BUCKING THE TREND

Oman 2017 | TRANSPORT & LOGISTICS | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to David Gledhill, CEO of the Port of Salalah, on why the port is thriving in a difficult time for ports around the world.

David Gledhill
BIOGRAPHY
David Gledhill has spent 35 years in the ports industry, previously as CEO for Hutchison Ports UK and COO at Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, prior to joining APM Terminals and his appointment as CEO at the Port of Salalah in April 2014. Gledhill has received honorary doctorates from the University of East Anglia and the University of Essex, and has successfully held senior management positions for businesses in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Portugal. Gledhill’s expertise is focused on all aspects of global supply chain management and multimodal freight operations.

With what vision was Port of Salalah established and what is its role in improving network costs within the global supply chain?

The secret of Salalah's success is its location; Salalah has always been a trading hub adjacent to the major shipping lines. Today, the speed of transit and speed of turnaround in the port has become much more important. On the general cargo side, we are close to the main mineral deposits in Thumrait, which makes it easy for exporters to get their goods to market quickly. We are also quite an important import port for agricultural products coming from North Africa. People think of Salalah as a container port, a limestone and gypsum port, and occasionally a cruise port, but we also import a million live goats a year and have many navies there because of the anti-piracy task force. It is a broad-based business because of its closeness to North Africa, its closeness to the shipping lines, and its position on the Indian Ocean.

What were the strategic decisions and operational action plans that drove business growth at the port during the past year?

The container business grew by 25% over last year. It is important for shipping lines to not spend time in port; the quicker they can get in and get out again the better for them. Salalah has improved in terms of efficiency and productivity every year for the last five years. We always say we are in the top three in North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, and we will go further up the table in the course of the next 12 months. It is not just the speed with which we turn the vessels around; it is also the fact that they can rely on us to do it. We are really good at doing what we do, and that is what attracts business.

What technological innovations are being implemented at the Port of Salalah in order to continue its high standard efficiency operations?

We have the best available systems for operating the container terminals, and that is an off-the-shelf package; anyone can buy it but we use all of its modules. Traditionally, ports in the Far East are quick and productive because they can throw many people at it; that cannot be done in Europe because labor is expensive so they have to use technology. One of the reasons that the Port of Salalah is successful is because we have combined the two. Our labor is not as cheap as in the Far East but we can afford to have more people than traditionally in a European port. But our constant process improvement is the byword of our port, identifying what the pinch points are and eliminating them. What impresses me is that there is no resistance to change in Oman. People are proud every time we achieve something new and they want to be part of it.

What is your outlook for the Port of Salalah over the next 12 months?

Salalah will continue to buck the trend; most ports in the world see declines in their volumes and we are increasing and continuing to increase because we are improving our market share thanks to our geographical position. We have done a bit of brain storming recently about why it is that people like us and it is because they can trust us. On the container side we will continue to grow and by the end of 2017 we will be handling more containers than we ever have.