In the Customer’s Best Interest
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Kane Weller
As one of the leading international logistics service providers, DB Schenker’s success in the UAE may not come as a surprise, but the ability to instil such a local and socially-enriching presence despite its global size has certainly made waves as it edges closer to a market-leading position in the country.
Evolving from a joint venture between a local business entity and the DB Schenker hub in Germany, the Company’s presence in the UAE has succeeded via its entrepreneurial strategy to go beyond base-level operations across storage, imports and exports, and to expand into more niche products and verticals.
The result, as Managing Director (MD), Farook Al Zeer explains, has been the introduction of ‘total logistics’ to a rapidly developing market.
“We now have a prolific presence in contract logistics and in select niche products that cater to the important market verticals which are the defining areas of today’s total logistics. Much of it still involves air, sea and road transport, but we have had to decentralise the operations to deal with the individual specialisations that each advanced market product represents,” he says. “Our organisation is relatively young even by the nascent standards of the UAE where trade and commerce, outside of the petroleum industry, has made its presence felt just in the past two decades.
“In the past 10 years since we have become a Schenker entity though, we have been speedily adding to our service portfolio by offering value additions and service enhancements along the line. Being part of an industry giant helped us to customise our operations to cater to the needs of our customers, and to become an upmarket player.”
Balancing best-in-class in-house equipment to manage basic logistics needs, with a host of equally capable sub-contractors on hand to oversee the handling of more complex cargoes, a structure has firmly been put in place over this past decade to allow increased diversification of product lines, and to also expand import and export routes in line with customer demand; an area which Al Zeer places above all else in assessing the Company’s ongoing rise to prominence.
“Schenker UAE has successfully been focussing on one area that has helped to give us the edge. Our approach towards the business has always been taken from the angle of what is in the best interests of the customer,” the MD proudly states. “Additionally, we have always treated our human capital as our greatest asset. Mention should also be made of our cost consciousness which has helped to keep us lean and trim while many others around us have struggled with high overheads and over-capacity.”
Maximising customer satisfaction
As a business held in high esteem in the UAE today, such acclaim represents almost 15 years of progression, acquisitions, rebrandings and expansions, with the key involvement of the wider DB Schenker Group occurring in 2006 following negotiations with the then titled, BAX Global Inc.
Latter introductions of a first regional office in Dubai Airport Free Zone, a branch office in the eastern suburb of Al Awir, and a further facility devoted to airfreight operations then facilitated an organic growth in regards to the capacities being achieved, the workforce size increasing, and customer interest rising exponentially.
“In May, 2013 Schenker Germany officially signed the joint venture to acquire a major shareholding in Abu Dhabi. The local entity’s name in Abu Dhabi was changed to Schenker Logistics LLC,” Al Zeer picks up. “Then mid-2013 saw the construction of a 1,000 square metre facility start at Dubai South, a city within a city which is home to Dubai’s newest airport, the Al Maktoum International.
“By 2022, this airport is slated to be the world’s largest in terms of capacity with 220 million passengers and 16 million tonnes of cargo per year. Dubai South is also the site of the World Expo 2020 and the biennial Dubai Airshow.”
The completion of the facility, compounded by further expansions of its facilities at Dubai Airport and a strengthened workforce in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have laid the perfect foundations for DB Schenker UAE’s operations to flourish from over the past year; focusing especially on delivering an equal focus across finance, customer services and sales throughout its portfolio.
“Having a strong operations team at the expense of other areas in an organisation does not work well in the long run,” Al Zeer emphasises. “By keeping the customer as our main focus, we have expanded our customer service teams to the extent that we have dedicated personnel to handle our local and global key accounts, and to handle our key trade lanes.
“We have relied on service improvements that have focused on maximising customer satisfaction, with the main thrust of our approach centred on providing bespoke services that would suit each individual customer’s needs. We have also expanded the parameters of our key performance index to include not just those employees who have direct interface with our customers, but also our back office employees and the tier three and four staffing who lend indirect support services that impact customs, ground handlers and outsourcers, as well as our internal services.”
Ultimately, the Company has succeeded in moulding itself as a one-stop shop for all customer freight requirements, with a reputation derived from the positive relationships formed with local customers so far, the investments that continue to be made to ensure continued improvements moving forward, and the people that drive both of those facets.
“Clichéd though it may sound, human capital adds a synergy that money, power and name recognition alone cannot,” Al Zeer says. “When we just started operations, we had to start out somewhere just in order to make ourselves known in the market, but each success story adds an aura to our market presence.
“In the past few years we have handled projects that involved the Dubai Metro, the infrastructure sector, oil & gas, and water and electricity power plants.”
If you dream, you can achieve
Addressing areas of continuous improvement, recent additions or upgrades to the Schenker UAE repertoire include a more sophisticated transport management system and warehouse management system, both to complement the SAP platform which covers areas of marketing, finance and HR.
Once again though, such automation and technological refinement would be for nothing if it wasn’t for the human ingenuity emanating from the Schenker ranks.
“We are a service-oriented company so our major asset is our human capital,” Al Zeer says. “Our Company, being part of a worldwide network of offices, has the advantage of sending our employees to foreign site offices which have sophisticated training capabilities to enhance the information and knowledge of our employees in various industry disciplines.
“We also participate in local training opportunities that deliver courses that can assist our employees to better relate in areas like customer relationships, selling skills, language learning and logistics-related specialities.”
Al Zeer continues: “The input of such expert aids in analysing and responding to some of the major trends affecting the industry – including the current impact of low oil prices in the region and the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008 – has helped us to foresee the corrections that the markets would be undergoing in order to overcome the anomaly in some areas. Since the past couple of years, we have been actively pursuing opportunities to tap into the interests shown by large private and semi-government establishments in their bid to implement solutions in alternative energy products.”
And this will naturally have a subsequent knock-on effect on how sustainable the Company is perceived to be in a region that is striving for perfection in the build up to Expo 2020.
“We are striving to become front-runners not just in terms of volumes handled or EBIT margins, but also in the quality of the services that we deliver to the market in general. Our mission over the medium-term is double digit growth and expansion of our existing facilities that will see us triple our warehousing space,” Al Zeer concludes. “The UAE is an emerging market economy that has achieved much more in terms of trade and commerce than mere tourism and hospitality numbers.
“Schenker UAE has been able to build its businesses around the UAE model and we are lucky to be a part of the environment that will play host to the Expo 2020.
“As one of our country’s mottos goes: ‘if you dream, you can achieve’. As Schenker UAE, we are fortunate to be a part of that dream that has pitch-forked the UAE from a desert outpost into an important trade and cultural hub of the world, all in the span of three decades.”