Cirque du Soleil is just like the business of express logistics.
Now hang on, please stay with me.
That statement may look like a desperate attempt both to grab your attention and to make a bold and spurious claim that a business that involves shifting packages from A to B can also be fascinating. Well, you could be right, but only partly: there's also quite a bit of truth in there.
In 1984, when Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste Croix were performing on the streets of Baie Saint-Paul near Quebec, the only option available for most people who wanted to visit a circus was the traditional big top experience, usually complete with jugglers, high-wire performers and performing animals. There were a small number of shows with international appeal, but a combination of competing entertainment platforms such as musicals, "Las Vegas"-type shows and the cinema and a growing awareness of animal rights in many countries conspired to put pressure on "box office" returns for many circuses.
What Cirque du Soleil went on to do is described in management literature as "blue ocean strategy" - where an organization creates a completely new market of its own to make existing competitors irrelevant, disrupting traditional industries in the process. They combined traditional circus illusions, stunts and acrobatics with elements of modern entertainment such as dance, music and special effects, creating a completely new customer experience in the process. Its innovative approach and ability to constantly push boundaries has seen it grow into the number one grossing live entertainment show in the world today, with approximately 15 million attendees expected across its 19 shows in 2014.
So what, you're probably wondering, does this have to do with express logistics? Well, I'd like to argue that our business was just as disruptive to the logistics industry as Cirque du Soleil was to the circus. In 1969, when Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom and Robert Lynn first launched a small logistics venture in California, US, international logistics predominantly involved shipping bulk loads or containers on large ships or on cargo aircraft. They were shipped as freight, with deliveries taking days or weeks and each individual stage, from pick-up to the final delivery, being overseen by different providers. With their very first assignment, the founders of DHL couriered the customs documents for a cargo ship from California to Honolulu by air. They provided a door-to-door service with one provider in the shortest time possible. In doing so, the shipping company could clear the goods before they even arrived, instead of wasting valuable time on clearing them after the ship had docked in port. This meant that valuable capital tied up in cargo could be put to commercial use earlier instead of sitting in transit. Blindingly obvious, you might think, but often the most innovative ideas are. This basic time-means-money "blue ocean" principle meant that express delivery services quickly spread around the world, becoming a mainstay of global trade today.
That's not quite exciting at first glance as the daredevil acrobatics of Cirque, you might think, but since international express services changed the face of logistics in 1969, companies have been able to do many weird and wonderful things to improve service and outpace their competitors. You probably haven't noticed many of them, but I'm confident you've felt the impact. From fashion brands, who have been able to introduce more seasons in their retail outlets thanks to a shortened time interval between design and delivery, to computer manufacturers, who have been able to offer customers more choice and customization through postponed manufacturing and direct distribution, express shipping has played a behind-the-scenes role in helping others to attempt "blue ocean" strategies of their own.
DHL has today announced a partnership with Cirque du Soleil that will see us support them with the logistics of their shows, across their global touring operation. . As two global brands who have been able to achieve something disruptive in our respective industries, and with more in common than meets the eye, we are confident that we can deliver more innovation, more "blue ocean" thinking, and new audience experiences in future, behind the scenes, on the stage and flying through the air above.