With a history dating back decades, Al-Rashed International Shipping Co. has grown into a leading logistics partner for many clients and landmark infrastructure developments across the country
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Eddie Clinton
Modern-day Kuwait has a lot going for it.
Although geographically small, it is home to one of the world’s wealthiest economies and has the fifth-highest GDP per capita on earth, its 2018 national income of $141.7 billion translating into $34,244 per person, some $4,774 higher than the previous year.
Petroleum is still, despite the country’s ongoing economic diversification efforts, the lifeblood of Kuwait’s commercial undertakings.
Holding crude reserves of around 102 billion barrels, or six per cent of global supply, the country is seeking to increase production to more than four billion BPD by 2020, the sector accounting for 92 per cent of export revenue and over half of Kuwait’s GDP.
With the nation very much playing to its strengths, it is an exciting period for the shipping industry based here.
For longstanding Al-Rashed International Shipping Co., this uptick in oil and gas activity represents just one line of a growing business which it continues to ably support.
“Kuwait imports most of its cargo requirements from around the world making it an import-oriented economy,” comments CEO Ravi Varrier. “This makes shipping an indispensable industry for the nation. With the sixth-highest oil reserves in the world, Kuwait’s export of petroleum products and by-products requires a mature and reliable shipping sector.”
Indeed, according to a study by A Market Research, the Kuwait logistics and shipping market is set to grow by an average of 13 per cent a year between 2019 and 2025.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
Varrier recalls the tumultuous impact of the Gulf War in the 1990s, a conflict which forced Kuwait to hit the reset button in a massive rebuilding exercise.
“Although Al-Rashed International Shipping Co. launched in 1952, it wasn’t until 1991 when Kuwait faced the challenge of repairing its devastated infrastructure following the depredations of the Iraqi invasion that we saw the opportunity to diversify and build a much stronger and larger company,” he says.
“The company has since grown and established itself as a leader in the maritime industry in the country.”
As well as recent investments and diversification efforts, Al-Rashed International Shipping also has a tremendous legacy to draw on that stretches back far further than the Iraqi invasion.
Set up in the 1950s, it is part of the Al-Rashed Group which was established in 1911 by the late Abdulaziz Abdul Mohsen Al Rashed.
Varrier adds: “It began life as a trading company, with a focus on the future infrastructure development and industrial rise of Kuwait from a small fishing and pearl-diving village to a major oil-producing and metropolitan state.
“Within a few years, the firm saw exponential growth and ventured into oil and gas, trading, white goods importing and infrastructure.”
Al-Rashed has been involved in a number of national firsts. For example, it was in charge of building Kuwait’s first airport and television station, while it also worked on the Kuwait National Petroleum Company’s Shuaiba and Mina Ahmadi refineries and many important road projects, as well as the installation of the country’s first streetlights and traffic signalling system.
Varrier himself has spent more than four decades with Al-Rashed International Shipping, a journey which has seen him rise from a junior assistant role to Chief Executive Officer.
“It has not been an easy ride,” he says. “In 1977, at the young age of 19 and with a dream just like every other Indian to cross the seas to reach the land of dreams, I too followed my uncle’s footsteps to reach Kuwait.
“Once I arrived, I took to roaming the streets, knocking on many doors for a job. My job search was turning futile until Mr V P Prasad, a family friend, introduced me to Al-Rashed Group and here we are, after 42 years. Mr Prasad was my mentor, and he retired from Al-Rashed as its Shipping Manager in 2016.”
Varrier, although a somewhat unique example, is representative of what he recognises as a key factor which stands Al-Rashed International Shipping Co. apart in Kuwait’s shipping and logistics sector –formidable industry experience.
This enables it to offer customers an unrivalled level of service and attention to detail that only true experts can provide.
“From my point of view, I envisage the need of being a customer first, and the business next,” the CEO explains. “We, as a company, focus on the human element of business which makes us stand out from the crowd. Our customer-centric approach keeping the customer first and invoking maximum flexibility in terms of customer service is what drives our business.
“Our team is well experienced in all facets of the industry with an average experience of over 10 years with the organisation. We are also investing in a lot of young people from prestigious schools from across the globe to get a fresh and unique perspective into the business.
“The company has always valued talent and has extensively invested in bright prospects. I believe it is the youth that can bring about change and of late, we have been inducting young talents into the team to let new ideas flow. The mix of young and old makes for a good repertoire of ideas to work with.”
This melting pot of human expertise is backed up by best-in-class technologies, systems and processes.
Al-Rashed International Shipping is one of the first shipping companies in Kuwait with 3PL capabilities, its warehouse and modern delivery fleet allowing it to excel in project logistics, forwarding and customs clearance and provide end-to-end support to both local and international clients.
Its investment and commitment to quality have, in the eyes of Varrier, helped to raise the bar across Kuwait’s shipping industry more widely, its use of technology helping it to operate as efficiently as possible to the betterment of customers.
“Our well experienced IT team has implemented the latest communication, hardware and security solutions,” Varrier adds.
“They maintain our data centre with an uptime of 99.99 per cent thanks to sophisticated disaster recovery systems. Our telephone systems are interconnected with our international branch offices to maximise cost-effectiveness.
“We have also invested in an in-house developed ERP system which is a one-stop solution for all tracking, marketing, documentation and invoicing needs.”
This combination of people, processes and systems has enabled Al-Rashed International Shipping to secure work on leading projects across both Kuwait and Iraq, the company working with many multinational corporations on landmark developments.
For instance, it was involved with the logistics operation in the construction of the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway, the world’s fourth longest road bridge at 48.5 kilometres spanning the Bay of Kuwait. Sat 151 metres above ground, the total value of the building work was estimated at around $3 billion.
Varrier also mentions several packages associated with the Al Zour Refinery development, a 615,000 barrels per day crude oil refinery situated approximately 90 kilometres south of Kuwait City. Here, the company serves as one of the logistics providers for equipment supplier Siemens, among other contracted commitments.
Other project highlights include provision of logistics and support services for LIMAK on its expansion work at Kuwait International Airport, and logistics solutions for AFCONS on Kuwait road infrastructure developments, two of many projects the firm is actively engaged in.
Alongside working its work for clients, Varrier is also quick to point to Al-Rashed International Shipping’s involvement in the wider community through CSR programmes.
“The company has been instrumental in supporting mankind when in need with our helping hands scheme, ARISCARE,” he explains. “We have been lending a hand to those in need during the natural calamities –the 2015 Nepal earthquake and 2018 Indian floods to name a couple of examples.
“We, as a part of the global ecosystem, possess several commitments to the world around us. Al-Rashed, as a way of honouring our commitment, will strive to contribute towards the betterment of the world.”
And the impact the firm will be able to impart to Kuwait and wider society will only continue to grow as it becomes more successful and expansive in the coming years.
Already operating a branch in Iraq and strategic joint venture as Everbrite Shipping & Logistics in Qatar, Varrier has his eyes set on opening further offices in Oman and Saudi Arabia, establishing what would be a truly regional logistics player in the Middle East.
In terms of project work, the CEO expects to continue working closely with clients on major developments, be it onshore oil and gas, offshore activities, telecommunications or other infrastructure.
Looking ahead to a promising period for Kuwait and Al-Rashed International Shipping Co., Varrier concludes: “Despite a global slowdown, I believe Kuwait has not been facing the brunt of it to a large extent.
“With the oil and gas expansions as well as the infrastructural growth plans, including the Kuwait Metro rail project, the nation has a lot of scope to grow and, as a logistics company, we can add a lot of value to the ambitious infrastructural plans of our country with our insightful industrial expertise.
“We are looking forward to the challenges ahead and seek to play a part in Kuwait’s maritime expansion, form strategic alliances with international companies and move on the road to even better success.”