Chance Wilson (CW): Tell us about DP World.
Robin Windley (RW): DP World has grown from a ports operator serving local trade in Dubai to a top-three operator positioned as a global trade enabler with over 37,000 people working out of 77 marine and inland terminals.
The original port commenced operations from Port Rashid in 1972 before Sheikh Rashid had the vision to expand the existing site of Jebel Ali two years later, which at that time, was barren desert. In 1991 the operations of Port Rashid and Jebel Ali Port combined to become the Dubai Ports Authority. Sheikh Rashid believed that building significant capacity for the port would make it a gateway for freight coming into the Middle East region.
It’s now by far the largest port in the Middle East and, outside the ports of the Far East – predominantly China and Singapore – the largest port in the world.
In 2005, DP World acquired CSX World Terminals, a leading global container terminal operator. In 2006, the acquisition of The Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) further increased the global network and market position in Asia, India, Australia, the Americas, Europe and Africa. DP World was listed on NASDAQ Dubai in 2007.
CW: What challenges do you face as an HR director?
RW: One thing I’ve noticed over time is the differing expectations of different generations. What might have motivated you or me to go into work is far removed from what motivates the latest generation to enter the workplace. We have to manage our business with what we have, but at the same time, try to create an environment where generations will see the business as somewhere where they would like to work.
CW: How are you showcasing DP World as an attractive place to work, particularly to millennials?
RW: Our philosophy is that a job is more than a job – it’s a way of life. I’m very humbled to think that, in some cases, our staff are giving the best years of their lives to work here; we should feel very privileged to have them contributing to our success.
We invest in talent at every level, up and down the organisation, and there is a significant emphasis on development. On entering the workforce, there are many opportunities available.
There is on-the-job training and, as millennials think, act and learn differently, we have designed courses around their preferred learning styles. There are many e-learning courses available as an effective way to engage and train the younger talent.
We try to enhance the working experience of our staff, not only by investing in their individual growth and development throughout their time with us, but improving their ability to contribute to DP World, while improving their own physical and mental wellbeing.
This sense of corporate conscience goes beyond the job and individual. In some cases, we don’t just have responsibility for employing a group of people, but for enhancing a whole community, so we’re adding to it; for example, in terms of sustainable programmes, whether by building hospitals, schools or establishing a certain way of life within the community.
At the other end of the spectrum, many people stay with us a very long time, and upon retirement, we have created alumnis of the company. This enables us to engage with workers who have left the organisation but who feel they want to keep in touch with us, as part of their extended family.
CW: How are you boosting diversity within the organisation?
RW: Not only have attitudes to work shifted, the nature of work at DP World has changed too, enabling us to widen and diversify our talent community, strengthening our Emiratisation strategy and diversity profile.
For example, in the past (mainly male) crane operators would be perched high above a container, sitting at an uncomfortable angle, watching through a window at their feet and aiming their machinery to connect and hoist a container.
Nowadays, with the advent of smart technology, much of this work is conducted remotely, in air-conditioned control centres off to one side of the port, with use of TV monitors and screens, precision joy sticks and tracking devices.
From a local talent-sourcing perspective, this presents DP World with a unique opportunity to attract and engage Emirati men and women who have traditionally seen other employers of choice in the UAE.
CW: How do you position DP World as an employer of choice for local talent?
RW: We put every effort into maximising local awareness of the DP World brand at all levels of the education spectrum – through the multiple government and educational establishments – spanning careers fairs, educational visits and in the universities.
These are not standalone programmes but integrated into the recruitment, onboarding and ongoing development of our young Emirati men and women. It’s critical to me that we are both realistic and fair in our expectations when bringing on emerging talent, no matter which country they are in, and especially realistic in terms of the impact and contribution they may have within that role.
In the context of developing our Emiritisation programmes, use of role models is successful, with less emphasis on performance ratings at the early stage of their careers.
CW: What success have you had in developing inspirational role models?
RW: Role models present extremely powerful stories. There is no reason why you couldn’t become CEO of this business.
Our chairman, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, has been with the organisation many years. He is an example of being with the company from the beginning, and there are many other stories around the business of people staying many years as part of their career path.
There is no sense of privilege or restriction within this organisation; if you have the desire and determination, and you are prepared to work hard, then these role models demonstrate that this is the kind of success you could also achieve.