Getting to the Top with DHL’s Amadou Diallo

Amadou Diallo is the Chief Executive Officer of DHL Freight based in Germany. He is responsible for DHL’s international Road and Rail Freight Forwarding Business. Mr. Diallo was previously Chief Executive Officer of DHL Global Forwarding for Africa and South Asia Pacific.

Mr. Diallo was born in the small Senegalese town of Kolda, 750 kilometers from Dakar, to parents who didn’t attend university. Since the age of 16, Mr. Diallo aspired to get a business degree and to run a business. He worked hard to attend one of the two best high schools in Senegal and then he worked his way through school holidays selling shoes and guiding tourists through the airport. He continued to work through university and graduate school in Paris painting and anything else he could do to pay for his education.

He’s worked as a financial controller for Club Mediterranee SA in Tunisia and Morocco (“I wanted to travel but I didn’t have money to travel so I took a job at Club Med,” he says) and then at Deutsche Bank AG after training in information technology before he joined a logistics company where he was poached and that led to him joining DHL.

Q: What leadership lessons have you learned along the way?

To be successful you need to be really focused to know what you want to get out of each activity. Success is the energy you get out of people.

I am extremely convinced you can progress if you work hard. I don’t expect recognition from other people. I want to know I put in the work.

Be relentless and demonstrate determination. I had a determination to work hard and help my family.

Ambition is important. I dreamed about becoming a leader in business since I was 16. That’s what I wanted for myself, to become in charge of something larger than Senegal, than Africa, at a global corporation level. My attitude was if my neighbors can make it, I can fight for it too.

Q: What drives you as a leader?

For me, to be a leader, you have to have people who accept being led by you. They work for you to become a leader or they work for you if they know you will create value for them.

My aspiration is to be a happy guy and be surrounded by other happy people. I ask myself what do I need to do to make my colleagues have shiny eyes? And for my customer’s eyes to sparkle?

Q: What enabled you to succeed?

I carry with me a quote from my grandma, who was the village nurse. Only what is worth nothing costs you nothing, is what she would say. To me, I interpreted it as if something is costing you something it is worth something even if you don’t yet know the value.

Q: How can leadership talent be developed?

Reading. I read a lot. I read philosophy books, I read books about other leaders. I’m not a communist but Che Guevara’s commentary that a real revolutionary never gives up resonates with me. I am curious and that’s how I learned. The only cost of reading is that it takes you time, then you can travel to different places and learn from others experiences through books. If you don’t know facts you can’t make decisions. In business you need a benchmark and reading is one way to provide that benchmark.

Getting to the Top is an interview series that follows the career paths of executives from Africa and those operating across the continent. The executives share their career journey and tips on how to succeed as a leader.

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