Milaha provides end-to-end supply chain solutions
In an exclusive interview with The Edge’s Aparajita Mukherjee, HE Sheikh Ali bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, chairman and managing director of Milaha, a company that provides maritime and logistics solutions, talks about the company’s business focus, the evolution that it has been through since it was set up in 1957 and the prospects of the company in the next three years.
At the helm of Qatar’s oldest shareholding company that reported a net profit of QAR1.049 billion for financial year 2014, HE Sheikh Ali bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, chairman and managing director of Milaha, has wide-ranging and diverse professional experience across a number of sectors and state entities. He started off his career at the Qatari Ministry of Finance as a financial analyst with the Investment Bureau and later went on to become the manager of the Bureau’s direct investments as it transitioned to what is known today as the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA).
Speaking about his career span at Milaha, Sheikh Al Thani says, “Since my appointment in 2009, I have overseen the merger of Qatar’s top three maritime service providers – namely Qatar Navigation, Qatar Shipping and Halul Offshore – into Milaha, a diversified maritime transport and logistics company. I am also currently a director at QIA and also vice chairman of the board of directors of the Housing Bank for Trade and Finance and a board member at United Arab Shipping Company.”
Milaha provides synchronised maritime and logistics solutions – simplifying the complex links in the international chain of commerce. What does it exactly entail?
Explaining the business focus, Sheikh Al Thani says that Milaha’s success is based on the unity of and synergies amongst its various strategic business units, all working together for the good of the company and its stakeholders, community, and, of course, the environment. He continues, “The diversity of our capabilities allows us to handle multiple and, in some cases, most aspects of our customers’ logistics requirements, thus allowing them to focus on their core business, to grow and to reach new markets.”
Detailing the success factors of the company, Sheikh Ali adds, “With our solid regional presence and strong partnerships across the world, we are able to guarantee our customers a hassle-free offering that encompasses the entire complicated process of shipping and logistics for both oil and gas, as well as other sectors.” Milaha’s services runs the gamut of marine transport and services, from ports management to land transportation to warehousing.
“We have proven our ability to meet strict deadlines, quickly adapt to changes in requirements, expand our asset base, and train our manpower to ensure our customers’ peace of mind when doing business with us,” adds Sheikh Al Thani.
Tied to ensuring business facilitation with customers, is Milaha’s avowed philosophy of adding new destinations, based on customer needs.
“Milaha is a service provider and wherever our clients require us to go, we are willing to invest in our offshore marine services business, the maritime transport arm, or the logistics division to be able to cater to our customers. We follow opportunities and where our clients need our service,” says Sheikh Al Thani.
“We have proven our ability to meet strict deadlines, quickly adapt to changes, expand our asset base, [and] train manpower to ensure our customers’ peace of mind when doing business with us.”
Commenting on Milaha’s current destinations, Sheikh Al Thani says that Milaha vessels “are going to the United States, Europe, and Asia. But if any of our clients need us to go to Latin America, then that is where we are going”.
Among its international business partners, Sheikh Al Thani mentions Shell and British Petroleum. Among its domestic clients, Sheikh Al Thani mentions Milaha’s “very close and special business relations with Qatar Petroleum, Qatargas, apart from Qatar Petrochemical Company (QAPCO), Qatar Fertiliser Company (QAFCO), Qatar Steel, Qatar Chemical and Petrochemical Marketing and Distribution Company (Muntajat)”, to name some of the prominent local Qatari clients Milaha has.
Muntajat signed a two-year agreement with Milaha to transport petrochemicals exports from Qatar, covering the containerised exports of polymers and melamine from Mesaieed to key hub ports in the region, from where major international shipping lines will carry these exports to their final destinations worldwide.
Is Milaha a preferred service provider for all state-owned entities such as Muntajat?
Sheikh Al Thani is categorical when he says, “While we are a Qatari company, we are not state-owned and although we have a strong working relationship with Muntajat and other government and semi-government entities, business is business at the end of the day. A deal such as this would not have been attainable were it not for our proven track record in providing the high quality services they require at a very competitive cost.”
The journey from 1957 to 2015
Milaha was founded in 1957, as the Qatar National Navigation & Transport Company, as the first shipping agent in the country. From its inception in 1957 until today, Milaha has become one of the largest and most diversified maritime and logistics companies in the Middle East. Its operations now range from ocean transport and offshore marine support services, to third-party logistics and ancillary solutions.
Commenting on its consolidation and strategic transformation, Sheikh Al Thani says, “We have been evolving and adapting ever since we started off in 1957. Not only did we change, but the dynamics in global trade also changed rapidly – deadlines became shorter, supply chains became more dispersed and complicated, and there was an increasing need for a solution-based approach that would simplify logistics for our customers.”
He adds, “I can safely say that not only did we evolve with the market, but also anticipated customer interest and requirements and strove to achieve the highest levels of customer satisfaction in the process.”
Describing the years of consolidation, Sheikh Al Thani says that the years had their ups and downs but Milaha weathered the downs and learned from them to become one of the region’s leading players in the maritime and logistics services sector adding, “All this would not have been possible without the support of Qatar’s government and its key industrial players as well as the contribution of our colleagues at Milaha who demonstrated and continue to demonstrate a great degree of professionalism, dynamism and flexibility during the various stages the company went through.”
Talking about Milaha’s business model, what factors have shaped the company into what it is as a brand and what are the key strengths?
In light of its diverse portfolio, Milaha is, more than others, subject to multiple external challenges, says Sheikh Al Thani, adding, “The recent years have been plagued with economic uncertainty, which we have fortunately overcome and, in the process, become even stronger. Diversifying our exposure across a number of areas has certainly contributed to this strength. We also believe that one of our key strengths is our location in Qatar, one of the world’s leading economies, coupled with our vast knowledge of the region with its economic trends, markets, and people.”
However, says Sheikh Al Thani, the ability to live and exercise its core values on a daily basis and not just on paper is what drives Milaha. Singling out the factors that have contributed to making what Milaha is today, Sheikh Al Thani says, “Over the years, the company has shown its stakeholders, customers and community the highest level of integrity by always delivering on its promises. It has cultivated the responsibility as part of one global society and achieved excellence by seeking to be the best in the business.”
In the opinion of Sheikh Al Thani, Milaha also has an ingrained belief that the customer’s success is its success and that its employees are the company’s most valuable asset.
Business portfolio and performance
Milaha’s business interest spans diverse sectors: from maritime and logistics to capital to gas, to petrochem to trading to offshore. What is the unifying vision that keeps all of these businesses under one umbrella?
According to Sheikh Al Thani, it is customer satisfaction that binds these units along with a shared set of values and beliefs that each business unit is working for the good of the whole which includes, in addition to Milaha’s customers, its stakeholders and society. He continues, “The success of one unit contributes to the success of Milaha and the failure of one unit is a failure of Milaha. With that in mind, all our units are deeply committed to doing our very best with each and every client.”
With this business philosophy, Milaha’s operating revenues increased by 14 percent in 2014 to QAR 2.6 billion from
QAR 2.3 billion in 2013 . The operating profit for 2014 is QAR648 million compared to QAR644 million in 2013 and earnings per share of QAR9.23 (this was QAR8.36 in 2013).
Commenting on their performance, Sheikh Al Thani says, “We have continued to build on 2013’s record results, and this is due to the solid foundation we have in place.”
In the opinion of Sheikh Al Thani, 2015 promises to be an interesting year. He adds that though global trends in energy prices and demand growth are leading to volatility in many of the sectors in which Milaha participates, and there is a great deal of uncertainty as a result, “we are still optimistic about 2015, and we will, of course, seek to sustain our growth trajectory”. Sheikh Al Thani is confident that Qatar will continue to grow and invest in its long-term vision, which directly benefits the local business activities. “We also have an incredibly strong balance sheet, and our financial strength gives us the ability to take advantage of market conditions and explore new opportunities, whether through organic growth, new partnerships or acquisitions.”
Given the growth that Qatar has seen and will likely see in the coming three years, in terms of gross domestic product growth and sustenance (if not improvement in the rates of growth), what new business prospects does Milaha foresee in the next three years?
“Qatar’s economic future is bright and that will definitely have a positive impact on us. We have built strong foundations that will help us move forward, not just in Qatar, but on a regional and global level. Capitalising on our strong local and regional presence and our solid financial status, we will continue to seek new opportunities to achieve our mission of becoming a globally recognised player in the shipping and maritime services sector while, at the same time, strengthening our other already well-positioned core businesses.”