DHL operates in 220 countries. Underwood had the task of merging its three component parts - Deutsche Post, DHL and Excel – into one. The vast integration exercise started 18 months ago and is due to complete in December. But happily, Underwood is a guy who thrives on meeting and talking to people.
CIO of DHL Logistics
Size of IT department: more than 2,200 Global IT staff
Size of IT budget: undisclosed
What’s the day job?
Leading and supporting IT delivery and innovation in order to enable change and achieve goals. In a company on the scale of Now the three business units sit under the DHL brand. Being in my office is a bit of a rarity as the job is all about getting out and about, meeting and influencing customer, technology partners and colleagues. Today I’m at my desk but next week I’m in Asia and Japan. The tin and wire part of the job is part of the remit but is managed and under control so I don’t have to worry that at all on a day-to-day basis.
How did you start out in IT?
I’m a maths graduate by background and did some computing options. I didn’t want to get into programming per se – I saw it as more of a thing to support the business. As a student, I did a job for an SMB and Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) was on site. I realised the process and organisational side of things appealed more.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Interacting with people. Whether it’s coaching business leaders or talking to key IT people, I really enjoy the diversity and variety of these conversations. Assembling a team that comes from such arrange of background cultures. They don’t come a lot bigger than DHL – basically we are located wherever there is an airport, a seaport, a warehouse - and electricity, of course!
What’s the worst?
It’s a bit frustrating when people don’t get it – they think I’m the guy who mends the computer or fixes the overhead projector. They really don’t understand or associate the implications of technology. Technology is just a cast really –and it’s frustrating when people don’t get it.
What’s your career high?
It’s really that feeling of climbing the highest mountain – when I was at Mars it was about reengineering the supply chain. At DHL the challenge is even greater because the end product isn’t a single item like a Mars bar, but the starting point for each is the individual customer and has to be engineered end to end. In the recent integration, there were 930 integration projects to orchestrate.
What’s your biggest career mistake?
During the early part of my career I was deciding which direction I would like to go: I could stay at Boots, probably forever, or spread my wings. I chose the latter and joined another large Nottingham organisation Plessey, for more responsibility and exposure to mainstream IT. Plessey invested time and money training me but I realised another large organisation wasn’t the place for. I left after three months to join a smaller organisation, that was more entrepreneurial, diverse and customer facing. Despite my early departure I retained a good relationship with my Plessey boss, who went onto lecture at Cranfield.
What other career advice do you have for others?
Choose a job you enjoy and be true to your values. After all, it’s about having a life and not about having a job. So pick something you enjoy.
What would you be doing in another life?
I’d like to have been a sportsman - I’m mad on football and athletics.