In an exclusive interview with Upper Reach, Abdullah Al Sulaiti, the managing director of the world’s leading LNG shipping firm, Nakilat, discusses Qatar’s role as a global shipping centre and the company’s diversification strategy
As a destination for logistics investment, how is Qatar standing forth as a leader in international transport? To what extent do you think it has a strong advantage over other emerging countries in this area?
Qatar has already started building state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure. Great examples are Hamad International Airport, Hamad Port, the new rail and metro projects, the industrial area and new economic zones. This will definitely strengthen our position as a shipping company with diversified services, and will contribute to the bigger goal of making Qatar a regional logistics hub.
The government has a clear and innovative vision for the country with Qatar’s National Vision 2030 strategy, and this means that Nakilat has responsibility to be part of this vision and help it become a reality. Thus, we have started diversifying our offering, including a wide range of services. We are able to offer shipbuilding and ship repair, which is a new industry for Qatar, and one which will definitely improve the country’s creation of a strong and solid marine environment.
Qatar has very ambitious plans to become a centre of excellence for ship building, marine services and LNG (liquified natural gas) shipping. What’s your opinion on the developments of Al Ruwais Port and New Port, and what impact they will have on Nakilat in the near future?
I see this as a positive development, because we complement each other in terms of services. Our aim is to provide services within the Nakilat capability to all ports, economic free zones, and the industrial or commercial ports. They say “competition is healthy”, so we have to be competitive. We don’t take for granted that business will come our way. We have to go and reach out for that business, and make sure that we deliver the value and quality that our customer expects.
In terms of your strategy, how has it evolved in terms of growth or international expansion?
We initially started on the basis of serving the Qatari market. Then a few years ago that strategy changed, because everybody’s growing and developing. We didn’t want to stay in the background; we wanted to be at the forefront in terms of size and investment, and also in terms of the quality of our operations. That’s why we started looking at opportunities outside Qatar; to see how we could bring more value to our shareholders. I always tell my team to “examine and explore everything that floats”. That is basically our strategy, going from liquid natural gas (LNG) ships, floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) and liquid petroleum gas (LPG), whatever is out there we take it seriously into consideration, and if it makes business sense for us we will pursue it.
Nakilat can bring a lot of value to the table; we are a financially strong company with good liquidity. When we started taking over the operation of the ships, one of the things that we focused on is the quality rather than the quantity. We could have simply added to our fleet in a short period of time and grown drastically, but that was not our objective. My challenge to the team has always been to deliver quality to our customers. Qatar’s commitment to on-time delivery of its cargo, safety and reliability is well known, and one of our main objectives is maintaining and building on this to strengthen our position in the market, because shipping is a very strong part of the value chain.
The ME-GI project (technology that dispenses with the need for power derating and reduces carbon dioxide emissions) was launched in 2014 and has received a lot of international press coverage. What does a project such as ME-GI mean for Qatar’s future legacy?
ME-GI is a pioneering project. We know that the world is watching because it will bring a lot of value once it demonstrates its success. It will definitely have a drastic impact on the legacy of Qatar. It also shows our commitment for environmental sustainability and our capability to bring success to a project of that magnitude to the shipping industry. It’s a first for Nakilat as a company and a first for Qatar. We know there is a lot of interest in the industry as a result.
When talking about your plans and strategies in the future, you mentioned that you want to expand internationally. Are there certain projects or certain technologies that you’re working on, or markets that you’re looking to expanding into?
We don’t have a specific market or destination that we target, there are a number of projects around the world that we are looking at and examining. In terms of technology, we know that there will be a number of regulations coming in the future, and we always want to be ahead of the game, that’s why we intend to be a leader in the industry. We want to be the benchmark. It’s easily said, but we know that it takes a lot of effort and energy.
Engineering companies are projected to have 2.74 million job openings between 2010 and 2020, from which the majority will need engineering skills. How can engineers from both the UK and Qatar benefit from the lucrative opportunities for investment in their human resources?
We are based in Qatar, but we are an international company. If you walk through our corridor, before you reach the end you will probably find no less than five different nationalities. Our employees come from very different parts of the world.
The same applies to our crew on board our ships. We have a number of ships operated under Shell International Trading and Shipping Company Limited (STASCO), and we also have a number of British marine cadets that start with the company at marine academy level until they graduate, and then they start on board the ships. That’s another objective for the company to acquire talent and expertise from different parts of the world to help the company go forward.
You’re also a powerboat-racing star, winning a world championship for Qatar in 2006. What is your aspiration for bringing the success you had in the racing arena to Nakilat’s growth in the future?
For me, giving up is not an option. Yes, we will go through challenges like any other company, but the important thing is not to get distracted by those challenges, and focus on your goal. Our goal is to grow internationally, to bring more value to our shareholders, to build on our capability, and to be the leaders in the industry. I have no doubt in my mind that we will reach there and do everything to stay there as well.