An express rise up FedEx ranks

Mr Kevin O'Hearn moved to Singapore last year with his wife, a nine-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, to take up his latest role. Since then, he has not just been overseeing sales, but also a number of other functions, including operations,
Mr Kevin O'Hearn moved to Singapore last year with his wife, a nine-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, to take up his latest role. Since then, he has not just been overseeing sales, but also a number of other functions, including operations, marketing and IT. ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

VP for South Pacific shares tips on engaging customers and driving sales

As an English literature major, Mr Kevin O'Hearn wanted to start his working life in book publishing.

Instead, he joined FedEx Express and is now the Singapore-based regional vice-president of the South Pacific region overseeing the shipping of books, among a myriad of other items, around the world.

Hong Kong-born O'Hearn, who completed his degree in the United States, decided to take up a sales job at FedEx in Taiwan after graduating in 1990, partly because he had been away from home for several years and wanted to return.

The early 1990s was also a time when many multinationals were rushing in to make their mark in the "Asian Tigers" economies, including Taiwan, and he felt it would be a good opportunity to get in on the action.

KEY TO HIS SUCCESS

One of the stereotypes that people have about sales is that you've got to have very thick skin... it's important to be sensitive too. If you're thick-skinned, that helps you against rejections, but being sensitive helps you to get onto the same wavelength as customers so that you're not just talking and not listening.

MR KEVIN O'HEARN, on the need to be both thick-skinned and sensitive in sales

"I thought, with my English and Mandarin language abilities, maybe I could be put to better use working for an American company trying to grow its business in Asia. I thought it would be a more successful career path," he said.

He was right. His journey through the ranks of FedEx has been swift, as he stood out early.

When he started out in sales, he would make five to 10 cold calls a day to financial institutions such as multinational banks to sell them FedEx's logistics services. Within two short years, he was promoted to sales manager.

Mr O'Hearn, 47, attributes his initial success to his work ethic and dogged mindset.

Another key to his success was learning how to be thick-skinned and sensitive to customers' needs at the same time.

"One of the stereotypes that people have about sales is that you've got to have very thick skin. My view is that it's important to be sensitive too. If you're thick-skinned, that helps you against rejections, but being sensitive helps you to get onto the same wavelength as customers so that you're not just talking and not listening."

One practice he adopted: never enter a customer meeting with a brochure."I found that handing out the brochure became a formality and customers don't react to that. If you engage them, ask them some questions they're interested in answering, then you tend to find out some nuggets, and sometimes that will turn into a business opportunity."

He was so highly valued that when he decided to pursue his master's after being a sales manager for three years, FedEx offered him the opportunity to return to a similar position after his graduation.

He studied at the Stern School of Business at New York University, where he double-majored in marketing and finance. While there, he realised that his "heart was set on going back to FedEx" through speaking with others about their work experience and career plans.

"My classmates were going into investment banking jobs and consulting firms, knowing full well that there were millions of people who were applying to get the same jobs."

In such jobs, he felt, talent could be easily replaced, and he could make a bigger impact working in an emerging industry and market.

He returned in 1997 as the senior manager of sales for Taiwan, with three sales managers and about 40 to 50 sales people under his charge.

Over the next 18 years , he won a series of promotions that took him to various roles across the region, until he was named vice-president for the South Pacific region last year.

Throughout the years, his passion has influenced others who have crossed paths with him.

Ms Rebecca Lim James, managing director for Asia-Pacific global sales and solutions at FedEx, said Mr O'Hearn was a close mentor who helped her to achieve the Five Star award, the highest recognition granted to FedEx employees.

"Kevin advised that I should expand my reach and network more closely with other parts of the non-sales business. He took the time to coach me on how to expand my role from one of pure sales solely for my team, to one that supported the wider Asia-Pacific region."

Since moving to Singapore last year with his wife, a nine-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, to take up his latest role, Mr O'Hearn has not just been overseeing sales, but also a number of other functions, including operations, marketing and IT.

After all these years at FedEx, Mr O'Hearn said the industry is changing so rapidly that his job still remains fresh to him.

Customer needs are always evolving, and FedEx has to stay on top of the game. For instance, it has invested in a device that is able to track the temperature a pharmaceutical or healthcare product is kept at throughout its shipment.

Fedex has also focused on developing a range of services to accommodate different e-commerce shipping needs, like offering high-speed and secure services to serve companies seeking to ship high-value items quickly. It is working with partners and retail networks to reduce costs involved in delivering to consumers, who may be dispersed across a relatively large geographic area.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2015, with the headline 'An express rise up FedEx ranks'. Print Edition | Subscribe