'Logistics' has a reputation for being about grimy trucks and warehouses - but it's actually a dynamic, vibrant career. We spoke to DHL's head of fuel intelligence, Ian MacAulay, to find out how he got his career

Ian MacAulay is head of fuel intelligence and innovation at global freight company DHL. He’s only just turned 31, but having joined them just seven months out of university, Ian is now responsible for making sure the firm’s entire fleet of around 7,500 vehicles is fuelled as cheaply and efficiently as possible.

As you can imagine, it’s a mammoth task of huge importance to the continued profitability of a large freight company like DHL. Operational cost is everything: ‘we could pay £70,000 for a truck, but we’d also spend somewhere in the region of £70,000 to £100,000 every year fuelling it’.

What is logistics?

‘Logistics’ is the coordination and management of resources, people and facilities. It’s a large, catch-all term that can encompass the operations of a single warehouse, or, in Ian’s case, those of an entire fleet of vehicles for a massive multinational company. The fuel intelligence unit is part of DHL’s larger transport division, which covers every aspect of vehicle management: sourcing, procurement, in-life servicing, maintenance, driver management and support, and making sure that DHL is legally compliant in operating them.

The fuelling aspect of this task is much more than making sure his drivers don’t fill up at those expensive central London petrol stations. No stone is left unturned in the quest for efficiency.

“One of my roles is gathering ‘intelligent information’: comprehensive reporting on how we’re using our fuel, what performance we’re getting from it, and making sure that certain types of vehicle are giving us the best total cost of ownership.

“Another aspect is innovation – making sure that our fleet is at the forefront of feasible technology that can deliver the performance that we need, but also the fuel and carbon savings that we need. This is the exciting, sexy part of the role, if you can get sexy transport.”

How he got into the industry

So how has a man this young come to be managing such a vital cog in such a huge machine?

Ian’s background is in design technology; he has a degree in the subject from the University of Coventry. However, when he graduated, he had no real idea what he wanted to do with it.

“When I finished my degree, I didn’t really have much of an understanding of what I wanted to do,” says Ian. “But I knew I needed to work, because I had debts to pay.

“I was looking for work locally, and I ended up working for Excel Logistics, which was acquired by DHL in 2007. They were recruiting for a new operation they would be running for JD Wetherspoon, and I ended up as a general employee in the warehouse, moving cartons of beer around. I did a bit of research and found out they had a graduate scheme, so I made sure I made a nuisance of myself with the HR team – to let them know who I was and that I had aspirations.”

Graduate schemes are a tried and true means of getting into large firms like DHL, whose scheme entails a comprehensive course on its inner workings. Theirs is an 18-month programme which involves three different placements around the business – which graduates have to find for themselves. Ian found himself working as a warehouse manager, then a transport manager for a high street retailer, and then a policy role. These different experiences all set him in great stead, and he was taken on permanently at the end of his scheme. He bounced around the company before ending up in his current role in fuel intelligence.

How to get into logistics

A lot of the work in logistics doesn’t require a degree, admits Ian; it’s driving – trucks, vans, fork-lifts – or warehousing. And a lot of the people working in management, especially the line and shift managers, have worked their way up from the shop floor.

“Operational skills are very important, and going into our business and learning them can be very handy.”

Truck drivers are paid ‘pretty good money’, but the workforce is aging, and at the moment there is a bit of a drive on to recruit younger employees. However, there’s still definitely a space in the industry for bright grads.

“Having a degree allowed me to accelerate my career quite considerably,” says Ian. “I work amongst a peer group of guys, some of whom are almost twice my age. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without having my degree and the opportunities it gave me throughout the business. It was incredibly valuable.”

His own degree is quite relevant to the work he does, but there’s ‘no stipulation’ that your degree has to be of a certain type to get onto the scheme.

“You need to have come from a higher education background, but that’s it. If you have a law degree, we have a legal department, for instance. Really we’re looking for that ability to demonstrate independent and accelerated learning; it’s like at university – you have to take a bit of grip of your destiny, and you soon realise that messing about and not doing things won’t get you results.”

One final piece of advice: ‘don’t be put off by the idea of dirty trucks in warehouses’.

“There’s a hugely dynamic and commercial operation behind that, and people in those warehouses managing those operations can move on. One shouldn’t be put off by something that on the outside may not look very glamorous because there’s a lot of opportunity.”

A degree in logistics?

There’s actually a new initiative in the logistics industry to snaffle the bright grads: the Novus Trust is a new industry-led charitable trust helping businesses ‘attract and inspire tomorrow’s supply chain leaders’. It’s a partnership arranged by a dozen or so industry players, including DHL, B&Q, Travis Perkins, Dixons and Sainsbury’s  – and it’s sponsoring a dedicated four-year BSc in Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the University of Huddersfield, complete with placements and professional accreditation.