ABDULRAHMAN ESSA AL-MANNAI

Qatar 2021 | TRANSPORT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Abdulrahman Essa Al-Mannai, President and CEO of Milaha, about supply chains, infrastructure projects, and a partnership with Microsoft.

What have been the main highlights for Milaha in late 2019 and the first half of 2020? How have you prepared for the reactivation of the economy and supply chains during the pandemic time?

There is no doubt whatsoever that the period from the end of 2019 to the middle of this year has been more than challenging for many companies, not just for Milaha in Qatar, but for firms all over the world. This, of course, is due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, Milaha has been extremely proactive during this extraordinary time and we have successes to report. Our incredible workforce has risen to all the challenges set before them, going further than the extra mile. We were delighted to report strong financial performance. Our operating profit in particular, continues to perform well. We are also seeing strong core-business performance. Again, despite the changes and uncertainty over the past months, we continued operating and serving our clients. One of our major priorities is and will continue to be keeping a safe working environment for our employees. In April, we held our first-ever virtual town hall meeting for all employees to reflect on our business operations and most notable achievements over the past 12 months. We made full use of our hi-tech capabilities and proficiency in digital developments to bring our leadership and staff members together online, becoming one of the first firms to play host to such an event. It was a tremendous success and our ongoing resilience in such trying times is something we can justifiably be proud of. With regard to the reactivation of the economy and supply chains during these past few months, we have been highly active in making changes to how we operate as a company, which will be beneficial to all stakeholders and entities who have dealings with us, whether they are long-standing friends of many decades or new customers. We introduced a brand refresh and new digital systems to reflect the realignment of our overall business strategy. We continue to chart our path towards our vision, despite the challenges.

The country has a lot of infrastructure developments in the pipeline which are very relevant to the logistics industry, such as the ports and airports expansion projects, QFZA's growth strategy, long Distance Rail, etc. What are your expansion plans to capitalize on these relevant developments? How do you assess QFZA focus on chemical, oil & gas, and pharmaceutical sectors in the sense of Qatar becoming a logistic hub for the middle East, and even for Asia and East Africa? What will be the impact for the achievement of this goal of the disruptions caused by Covid-19 crisis over international supply chain?

Setting aside all the challenges caused by the pandemic for just a moment, it is right to say that exciting and profitable times for Qatar lie ahead. This is an extremely significant decade ahead of Qatar National Vision 2030, and everyone here at Milaha is determined to play their part to ensure it is a tremendously successful one. The various developments and expansion schemes across our nation truly are exciting, while the idea of Qatar becoming a logistics hub for the Middle East, Asia and East Africa is an ambition that we all want to make a reality. Of course, the COVID-19 crisis will undoubtedly impact international supply chains, but we at Milaha are determined to work to the best of our abilities to ensure our loyal customers receive the very best from us at all times. Going back to our new Marine & Technical Services pillar, this includes both current activities (ship management, shipping agency, shipyard, bunkering) and introduces new services, such as ship chandlering. We have also combined our truck sales and distribution activities with our land-based asset maintenance and servicing activities. Meanwhile, our existing Maritime & Logistics pillar now focuses on enabling trade and providing end-to-end supply chain solutions for commercial customers, through our Container Shipping, Ports, Freight Forwarding, Warehousing and Land Transport business units. I am certain that all of these will neatly dovetail with the various projects lined up across our country.

Milaha has recently entered into a partnership with Microsoft to drive operational excellence and transform supply chain industry. How will this partnership help to achieve those goals? Can you provide some examples on how are disruptive technologies transforming your industry by increasing efficiency and safety, while reducing the environmental footprint? How are you working to become more sustainable in line with the latest Qatari and international trends?

Our partnership with Microsoft is something everyone at Milaha is extremely excited about. It is helping to transform our workplace into a modern, secure and digitally enabled environment, and that underpins our digital transformation.Microsoft's Power Platform has really shown its value during the pandemic. Our workforce was able to collaborate and securely share files. We could also create and connect our business applications, especially to harness the complex data sources across the organization to deliver business intelligence to inform decision-making. Microsoft Power Apps also helped us develop an emergency communication app to keep all our employees connected and up to date on COVID-19 from trusted sources. Adopting Microsoft's Threat Protection solutions will continue to help us better detect and respond swiftly to any cyberattacks. We really believe that this partnership will be a great success for both parties and Milaha looks forward to developing our collaboration with Microsoft further.

What are your strategic priorities for the remaining of 2020 and 2021?

We look at COVID-19 as an opportunity to both further solidify the foundation of our business as well as to launch new service offerings. This is in addition to tackling the priorities that were already identified as part of our medium- and long-term strategy prior to the outbreak. As a first step, we are focusing on mitigating the impact of the pandemic in the short-term; however, it is important that these initiatives make us structurally stronger for the coming years as we anticipate further disruptions to the global economy, whether due to trade disputes or black swan events. As part of this, we are doubling down on our efforts to digitize the business in order to both become more efficient as well as to target new digitally-enabled revenue streams. We want to take this opportunity to fundamentally reshape the business model in some of our sectors. Beyond the digital push, in most of our core businesses, we are accelerating our expansion of products and services for both existing and new customer segments. We are investing in our capabilities to provide a more comprehensive set of services across the oil and gas sector. That is across the commercial supply chain (for example, freight forwarding services) and across the marine services lifecycle (for example, in shipyard and ship chandlering services), in order to position Milaha as a strategic partner of choice for customers in these sectors.