Mr. Ken Swan, General Manager, Al Moherbie Clearance & Transport Est., (AMCT) and Al Moherbie International Freight Est., (AMIF), is a well-known personality in Abu Dhabi, having been resident here for over 34 years. Ken established AMCT in 1976 with Salem Saif Saqr AL Moherbie, followed by AMIF in 1983 and has been associated over the past 34 years with almost all major projects involving the country’s infrastructure, petrochemical, telecommunications, power generation, water desalination and agricultural schemes, developing a reputation as one of the most effective and reliable operators in Abu Dhabi.
Q. Abu Dhabi must have been a very different place in 1976. Can you tell us your perception of the place then and why you thought of establishing AMCT at that time?
A. Having worked in Jeddah, KSA from 1973 I took the decision to move to Abu Dhabi in early 1976. The UAE had gained its freedom in 1971 and I perceived there would be a strong demand for professional transport and logistics services to fuel its infrastructure development.
Those were the early days of the oil boom, before the development of the Zakum Field offshore, the Ruwais Industrial Complex onshore, and at the stage when Abu Dhabi was ready to take-off. My principal, Salem Al Moherbie was very enthusiastic for me to set up a family transport business for him and the challenge was too exciting to refuse plus the “quality”of life in Abu Dhabi was beyond compare to the quality of life in Jeddah.
Q. Can you tell us about the journey from then to now?
A. In the late 1970’s, we were fortunate to pick up project work with the development of Umm Al Nar Power Station, the commencement of development of the Ruwais Refinery and Industrial Complex and the huge Zakum development with Total CFP and Brown and Root at both, Mussaffah and Sadiyat Island.
This really established us firmly in the project market place, following our association with the Ruwais Fertiliser Plant, Ruwais Utilities and general oil and gas field expansions in Ruwais, Bab, Bu Hasa, Sahil and Asab.
In 1983, after the demise of the Mitchell Cotts Group of UK, we purchased their assets in the UAE and opened Al Moherbie International Freight Est. and expanded into the global freight market with our long established clients.
From the early 1980’s, we developed, maintained and consolidated our business ties with Japanese associates and have been involved in many prestigious projects with Chiyoda, Toshiba, Sumitomo, Marubeni, Mitsui, Hitachi, Hitachi Zosen and many others in the oil & gas, power, water, construction and telecom sectors.
Some 20 years ago, we entered into sponsorship agreements with our heavy lift associates Abnormal Load Engineering (ALE) of UK and Hitachi Transport System (HTS) of Japan, with both relationships still flourishing strongly.
Our successes over the past 34 years have been many and recently include, receiving and delivering 260 railcars for the Dubai Metro Project, receiving and delivering 440 numbers 84 Ton by 30 Mtr concrete girders for the Jumairah Palm monorail project plus the Hitachi railcars to run on the monorail.
Our larger ongoing projects this year so far include the 400 kV substation projects with Toshiba, Hitachi, Areva and the new Shuweihat Private Power Station Project for Siemens with our German and UK associates.
Q. Can you tell us about your journey from Jeddah to the UAE, which we believe was an adventure of sorts?
A. The drive down from Jeddah to the UAE via Qatar by trailer was some experience with only sand dunes between the Qatar border at Sudenathil to Sila and sand / subhka tracks down over the salt flats as far as Tarif.
Being totally inexperienced at driving in sand and subhka, this short distance of less than 300 kms. took me 14 days of continually being bogged down to the axles. It was with great relief that I eventually arrived in Abu Dhabi and civilization. The first “high rise” structures to come into view were the twin water towers on Defense Street (now Hazza bin Zayed Street) with most other “high rises” not exceeding 4 floors.
The structural transformation of Abu Dhabi from then to now has been incredible and it is now a city for the UAE to be proud of, although one does remember fondly the good old days of easy driving and no parking problems.
Q. Given the recent turmoil due to the global financial crisis, how do you see business in the U.A.E., Abu Dhabi in particular, over the next few years?
A. Whilst we enjoyed a very good commercial year in 2009, this year, so far, the fall out from the global financial crisis is definitely making itself felt in Abu Dhabi. I believe the market could remain fairly flat until well after Ramadan, or even the last quarter of 2010, when a lot of cargo shipments for the oil and gas projects are scheduled to arrive. I, for one, will be very pleased to be proved wrong and see an earlier revival in the project transport market place.
Q. What do you believe are the biggest challenges businesses in the U.A.E. will have to face over the next few years and how are you planning to respond to them?
A. I believe money will remain tight for some time and profit margins will be under pressure, and any companies that are not financially well-structured and managed will struggle to survive.
The perceived lack of transparency as regards Dubai’s financial problems and apparent absence of solutions could have an adverse effect on the Abu Dhabi market.
Q. Given the above scenario, how do you intend to position the business? Can you tell us something about your business plans for the future?
A. As our life blood is with the general and heavy lift project market, with the majority of pending projects being with primarily Korean and Asian logistics providers, we have already strengthened our 30 year old strategic alliances with companies in Asia, Europe and North America to be better positioned to respond to market demands.
Q. When do you plan to hang up your boots and relax on a beach with a cool glass in your hand?
A. At 69, it would be nice to contemplate standing back a bit from the 24/7 commitment to the transport industry. Many of my clients would not be happy with that decision but for someone who planned to retire by 50 I guess my time is nigh.
I think the main problem is actually “letting go” plus the “Boys with their Toys” syndrome – I enjoy playing with the latest transport technology.