At the end of the 1960s, there was a small supply company in California that was operating, or rather trying not to go bankrupt, in shipments between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It employed a 54-year-old sales manager Adrian Dalsey and law student Larry Hillblom who together, during a chat at the grocery store, found a market niche that would generate an exceptionally profitable business that would make them millionaires. Only that chat was not immediately followed by starting a business. However, the situation soon started changing at a crazy pace.
In 1969, Dalsey and Hillblom met Robert Lynn, whose ready to go investment capital together with Dalsey’s money and Hillblom’s student grant allowed them to start a business. This is how DHL was established in 1969. The company’s name consists of the first letters of the founders’ surnames. The assets put into the company by the three founding fathers were a dilapidated Plymouth Duster (which they used for transporting documents to San Francisco) and a business credit card (used to book flights on the Honolulu – Los Angeles route).
Jet speed development
What was the brilliant business idea of Dalsey, Hillblom and Lynn? All great inventions, including DHL’s business idea, arise as a solution to a pressing problem. At the end of the 1960s, such a problem was the operation of the post office. Slow, inefficient, bureaucratic machinery could not keep up with the pace that business was developing. There was still no Internet and there were only fixed line telephones in operation, and courier companies could not ensure fast deliveries abroad, as shipments were stuck for dozens of hours, and even several days, in customs clearance.
The DHL founders noticed that the transport of goods from California to Hawaii was very slow, not only because of the low speeds reached by ships, but also because of sluggish customs clearance. They decided to check what would happen if the shipping documents were delivered to the port by plane, while the ship was traveling by sea, to obtain faster customs clearance. Instead of starting the check-in process after the ship arrived, it was enough to check the compliance of the documents with the load during unloading and the goods could move on. Simple? Yes. And damn effective. 10 years after its foundation, DHL became an international corporation that employed several thousand employees.
Speed was DHL’s priority right from the beginning of its existence. Pressure to shorten delivery times as much as possible put air transport and its development in the spotlight. DHL achieved record speeds over long distances. It needed only to develop fast procedures for last mile deliveries to introduce an innovative and quick (delivery in one day, and even within a few hours) door-to-door service.
The introduction of a tracking system in 1983 turned out to be a brilliant move – DHL was the first in this field. The ongoing update of the order status did not accelerate delivery, but won the loyalty of DHL’s customers. The transparency of the service and the ability to check the status of a delivery at every stage is extremely valuable for people waiting for shipments. DHL earned a lot because it treated their customers with respect and regard. Nowadays, parcel tracking is a “must have” service for every carrier.
Deutsche Post takes over DHL
None of the founding fathers lived to see 2002. Adrian Dalsey died in 1994 at the age of 80. Larry Lee Hillblom didn’t survive a plane crash in 1995 at the age of 52. Robert Lynn died on February 8, 1998, at the age of 76. After his death, Deutsche Post began to acquire shares in DHL. It reached a controlling interest in 2001, and acquired all outstanding shares by December 2002.
In the 21st century, DHL broke spectacular business records and developed air services. Deutsche Post did not inhibit the American air courier’s development – on the contrary, it is enthusiastic about future possibilities, even having space as a destination for their shipments. Today DHL emphasises that it was founded in the same year that Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. In this way, it justifies the active support of Astrobotics which is developing space robotics technology for lunar and planetary missions – DHL will offer a MoonBox service that allows people to send keepsakes to the lunar surface. Even if it’s just a marketing gimmick, it works on your imagination.
Genius and monster
While you are tracing the history of DHL, you can also find a dark story. It concerns the “H” company’s co-founder – Larry Lee Hillblom. He is credited with most of the ideas that have made DHL a huge success. In his private life he was also an aircraft enthusiast. He owned a number of vintage planes which he often used. A seaplane, which was flying from the island of Pagan to Saipan, fell into the sea on May 21, 1995. Hillblom’s body was never recovered.
The billionaire did not leave a will which was very precise, which triggered an avalanche of lawsuits. Many of Hillblom’s alleged children, and women who claimed to be his victims as children, made claims on the estate. Hillblom was said to have regularly used the services of teenage prostitutes. In 2009, Alexis Spraic’s documentary film entitled “Shadow Billionaire” was produced on this subject. The details proved so shocking that nowadays the company’s official materials mention Larry Lee Hillblom only by name, and DHL does not emphasize his role too much.