A Quarterly Newsletter from the UAE and Oman member firms of the PKF International Ltd.

VOL 16, Issue 1 January 2014

Interview

Mr. Abdulla Hamad Rahama Al Shamsi is the General Manager of the UAE Branch of United Arab Shipping Company.

In 1976, UASC was formed jointly between the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Republic of Iraq, the State of Kuwait, the State of Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Originally established in Kuwait with its Corporate Headquarters now in the Dubai, UASC serves Asia from Singapore, Northern Europe from Hamburg, the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent from Dubai, the Mediterranean and North Africa from Istanbul, and the Americas from Cranford, New Jersey, USA. After more than 37 years of reliable service, UASC has earned its name as a market leader by being one of the most prominent carriers both in terms of liner cargo as well as port coverage. UASC has successfully diversified through its subsidiaries and joint ventures to provide a range of shipping related services.

He has been Vice-President of Dubai Shipping Agents Association (DSAA) since 2000. He has 30 years of experience in Banking, International Logistics and general business. He served as Main Branch Manager for the Commercial Bank of Dubai for 7 years. He was also a Board Member of Dubai Islamic Bank for 9 years.

Mr. Al Shamsi has participated in over 200 courses and seminars in banking, general business and international transport. He has been Chairman of Dubai Properties Group (DPG) since May 2012. Mr. Al Shamsi holds a Bachelors degree in Business and Public Administration (Finance and Economics) from the University of New York (1981).

He has been Founding Member and Treasurer of the UAE Tennis Association since 1982. Despite the pressures of a high profile and a punishingly busy schedule, Mr. Al Shamsi finds time to hit the gym and plays tennis as regularly as he can. He believes that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind and is the reason why he has successfully been able to juggle multiple roles across various industries throughout his career.

Q. Shipping, Logistics, Telecom, Banking, Real Estate. Very rarely have we seen a business degree from the New York University go so far and wide, with such stunning effect! What is the vision behind this diversity in experience?

A. I have had a solid foundation in terms of education, since I graduated from one of the finest universities in the world – The New York University, in the field of Banking and Finance. The value of education in defining one’s career path cannot be emphasized more. It is very important for anyone who wishes to succeed, to have a solid base in terms of a good, formal education. Attending conferences and seminars to update your knowledge is also equally crucial.

I have always had the desire to gain knowledge and experience of the business world, which has taken me to different sectors. It is this desire and passion that has given me the edge for excelling in business and achieving important posts in carious esteemed organizations across various industries.

I have been fortunate to have gained the trust of the various organizations that I have been associated with and been selected to serve over the years. The need to diversify into various industries came from my intent to develop my personality by getting experience in as many different sectors as possible.

Q. So which industry does Mr. Shamsi identify himself with the most?

A. All the industries I have worked in have been dynamic and challenging, be it real estate or shipping and logistics. However, I have been associated with Banking and Finance since my formative years and so although I have lately been out of touch with it, I still identify more with the banking industry. I still keep myself acquainted with the latest happenings and movements in this field.

Q. You have been an overseer of the telecom boom in the UAE as a part of Etisalat and du. Which direction is this sector headed in? Will competition help foster greater competencies and growth?

A. The introduction of du some seven years ago, freed the market from the Etisalat monopoly. It is now a more balanced duopoly. The customers now have a choice, in light of the competition, as it has led to more innovation and price reductions from the two service providers. However, more than that the providers are now aligning their services more in line with the market’s needs.

Overall, it is the government’s drive to innovate with the latest technologies and concentrate on having a proper infrastructure in place that has attracted investments to this sector. I understand that a third operator will be introduced in the next couple of years. This will definitely drive the operators towards greater efficiencies and ensure that they use their capital and assets in more productive ways. In addition to giving better choices to the consumers, this will add positively to the GDP of the country.

Q. Shipping and logistics has been one of the reasons for the exponential growth for the Middle East in general and the UAE in particular. How does it feel to be at the helm of and have been a part of these important industries? What next for these established sectors in the next few years, especially in light of the Expo 2020 being awarded to Dubai?

A. I have been in the shipping and transportation sector for almost 23 years. It is a continuously evolving and a constantly challenging environment. While UASC is a global operator and covers all the continents, it focuses on the trading needs of the Gulf States. We are giants in this business. In terms of fleet size and container volumes we are around 18th or 20th in the world.

The nature of this industry is such that there is open competition and the contest is very intense. Rather than survival of the fittest, in this field it is a survival of the biggest. You have to be bigger to be able to compete better on various parameters like costs per unit. There are joint sailings and alliances with competitors in this industry to operate in a more efficient manner.

This is a capital intensive industry and the set up requires big ships and a large containers. We have been in operation for around 40 years by the grace of the almighty and the support of the government.

The company has required capital injection from time to time which the government has very ably supported. Recently, we are in the process of undergoing a big expansion with competitive alliances on certain trade routes.

With the Expo 2020 being awarded to Dubai, there will be plenty of developmental projects in the region that will also lead to growth and expansion in this sector. There will be logistical, shipping and transportation needs, which will undoubtedly lead to a further flourish in this industry. The challenge will be for the infrastructure to be battle ready in time; for the ports to be able to handle bigger volumes and bigger ships and for Dubai in general, as it has traditionally been a trading hub over the years.

The transportation sector will receive a further boost with the rail network that has recently been green lighted by the UAE and other GCC governments. This will definitely improve cargo handling capabilities in the future, between emirates, as well as, between GCC nations.

Q. Banking is still considered a nascent sector in the UAE, despite the presence of a lot of big names from the global banking sector in this region. Can you shed some light on this considering your double decade experience in this area, through DIB and CBD?

A. While I understand the sentiment behind this question, I do not agree with it. I feel with solid banks like NBAD and ADIB, the banking sector is headed in the right direction. Despite the sector nearly buckling under recent global recessionary pressures, the UAE Government has admirably managed the crisis and emerged out of it.
They have taken steps to inject liquidity into the market. Overall banks in this region have shown that they can compete equally, with innovative products and strong reserves.
With the recent favorable stand taken by the lifting of certain sanctions on Iran, I expect that this will assist the banking sector’s growth and also positively impact the retail sector.

Q. Many entrepreneurs step on too many stones and fail miserably to cover any one of them. As someone who has successfully and consistently juggled roles in multiple sectors, what advice would you like to impart?

A. I reiterate that I have been fortunate to be selected in various roles in all these industries over the years. During my span of experiences over the years, Dubai and the UAE have also gone through the cycles of boom and bust through various sectors, be it banking, real estate or other related sectors.

I must go back to the most important ingredient of sustained success over a long period of time – Education!

Along with this, I guess the key is regular updating of knowledge through reading, seeking expert advice where required, attending conferences and seminars where relevant. It is important to try and get a fresh perspective on every industry whenever possible and continue to try and develop your understanding and abilities in every manner possible.

Q. Real estate has been the bane and boom story of Dubai. Do you see this as the future of this region, or do you see another industry mushrooming with greater growth potential?

A. Among others, real estate has dominated as the growth story of Dubai and UAE over the past ten years. There is still a large scope for growth in real estate, with the rise in population, business expansion and Dubai being in general a good model for growth and expansion. Fuelled by the hospitality and tourism industries, I feel this growth story is likely to continue over the next few years.

As per MEED, projects are going to continue to fuel the economy, with the value of projects in 2013 alone worth more than USD 120 billion entered into by GCC countries. This is something to watch out for!

In Dubai, players like Emaar, Nakheel and Dubai Properties Group have emerged as major developers of housing and commercial projects.

All in all, I feel real estate will continue to be a major chunk of GDP growth for the UAE.

Q. It is easy to rest on your laurels once you have achieved so much in just a couple of decades. Does the Al Shamsi name drive you forward or is it time to put your feet up and relax?

A. I would like to continue being engaged in various activities and utilize my experience and knowledge gained over the past 30 years to contribute towards improving the community, the city and country as a whole.

I think it important to continue and contribute to society and industry and build on all the years of gaining knowledge and insights for as long as almighty Allah wills it possible.

Q. What is your vision and prediction for Dubai in the lead up to the Expo 2020 and beyond?

A. Dubai is a dynamic city and will continue to be so under the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. It has been a prominent and ever shining beacon of growth since the times of Sheikh Rashid.

A bright example of this is how a city which was troubled and burdened with a debt of USD 100 billion has now been trusted with the rights to host a prestigious world forum like the Expo 2020. Although the expo is still seven years away, the basic infrastructure has already been laid down.

Through the public and private sectors joining hands, the standard of hotels, roads, exhibitions, etc in this city are examples of how well this synergy has worked.

The GDP will grow year by year and ramp up to meet the challenge of hosting the world expo. An annual growth of 20% is expected by 2020, with major inputs from tourism, hospitality, transport and logistics sectors. The IMF expects a growth of more than 4% for 2014 for the UAE. MEED estimates that there will be a growth of more than 6.5% over the next three years or so, in the lead up to the expo 2020.

Dubai has attracted over USD 7 billion as direct investments in infrastructure. USD 16 billion is expected through the tourism and leisure industries.

The expo is expected to be a shot in the arm for expediting further growth and I would say overall that Dubai can be expected to do rather well over the short and long term.