INTERVIEW WITH SOHAIL SHAMS CEO UNITED MARINE AGENCIES (PVT) LIMITED

PAGE REPORT
Nov 16 - 22, 2009

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE WITH US YOUR ACADEMIC AND PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND, WHICH LED YOU TO THE POSITION OF THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF UMA?

It was my father, who introduced me to the shipping business. After I completed my graduation from DJ Science College, Karachi, he was the leading light that ignited the entrepreneurial spark in me for this business. I greatly benefited from his vast experience in the shipping industry and it is to him that I owe much of all that I am today.

Besides the great deal of learning that I gained from my association with him, I have also completed several shipping courses that have helped me greatly to understand the industry and enabled me to carve my place in it.

HOW DO YOU SEE THE STRATEGIC STATUS OF PAKISTAN'S SHIPPING INDUSTRY?

Right from the time of the Mercantilists to this day, trade continues to be the backbone of every economy and most of today's international trade involves shipping. Allah has blessed Pakistan with an unmatched strategic location and it is because of this reason that many liners are lured to operate their vessels from our ports. This is demonstrated by the fact that not a long time back there were reports about Karachi being one of the most expensive ports of the region but even then it was awash with activity. But still, I think that we haven't been able to utilize this location of ours the maximum and I believe we still have time to do this. The magnitude of economic activity from the land-linked Asian territories can be channelled from our ports. Chinese interest in Gwadar is publicly known and so is the potential in providing trade facilities to Afghanistan as things get better there.

Growing local business opportunities and economical port facilities are other factors that we can cash on but what is required is the policy focus on these issues. Having said this, I must also admit that we have a law and order problem that has to be taken care of for any investment to flow in the country regardless of which sectors it goes to.

WHAT TYPE OF SERVICES DOES UMA PROVIDE TO TRADERS?

Our core activities centre on shipping. Chiefly, UMA acts as an agent for shipping lines. The vessels that we deal in include liners, containers, bulk-cargo carriers and tankers. We represent some of the leading lines from Korea, Germany, Thailand, Chile, etc. Apart from this, we offer freight forwarding, distribution and warehousing, international transportation, customer services, container consolidation, project cargo handling and Afghan transit trade. Along with these, as a fringe benefit to our clients, we provide tally and documentation services under our direct control. In our endeavours to provide our clients a high level of service, we also maintain 24-hour online tracking of containers and other cargo en-route to their destinations so that all developments remain in the instantaneous reach of our principal offices. We also operate an extremely successful marketing division, which maintains a complete coverage of international market on behalf of our principals. Our services cover all regions around the globe; we reach the Far East, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Australia and the Americas.

WHAT BENEFITS DOES UMA PROVIDE TO ITS EMPLOYEES?

We believe that employees are the most valuable asset of organization. Apart from a friendly work environment and market-based compensation and benefit structure, UMA does its utmost to provide its employees with a healthy peace of mind. There is always a major role played by employees for the success of any services based organization to fulfil customers' expectations. UMA mainly focuses on employees' career development plan through on-the-job and off-the-job training programs. More or less business success is dependent on how well employees communicate internally and externally. Keeping this in mind UMA provides opportunities to its employees to improve their business communication skills through language courses.

UMA also emphasizes on other skill development trainings and provides opportunities to employees to craft their skills to new heights resulting in better future prospects for themselves and the organization alike. We maintain the motivation level of our employees by providing medical plans to them including their families and other fringe benefits. We have not only taken initiatives for providing a healthy environment to our employees but also making them aware of their social responsibility to this important matter. We are also taking measures to make our environment, surroundings healthy and pollution free for everyone. Our involvement in Go Green project and other environment related projects is a prime example of our vision and commitment to make earth a much better place to live. I think that we maintain our position as one of the leading agents of the country due to the professionalism and dedication of my team and to ensure that our human resource continues to take the lead in service delivery. We are in the process of improving our performance appraisal system by electronically linking our employees' performance to UMA Scorecard so that no good work goes unrewarded.

DO YOU THINK THE CURRENT GLOBAL RECESSION HAS ENERVATED THE TRADE ACTIVITIES AND HENCE AFFECTED THE SHIPPING BUSINESS?

Definitely. International trade has suffered due to these problems. Cargo movement has gone down even in countries like China. The recession has slowed down all forms of cargo movements, that is, by air, sea and road. Our production volumes have gone down partly due to the global recession and partly due to increase in our cost of production owing to the rise in energy prices and interest rates. Statistics by the government show that external trade has dropped by almost seven billion dollars in a year. This has affected the shipping business adversely. There have been lay-offs and other cost cutting initiatives have been taken.

WHAT CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES DOES UMA TAKE ON?

UMA has always been on the forefront in fulfilling its corporate social responsibilities. We believe in giving as much as we can to the society we live in and act as responsible social agents. I take pride in telling you that we are the first Pakistani shipping company to be awarded the 6th Annual Environment Excellence Award by the National Forum for Environment and Health. We have established an HSSE Management System providing employees, customers, visitors and other stakeholders with necessary HSSE information, instructions and training. We provide and constantly maintain a safe, secure and healthy work environment. We also encourage a preventive action culture. Our goals are simple: no harm to people, no accidents, no security breaches and no damage environment.

WHAT ROLE IN YOUR PERCEPTION DOES MINISTRY OF PORTS AND SHIPPING PLAY?

My family has been associated with shipping industry for over five decades now. We have seen the industry transform in this country. I think that organizing ports and shipping as a separate ministry shows that the government is cognizant of the special needs of this industry. We have seen some of the initiatives taken by the minister for ports and shipping. Port infrastructure at Karachi and Port Qasim has been upgraded. Gwadar is functioning. New terminals have and are coming up at Port Qasim. Work has started on the Karachi Deep Water Container Port. These and many other examples can be quoted to show the efficacy of the ports and shipping ministry as the central policymaking and administrative authority.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ON ACHIEVING YET ANOTHER MILESTONE IN SHAPE OF FPCCI EXPORT TROPHY AND BUSINESSMEN OF THE YEAR GOLD MEDAL AWARD 2009?

I would like to thank Allah, The merciful, The Almighty for his blessings. This success and recognition is a testimony to the hard work and dedication of my beloved father whose vision has inspired us to take his mantle even higher, my mother whose love & prayers have been a blessing for me, my wife, my family who stood by me at every hour of need and support and of course my team. It is the teamwork, which bears fruit. We have been very fortunate to have onboard the best shipping professionals who work at their best to serve the valuable clients. I am also very much thankful to the clients and our valued principals for the faith they have reposed in us; especially our principals Hamburg Sud, which ranks among the major providers of worldwide ocean transportation and individual, one-source logistics solutions tailored to customer needs and Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM), which is an integrated logistics company, operating over 110 state-of-the-art vessels (HMM offers worldwide global service network and diverse logistics facilities), and Korea Marine Transport Company (KMTC) for the continuous support to our efforts for diversifying the services provided to the customers.