Al Sharqi Shipping - One of Top 100 SMEs in Dubai

Published: Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Dubai’s family-owned businesses continue to carve a niche in logistics industry. It believes tough times also bring along great opportunities for businesses to grow exponentially.

The shipping business may seem to be in crisis, especially with Hanjin Shipping, a South Korean container line, recently filing for bankruptcy and leaving 66 ships loaded with goods worth $14.5 billion stranded at sea. Moreover, 11 of the 12 biggest shipping companies have announced huge losses for the past quarter. Experts warn that the industry may face losses of as much as $10 billion this year on revenues of $170 billion.

Despite the bleak outlook for the global industry, Dubai has been defying the odds and investing to further improve its infrastructure to be always ahead of competition. With the government’s investor-friendly policies and support for small and medium-sized enterprises, a lot of home-grown companies have managed to grow beyond their boundaries and found themselves in direct competition with even centuries-old global players.

Established in August 1989 through the vision and efforts of Muhammed Rafiq, Al Sharqi Shipping today spans multiple continents including Asia and Africa. The growth over the years that has spurned such a success is a testament to the attributes of the company’s motto: “Helping you grow; Helping our customers grow; Helping our staff grow; Helping our shareholders grow; and helping the community which we are part of grow”.

Currently, the innovative logistics service provider offers customs clearance, freight forwarding and other logistics services, including onward transportation of goods from ports in Sharjah and Jebel Ali throughout the UAE, where it has a fleet of 18 trucks, three side loaders and 48 trailers. Alongside its offices in Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, the company has subsidiaries in Pakistan and in Tanzania.

Interestingly, Al Sharqi Shipping also boasts one of the best customer retention rates in the market with many of their customers with them since their humble beginnings. With the trust of their customers, the company has expanded its range of services to include all aspects of Supply chain.

Growth even during crises

Al Sharqi Shipping’s office in Bur Dubai buzzes with action and the positive energy is easily felt with the first step into the office’s open-space environment. As NAFL Review team recently paid a visit to find out more about the reasons behind the family-owned company’s success, the young and energetic Business Development Director Atif Rafiq explained that they are not deterred by the tough market conditions and strongly believes that these are the best times in which to make investments.

“Al Sharqi was borne out of necessity. Our father, Muhammed Rafiq, arrived in the UAE in 1974 and worked for a rival firm until 1989 when a recession hit and he lost his job. At that time, he had two options – either go back to his hometown or to stay in the country and set up on his own back.”

Then, Mr Rafiq had decided to hold on and set up his own business, which continues to grow until today. The company has survived several recessions since, and is still making investments in tough times. Be it Assets acquisitions or IT infrastructure, the two areas the management has been paying a lot of attention to.

“We have always bought the most number of trucks when there was a recession. In 2009, when the whole market was going down, we were buying trucks because prices were cheaper,” remarked Kashif Rafiq, the company’s CEO and Atif’s elder brother.

Utilizing technology at all levels

Kashif is currently overseeing the installation of a new, US$60,000 enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system from the US- based Provider, which the company plans to use as part of an ongoing drive to digitize most of its activities and provide customers with real-time information over deliveries.

“The whole industry is changing. For example, we are providing all of our drivers with a tablet and a printer, which is never heard of in the region because these are all blue collar workers that are not highly-educated people infact they actually do not even know how to use a smartphone. But, we found out that once you trust and give them certain privileges like take your device home and play, they feel motivated and start exploring, discovering and finally working from it,” added Atif Rafiq.

The tablets provided to the drivers are used for a range of tasks from producing delivery notes and securing signatures to dealing with problems remotely over deliveries or vehicles. The drivers also use various applications such as Google Talk, WhatsApp and Workspace from Facebook. In case an issue arises with a delivery, the driver immediately takes a picture of the problem and sends to the head office. Thus, the head office does not need to dispatch a guy all the way just to inspect the truck or container. This has proven to be time and cost-saving for the company.

“If a lorry breaks down, they can transmit the details of the problem over one of the popular applications. We have a mechanic who can see what is happening and can troubleshoot on the spot,” explained Atif Rafiq.

The company has grown from a handful of clients for whom Muhammed Rafiq used to work at the old Burdubai port into a company with offices in Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Faisalabad, Karachi and Dar es Salaam.

“From a small office in Bur Dubai with one chair and a secretary, we are now in three countries with six offices and a workforce of 100- plus,” said Atif. Three younger siblings, Asif, 25, Wasif, 24, and Sadaf, 22, also work at the firm and are at various stages of completing the two-year rotational training program aimed at ensuring they completely understand the business after graduating from Canada .

The company managed to double its sales figures each year from 2010 to 2014, before consolidating in 2015, when turnover was flat. But, the company has made it to the list of SME100 – a biennial ranking of Dubai’s fast- growing companies organized by the Government’s Department of Economic Development – at number 83.

Al Sharqi Shipping also believes there are further opportunities in Africa. Kashif underlined that although the continent is known more by its unique challenges, many of these issues were also faced in the region years ago like couple of years ago in Pakistan and a decade ago in UAE. “Africa is all about manual paperwork and is tribal. To be honest, it is about who you know. We think our experience can give us an edge in the continent.”

Enhancing efficiency with Facebook

Keeping up with the latest trends, the management of Al Sharqi Shipping has revealed that it is testing out a new platform to connect its staff using Facebook at Work.

“We rolled it out to all different companies in the group across different locations in a bid to overcome internal communication challenges. Emails are almost archaic in this day and age. It’s becoming an increasingly less effective method of communication in a digitalized age of collaboration,” Kashif explained.

The company wanted to try and utilize a platform that allows team members to communicate, discuss and solve problems faster and more efficiently while significantly reducing the volume of emails per day.

The beta testing of the platform has been positive. Just like regular Facebook users, Al Sharqi users can like, share and comment on posts in real time, something one can’t do effectively via email and organization-wide.

“It has also allowed all our staff from Asia, Middle East and Africa to feel closer, across different companies in the group. Now everyone can see what is happening across all offices, work collaboratively and effectively,” Atif added.

“Facebook at Work advantages include user’s familiarity with the platform and the ability to work from anywhere, including through the mobile app. Additionally, Facebook’s built-in security meet most of the department’s needs, and the platform scales easily,” he remarked.

Awards and Recognition

Al Sharqi Shipping has been receiving awards and recognitions since 2009, both from its peer and very recently from Dubai Economic Department for its Dubai SME 100.

Last summer, Al Sharqi Shipping was recognized again as a top CMA CGM customer for the year 2015 with this year marking their third consecutive win with CMA CGM line. The award was presented by Santosh Devasper, CMA CGM commercial manager and Manoj Kumar, CMA CGM export trade manager to Al Sharqi Shipping at their head office.

Also in the first quarter of this year, Al Sharqi Shipping was awarded Platinum Award 2015 for the fourth time in a row by Maersk line, solidifying its strong positions as regional player in logistics.

“To be considered among the top supporters of two of the World largest Multinational Ocean Liners is a great honour,” said Asif Rafiq, Operational Manager of Al Sharqi Shipping.

“Maersk Line & CMA CGM is crucial to our SLA with customers and we look forward to continuously working together to deliver quality service together.

Furthermore, Al Sharqi Shipping has also been honored by NYK for its contributions to cold chain logistics for 2015-2016.