CRUISE CONTROL

Kazakhstan 2014 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Elvis Roberts, Managing Director of Cruz Logistics, on the operating environment, demand for services, and Kazakhstan as a base of operations.

Elvis Roberts
BIOGRAPHY
Elvis Roberts graduated from HTTI in India after studying Mechanical Engineering. He has had a long career in numerous companies starting in 1991 at Hindustan Lever Limited as a Maintenance Engineer. He left that company in 1993 to work for International Trading Corporation in Moscow as an Assistant to the Marketing Manager before becoming the General Manager for Central Asian operations in 1994. He then joined Cisars UK before going to Militzer & Münch. In 2001, he was appointed CEO of AgroHimiya, and then moved to P&O as Regional Manager for Central Asia & Caucasus. Roberts took on his current position in 2010 at Cruz Logistics as Managing Director.

Which logistical services is Cruz focusing on?

Our company is investigating the heavy lifting sector. We realize some container and air shipments revolve around the project sector. If there is a project and we are moving heavy equipment that requires spare parts, we can do that; however, we are not a company that would move containers as our major operation. We work on turnkey projects, and have people who are qualified, trained, and certified for this type of work. We have a projects department that has engineers who sit with clients to provide the know-how needed. We tell them what the restrictions and limitations are for transportation in this country. We also inform them of the customs requirements, regulations, and tax laws that are enforced when we provide tailor-made products for certain solutions in Kazakhstan.

How would you assess Kazakhstan's operating environment for international companies?

What keeps us happy in this country is that the attitude toward finding quality players is slowly changing. You could sell anything to Kazakhstan in the 1990s; however, today things have changed. People are much more quality conscious now, and they understand that it is not the cheapest or even the most expensive that is the best; there is a balance for quality. That is what we see as the prospective of growth of this country. We see many foreign countries that are keen to enter Kazakhstan, but lack the know-how. It is a risky venture to invest here at this stage unless you hire professionals. There are a few recruiting agencies that I know well, and they are struggling to find quality workers because there is a tendency to jump from one company to another for better pay. I would in fact say that is not a stable job market from the point of view of an employer. We have many young people graduating from universities who have absolutely no practical knowledge. They come back from the London School of Management or Harvard and try to implement these ideas in Kazakhstan. And while I approve of those ideas in themselves, they are simply not realistic today, and this country requires more customized solutions.

From which sectors do you see the most demand for logistics services emerging?

Construction is one. Cruz Logistics works with BASF to bring in all of its (hazardous and non-hazardous) construction chemicals and goods. We have special agreements with Lufthansa, KLM, and Turkish Airlines. Industrial construction is more concentrated in the West of Kazakhstan, while the infrastructure construction right now is in Almaty, Astana, and the domestic market. As far as the oil and gas and mining markets go, it is very active and receiving considerable investment. There is a consequent rise in employment opportunities, which gives rise to consumer power. So, naturally there are many food and beverages and consumables being brought here.

Why did Cruz Logistics select Kazakhstan as its base of operations?

I think it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world as of today. China is growing quickly, but has sufficient manpower and resources to support it. China is a different story; it is not a standard proposition. However, the CIS countries, Africa, and South America are the three major places where one wants to invest today. Africa poses a risk, which leaves South America and the CIS. Within the latter, I would put my money on Kazakhstan, not because I have been here for 20 years, but because if you compare Kazakhstan to its neighbors, such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and even Azerbaijan, which is a fast growing economy, I think this country has a more stable political environment and is growing. We have seen the tidal waves of the global crisis hit. These have hit Kazakhstan, I would say, more in the real estate market, but as far as financial structures and industries are concerned, this country still has its feet planted firmly on the ground.