towards bringing together our teams and business units across a high growth and important region. Intra-AMEA offers a mega marketplace like no other with twelve of the top 25 fastest growing economies in the world in MEISA. AMEA is home to some of the powerhouses of manufacturing, trade and innovation, representing the most vibrant and dynamic part of our international business. Within Asia Pacific, as supply chains shift to South East Asia, a number of emerging economies among ASEAN countries could stand to benefit.
My focus will be on ensuring we have the strongest portfolio available for our customers. We will tap into the increasingly important trade lanes between AMEA. These past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic have shown how essential FedEx is to businesses of all sizes and we will continue to provide that strength of connectivity and possibilities as businesses and economies begin to recover.
Q: What inspired you to first start working in supply chain or logistics?
A: As an electrical engineer and as someone who loves solving complex problems, I was and still am passionate about engineering and the use of technology to transform businesses and connect people to possibilities. When I joined FedEx I could never have imagined where my job would take me and the opportunities that would come my way.
What I found fascinating about the logistics industry back then still holds true today: logistics needs to continuously innovate as customers’ needs evolve over time.
Logistics is the lifeline to society as we know it today. Whether through our air or ground network or innovative solutions, we have to keep pace with trends in relevant industries. We are tracking how commerce is changing and that defines how we anticipate and meet our customers’ needs.
Q: What does a standard day for you look like?
A: I like an early start. We all fall into the trap of thinking that working more equates to being more productive. And more often than not, that’s simply not the case. I keep a list of prioritised tasks at all times, that really helps me manage my time in the best way. You will find me meeting with folks virtually, right from our international HQ in the Netherlands to our global HQ in Memphis.
I am a people person and thrive on energy from my teams. Whenever I get the time, I like to check in with team members. I do not shy away from a quick chat here or a walking meeting to catch up with what’s going on. I always enjoy meeting with my leadership team to plan new ways to shape the future for our business and better engage our customers.
Q: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
A: In the various roles I’ve held over the past 23 years at FedEx I’ve had many opportunities to contribute to the company. Looking at the past decade alone, we’ve achieved so much and have made remarkable progress in the Asia Pacific region when it comes to our fleet expansion, our network enhancements and our vertical focus.
For example, back in 2010 we first launched the Boeing 777 Freighter service in our fleet connecting Shanghai with the FedEx Super Hub in Memphis, Tennessee. Then in 2012, we transformed our Asia Pacific network with the addition of the South Pacific Regional Hub in Singapore. The most recent highlight was on June 1, 2020 when we started integrating our FedEx and TNT operations in Australia. This milestone enables us to bring together the power and reach of both our networks and supports our plans to provide better coverage and greater global and domestic connectivity customers in Australasia.
Over the years, I have seen businesses undergo disruption in the digital era that has transformed customers’ needs. It’s no different at FedEx where we have embraced new technology. Through my career, I have seen and been part of how we have adapted for our customers including small and medium businesses and healthcare companies. We ourselves have transformed from a B2B company to a company that talks to our customers’ customers, given the e-commerce boom.
Q: Despite the industry experiencing strong employment growth of 28 per cent in the last decade, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals 20 per cent of employees in the wider transport industry are female in 2017. This gender composition of the workforce has largely remained the same over the last 30 years. How does FedEx encourage opportunities for women?
A: First, let me point out I am not the first or only female leader at FedEx. Before me, Karen Reddington was at the helm of our Asia Pacific business, and she has now moved to take on the role of president FedEx Express in Europe. FedEx has had a strong track record of women leaders who have risen through the ranks within.
In Asia, over a third of our employees are women. There’s still progress to be made in getting more women CEOs in Asia overall, but I’m proud of our record at FedEx. As a female leader in this industry, I am passionate about helping women succeed and thrive, whether employees, customers or entrepreneurs. I am privileged that I had female mentors and am always looking for meaningful ways to pay it forward. I hope to inspire more women to become women leaders not just in our industry but in AMEA.
Q: As an important female figure in the industry, how did you navigate challenges to lead successful operations?
A: Attitude is everything, really. I have a tendency to embrace change. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is my personal motto and has really helped me grow as well as keep an open mind to learn and look at things from different perspectives. This requires courage but I think it is important to have a willingness to have a growth mindset and be willing to disrupt our own thinking from time to time. That means stepping out of the boundaries that your experience may have set in your mind.
As long as you believe in yourself and work hard, you can achieve anything. Women should not put limits on themselves. Daring to be bold and seeking out opportunities in your career is important. That holds true whether it is about an opportunity to expand your responsibilities or an opportunity to engage with a mentor who could help you in any stages of your career.
Q: What initiatives and actions will you take to lead APAC operations following the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: Staying agile and adapting to changing customers’ needs in the wake of COVID-19 is what will determine the way forward. FedEx is one of the few companies in the world that has the network and capabilities to keep commerce and aid moving during this time.
I am proud of what our teams are doing. Our flight operations between Asia and Europe increased by almost 50 per cent in April 2020. We were one of the first responders from the get-go, extending courier delivery times in some areas, adding direct flights and implementing ‘contactless delivery by suspending requirement for signatures for most shipments, all with the goal to deliver essential items to customers and communities in need.
Contactless commerce could become the norm which means a surge in consumption from an expanding middle class, and more digital transactions. In healthcare, Asian economies with capable research capabilities and ability to meet low cost healthcare delivery could take lead, especially in digital health solutions. Embracing technology and efficiency to serve resilient customers as well as those in recovery will be critical.
Q: What’s your advice during current supply chain challenges?
A: To tackle supply chain interruptions resulting from airport quarantine, isolation policies, reduction in flight and capacity, we are increasing our own agility wherever we can. We are navigating different country restrictions and dramatically improving clearance times for critical PPE, medicines and medical equipment.
With pressure to resume operations, there are some crucial actions businesses can take right now to help themselves get back in gear. Some important ones to consider are to watch out for government assistance initiatives and loans that you can apply for; take this time to review your business model, or consider adopting tech-driven solutions to streamline your operations; keep channels of communications open, both with your customers and your employees; understand how your customers are dealing with the pandemic and find ways to improve customer convenience using technology.
Q: What do you think the future looks like for Asia Pacific and its presence in the global marketplace?
The role of Asia Pacific will only grow as it presents high growth powered by rapidly developing economies. Today, it is at widely varying points on its journey through the COVID-19 pandemic. As economies gradually re-open and businesses restart, the ability to adapt fast will affect how businesses in the region recover. Business models and working practices will take new shape as companies revisit how they serve their customers and how they adapt to the customer’s shifting needs.
Digital transformation, especially AI, automation, data and analytics, will see more adoption as companies embrace technology to better address short-and-medium term demand and supply chain implications. On supply chains, the pandemic has shown us that there is a growing appetite among businesses for a diversified and decentralized supply chain. Markets in Asia Pacific are in a position to serve this desire in the near future. This will dictate how the logistics industry evolves, as companies seek out strategies to minimize disruptions and optimize cost.