Helping you grow

With global trade slowing down over recent years, mergers and acquisitions on the rise, new disruptor technologies challenging old traditional businesses and finally the likes of Amazon and Alibaba entering into shipping and 3PL (themselves with deep pockets) – the odds are never in your favour if you are in the business of shipping and logistics.

If you look back over the past 18 years, out of the top 25 container shipping lines that were present in 2000, only 15 remained in 2017 – with ten container shipping lines having either disappeared, with examples such as Hanjin and Cho Yang, or merged or been acquired, like CSAV, UASC, APL and OOCL.

Nevertheless, despite the bleak outlook for the global industry, there are companies that are defying the odds and are investing to further improve their infrastructure and remain ahead of the competition. These home-grown companies have managed to grow beyond their boundaries and found themselves in direct competition with even centuries-old global players. One such exemplary success story is Al Sharqi Shipping, which has a 29-year history of both staying relevant with the times and managing sensible and stable growth.

The company was established in August 1989 as a single entrepreneurial venture through the vision and efforts of Muhammed Rafiq, who at that time had worked in UAE in shipping and logistics from 1978 to 1989 with UASC, one of the most prominent shipping lines in the region. Today, Al Sharqi Shipping is a family-run business, recognised as one of the leading voices of the logistics industry in Dubai, UAE, with over 100 employees spread across three different countries and an agent network that covers more than 200 countries around the globe.

Over nearly three decades, Al Sharqi Shipping has received numerous awards throughout its evolution:
1. Awarded Rank 83 among the Top 100 SMEs in Dubai as of 2015, out of more than 4500 nominated businesses
2. Audited and awarded Grade ‘A’ by Dubai Chamber of Commerce
3. Awarded the Maersk Line Platinum Award for five consecutive years: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016
4. Recognised as the top business supporter with CMA-CGM for four consecutive years – 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016
5. Awarded as the Top Customer of Safmarine 2011
6. Awarded as the Golden Customer of Maersk Line 2011
7. Recognised for its strong dedication and valuable support to Hyundai Merchant marine for 2012 and 2014

It is safe to say that Al Sharqi Shipping has come a long way, and is able to confidently proclaim itself as one of the top ten freight forwarding and logistics companies in the UAE.

At the moment, this innovative logistics service provider takes an operator approach to providing services. All aspects of its operations are handled in-house by its own team, including customs clearance, freight forwarding and other logistics services. It also provides onward transportation of goods from ports in Sharjah and Jebel Ali throughout the UAE, where it has a fleet of 22 trucks, three side loaders and 56 trailers. Alongside its offices in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman, the company has subsidiaries in Pakistan and in Tanzania.

Helping business grow
Today, the motto ‘helping you grow’ has formed an important part of the company’s culture, business philosophy and mindset. This has helped Al Sharqi Shipping expand its operations from a handful of customers to become one of the major players in the region. As the client list developed, so did Al Sharqi Shipping, and whether it is a startup, SME or large corporation, each customer receives a solution that is tailor-made to their requirements, and one that is created from a foundation of years of experience in various industries.

Interestingly, Al Sharqi Shipping also boasts one of the best customer retention rates in the UAE and other offices, with many of its customers staying with it since its humble beginnings. With the trust of its customers, the company has expanded its range of services to include all aspects of the supply chain and prides itself on being a one-stop-shop to ‘help businesses grow’.

Another aspect of Al Sharqi Shipping that makes it stand out from the competition is its status as a family-owned and run concern. Nearly 70 per cent of family owned businesses fail or are sold before the second generation gets a chance to take over, with just ten per cent remaining active and privately held, for the third generation to lead.

Al Sharqi Shipping is now in its second generation, and has overcome great odds to stay relevant and keep growing. The second generation, which comprises of Kashif Rafiq, Atif Rafiq, Asif Rafiq, Wasif Rafiq & Sadaf Rafiq, all had to complete a two-year rotational programme aimed at ensuring they completely understood the business from the ground up, after graduating from Canada to key management positions within the organisation.

During a downturn, the company looks at a number of ways to turn adversity into opportunity; usually stopping the capital expenditure required to gain new customers and focusing only on its current portfolio. It also looks at talent acquisition as a strategic advantage, taking on board key management personnel to leverage experience, knowledge and vision.

Furthermore, the company shifts its focus on operational efficiencies by taking a number of strategic decisions, with an example being the consolidation of the number of suppliers and vendors in its operations – as a result of this staff can concentrate on fewer lines and maximise customer relationships, cutting down on staff training costs and aggregating purchasing power.

An eye on the future
Thanks to its forward-thinking management approach, the business has managed to survive several recessions, and this has been aided by significant investment in infrastructure and IT to gain a competitive advantage, where appropriate.

This spending on technology provides operational efficiencies and helps Al Sharqi Shipping stay relevant with today’s digital environment. Indeed, there are many initiatives the company has taken to transform itself into one of the most digitally capable logistics and shipping service providers in the UAE region, Pakistan and Tanzania. For example, the company has recently installed a $60,000 enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system from a US-based provider. This cloud-based technology will help bring about transparency company wide and increase information sharing at branch level, meaning that all parties can share best practices and learn from each other. It also features automatic reporting so managers’ valuable time is no longer spent on that task, as well as an online maintenance history, and the ability to spot trends and growing areas (data mining) etc. All of these benefits will be used by the company as part of an ongoing drive to digitise most of its activities and provide exceptional customer experience with realtime information.

As a result of these efforts, company director, Atif Rafiq was recently on stage presenting a case-study of Al Sharqi as a successful digitally transformed organisation (see the link at the end of the article for a YouTube clip of Atif.)

The company is also looking to ride the Expo2020 wave with a new 3PL facility, strategically located close to the proximity of the Expo2020 site serving as an offsite for warehousing and distribution in Dubai. Expo2020 is expected to be a turning point for the UAE logistics industry, with 25 million visitors, 180 countries exhibiting and exhibitors requiring various supply chain solutions for international freight.

The new facility, which is spread across 10,000 sqm with a capacity of 7500 pallets and ambient temperature, is designed to store general cargo and handle a diverse range of product categories including fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) and beauty products.

With the course set in place, Al Sharqi Shipping believes there are opportunities in the Middle East, Africa and Asia to further expand and with its experience and business acumen it would be the right ingredient for growth.

Al Sharqi Shipping