Dimitris Papas has more than 20 years of experience in sales and logistics, 17 of them with DHL Express. He took over the management of the business’ Malta branch in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic when the company played a vital role in the preservation of the global supply chain.

Dimitris Papas left his native Greece for Malta in September 2021 when he took on the role of Country Manager for DHL Express. Since then, he has put his extensive background in sales and customer care to good use daily. “My main role, which takes priority over everything else, is to ensure that DHL is always the provider of choice for its customers, the investment of choice for its shareholders, and the employer of choice for its employees,” he says. “On a more granular level, my mission is to grow and develop business in Malta and help our customers expand their own enterprises. And, last but not least, I also ensure that our staff at DHL progress and reach their maximum potential.”

Although setting the right priorities for both the company and its customers can be challenging, this is precisely what excites Dimitris and makes him eager to go to work every day. Not even the disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic managed to put a damper on his enthusiasm for his job.

“We have had ongoing challenges over the past two years. Even now, in the so-called ‘post-COVID era’, there still remain bottlenecks in commercial uplift which we have to overcome in order to ensure the day-to-day routing of our shipments. There’s never a dull moment in my working day – but, all of these challenges energise me, and that is largely due to the people I work with. The Maltese are very similar to the Greeks, so I feel at home here, and my colleagues are part of my extended DHL family. I come to work every day wanting to be with the people that make up my team.”

Dimitris originally joined DHL as a part-timer straight out of university. “I immediately felt at home, and even though I worked with other companies after that, I never felt the same way anywhere else. That is why I came back to DHL,” he shares. “If I had to choose a career highlight, it would be when I undertook my current position. I believe that Malta has many business opportunities to offer, and we can tap into them if we change the mentality that we are isolated. We’re not a backwater here.”

DHL has been consistently voted one of the world’s best employers, which is reflected in Dimitris’ genuine interest in the success of his customers and employees. “Statistics measured in numbers are indisputable and maintaining a focus on performance is of paramount importance from a financial point of view,” he says. “But success in terms of figures ebbs and flows. I have come to realise that my success relies on the success I facilitate in others and how they develop as people when I manage them. This also spills over to customers: when you have a customer who goes from five shipments a month to becoming a leader in their sector, that is the ultimate reward.”

The past couple of years have been particularly challenging, even for a company like DHL. However, the company rose to the occasion and was pivotal in keeping the global supply chain going at a time when it had all but come to a halt. “COVID-19 was a shock to the system on both a very personal and business level. It upset the supply chain and the way we work, especially during the early days when the DHL plane was the only one that was landing and taking off on a daily basis. In fact, we never stopped,” Dimitris says.

It was during this period that the world started seeing companies like DHL in a different light. Whereas the focus before the pandemic was on speed of delivery, it has now shifted to having a dependable and steady supply chain as well. This was especially the case when the company transported over 2 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, most of them under temperature control.

“Now, of course, there are other problems, like the conflict in Ukraine. Nobody is flying over the conflict zone, resulting in a lot of grounded aircraft and rerouting of flights, which increases costs,” Dimitris explains. “In addition, ocean freight still hasn’t fully recovered globally, air freight continues to be challenged due to shortages, and East Asian countries still have many restrictions due to their zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19. Still, so far we have been very successful in mitigating the effects of all this.”

While the constant readjusting requires agility, Dimitris feels that his company has come out of this turbulent period with flying colours. “We used to have one peak season in November and December, but we are now dealing with increased demand throughout the year. We’ve learnt to be more flexible and more adept at finding alternative solutions to any obstacles we encounter,” he shares. “We are also stronger as a team and, together, we have taken the customer-provider relationship to another level, becoming trusted advisors, as logistics have come to the forefront across businesses.”

Much of DHL’s success is due to its ability to adapt and move with the times, including its commitment to reducing its impact on the environment. “As a group, we are committed to using sustainable aviation fuel blending for our aircraft by 2030, which is expected to save approximately 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over the aviation fuel lifecycle,” he says. “As for DHL Malta, we plan to have 70 per cent of our road fleet electrified by the end of 2023, which is the first step towards full electrification.” Plans for 2023 also include several other projects in the pipeline, such as an increase in manned service points and the refurbishment of existing service lockers and the company’s facility in Luqa.

Dimitris is clearly passionate about his job and thrives in challenging situations. However, he does not sugar-coat reality when talking about the near future. “I suspect we will be in flux all this year and probably the next – even though what we really need is much more than just a semblance of normality,” he predicts. “However, we now know the strength of our resilience. We can adapt to whatever is thrown at us, and we will continue doing so for as long as is necessary.”

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2023 – the sister brand to MaltaCEOs.mt and an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders

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