Supply chain professionals with the transport and logistics giant DHL Group and across the logistics sector are remembering Bill Robinson, one of the firm’s original partners, who played a pivotal role in the company’s rapid worldwide expansion before passing away on June 10 at the age of 81.
Although his initial “R” was not one of the three that form the company’s name, Robinson was a core player in establishing DHL’s international air express business, a network that today spans hundreds of countries around the globe and has enabled trends like economic globalization and the concept of a 24/7 interconnected world.
Born William Armstead Robinson III but widely known by his nicknames Bill or Rob, Robinson grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, and graduated from Texas A&I University before becoming an officer in the U.S. Army, according to his obituary in the Shreveport Times.
After his military service, Robinson moved to San Francisco, where he took a job as a driver for a local courier company. He soon met business partners Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom, and Robert Lynn (whose initials form “DHL”), and created the company in 1969. Together, those founders established DHL’s global courier network and overcame significant opposition to the new industry from postal authorities, regulatory bodies, and competitors, according to another obituary of Robinson written by Jane Chung, author of the company history book “DHL: Three Letters that Shrank the World.”
Funded entirely out of its own cashflow, DHL soon expanded internationally across the Pacific. In 1979, Robinson became president and CEO of DHL’s Americas operation and sat on the company’s board of directors, helping to guide its growth as DHL began flying its own aircraft and launched its first major advertising campaign. By 2002, German postal service Deutsche Post AG had acquired all of the young company’s shares, making DHL a wholly owned subsidiary and making Robinson a wealthy man.
“Bill Robinson encapsulated the very spirit of DHL – an entrepreneur with a global outlook and an ability to break down barriers while building bridges,” Deutsche Post DHL Group Chairman Frank Appel said in a release. “We are very grateful to Bill for the foundations he put in place for the express industry, which continues to drive global trade and deliver immense value for our customers around the world today.”
Known as an “intensely private” person by nature, Robinson eventually used the proceeds acquired from DHL’s sale to purchase a series of properties scattered from Alaska to Florida and to indulge his passion for travel, according to Chung.
In his later years, he retired to Louisiana, where he loved to read history from every era, hold conversations with executives and employees alike, and spend time with animals of every kind. He was known for bringing his dogs with him as he traveled between his many homes, loading all eight Rhodesian Ridgebacks onto every flight. Animals also figured prominently in the organizations he established—the spay/neuter clinic Robinson’s Rescue and the biomedical research animal sanctuary Chimp Haven—where donations may be made in his memory.