Martijn de Lange is the CEO of Hermes, the second largest carrier in the UK delivering more than 330 million parcels on behalf of 80% of the UK’s top retailers, including Next, ASOS, John Lewis, Arcadia Group and boohoo. Martijn was born in Holland and has lived and worked in the UK for the past 12 years. He is married with two children and is a keen tennis player.
After co-founding TNT Post in the UK (now known as Whistl), Martijn moved to Hermes, where over the last six years, Martijn has overseen the company double in size thanks to the growth of the e-commerce industry. Keen to move away from the traditional logistics culture, he is guiding Hermes UK to put the customer experience at its heart, led by technology. Martijn spoke with CEO Today on the topics of leadership, diversity, and company culture.
How would you describe your own leadership style? Would you recommend it to other business leaders?
I believe in being transparent and open, and I take a great sense of pride in building a great team from the bottom up. If your organisation and culture are people-oriented, then you can collate and debate ideas as a group and go on to make fast decisions that are crucial in the fast-paced e-commerce industry. I am also passionate about remaining close to the operation and to customers. To take any successful strategy forward, you need to be in touch with the business in detail. From here, you can also then define your brand’s USP in the market.
On a more personal note, I have a lot of energy (some may say too much!) and I look for that in my people also! Skills are important of course, but passion is essential and I love to build a team of like-minded people that really care.
What advice would you offer for someone in the process of managing a business transition? What challenges might they face?
Firstly, focus on your end goal. As a former professional tennis player, you must do this and I guess I do bring my sports training to business–I find it really works. If you focus on your goal, you’ll often find a way to get there earlier than you think. Secondly, take your path one step at a time and approach any transition in bite-size chunks to make a difference every week. Translating a big vision into manageable actions that you can track progress on will help you to see the impact you’re having which keeps everyone motivated. In any business transition today, it’s also critical to make IT and innovation a priority of course.
What role does technology play in your line of work? What is the future of this technology in the industry?
At Hermes, we’re transforming from an operational business to a technology business powered by operations, so tech is playing an increasingly prominent role in what we do. We deliver more than 330 million parcels every year to consumers, and so in our sector customer experience (CX) is our main battleground. Great CX demands great tech to both support the operation and enhance the user journey such as provide delivery information in real-time.
We’re continually working to evolve and increase our use of innovation, such as AI for courier training, trialing self-driving robots and exploring automation to help with the simple stuff. For example, we’re trialing a ‘self-service’ approach where the first six questions of any customer query can be automated. We were also the first parcel company in the UK to fully integrate our end-to-end tracking solution with Amazon’s Echo smart speakers. Consumers can use voice commands with Alexa-enabled devices, such as Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, to hear updates on where their parcel is. Voice technology is a big opportunity for us. We have an Innovation Lab dedicated to exploring new tech and are looking to expand into a new Tech Hub site in Leeds next year as we grow our focus on this.
Of what importance is diversity in your business? Why is this something that should be kept in mind?
It goes without saying really – well, I’m Dutch and a young CEO, so by default I like to think I’m an example of diversity and the business reflects this. I’m particularly proud of our equality at Hermes, as we’re lucky to have a very diverse workforce across the UK of all nationalities and genders working at all levels. Diversity brings huge business benefits, primarily a great mix of skills and experiences – the trick is to combine everyone’s strengths. Without diversity, you only have a very narrow frame of reference and you’ll never make progress.
What do you find are the most important aspects of a business/company culture? How is this upheld?
Knowing where you come from and remaining down to earth is very important, as is remaining close to the operations of a business. It’s about taking actions, not just talking, and having an open, non-hierarchical culture to be able to do this and take fast decisions. Our UK Head Office is based in Leeds and our team is very grounded in a typical Yorkshire fashion, which I love! This is upheld by recruiting and nurturing real, outstanding talent that brings their skills and ideas around technology and innovation – this makes the difference. It’s important to create a culture where you continually want to raise the bar and evolve, which may be challenging for some, but fantastically motivating for others. Essentially, we’re a service led business of more than 20,000 people – 5,000 employed and a network of 15,000 self-employed couriers, so it really comes down to our people and that’s what makes a difference.
What future do you see for yourself, your company and the industry?
I see myself as CEO of Hermes UK for the foreseeable future. I have previously worked at TNT, first in Holland and then in the UK, so essentially, I’ve only had two employers which I think reflects my loyalty. I want to continue to make this business a success – we’ve enjoyed double-digit growth over the last six years and this fast growth is continuing, which is exciting and there are more positive changes in the pipeline. Our industry is also growing very rapidly of course, and we will benefit from this but it also increases the competition. We’re operating in a demanding, consumer-driven market and so the pressure is on!
What I’ve found so far whilst being a CEO, which of course is a big responsibility, is really to have fun and love what you do. I try to become better every day and keep the energy up for my team across the whole business – this gets the best out of everyone. Never underestimate the importance of enjoying what you do.