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Interview

Martijn Van De Linde – CEO, Abu Dhabi Terminals, UAE

Martijn Van De Linde, CEO of Abu Dhabi Terminals, discusses the rapid expansion of Khalifa Port, its role in supporting the economy of Abu Dhabi, and his vision for the future. He also expands on the innovative solutions that they offer to attract and maintain partners both in the region and around the world.

Since stepping into your role as CEO of Abu Dhabi Terminals, what have been a few of the keys ways in which you have seen the industry evolve?

“Because of the export industry, we have almost balanced our imports and exports, and there is the potential to even get a trade surplus. That is unique, you do not see that often in the region.”

From a port industry perspective, the whole market has changed in the last six or seven years. In 2010, the Abu Dhabi market was much smaller, not just from a port industry perspective but in general. Basic industries maturing in the past years, such as polymers, steel and others, have really started to produce over the past three or four years. This has changed the market a lot, in terms of trade and exports. The trade volume has grown since 2010, since I started with ADT it has more than tripled. As a port, we had to support and accommodate this growth. Infrastructure upgrades were very much needed, because the market needed an increased capacity. New export industries needed that capacity and the services that we offer, and we have enabled some of the growth in the market through these services.

This also had a lot of impact on our clients in terms of the cost of logistics. In that sense, Abu Dhabi is very different from the other Emirates and the region. Many of the other economies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia or Qatar, and very import-based, not a whole lot of things are being made and manufactured. Usually, you will find a trade balance of 80/20, however, here, because of the export industry, we have almost balanced our imports and exports, and there is the potential to even get a trade surplus. That is unique, you do not see that often in the region.

Given recent growth, as well as your experience in the industry in Oman and Malaysia, what are the key qualities that you believe are key to the success of Khalifa port?

At the end of the day, there are different modes of transport and different ports in the region. For us, it is not enough to just accommodate, we have to compete, we have to earn our business, and we need to make sure that the network that you find here at Khalifa is the best you can find. On a price level, we need to be competitive, but that is not the only factor at the end of the day. We need to provide the best service, and we need to take it one level beyond, which is about developing new products. The port industry has had a tendency over the past two decades to become commoditized. It cannot be simply about moving boxes or servicing ships. We need to develop new things, which is of course in our interest as well because we need to tap into new revenue streams. This is why we are developing services and investing in things that essentially have nothing to do with container port industry, such as polymer packing plants, and others. We are doing this to differentiate ourselves, and to offer more value.

Currently, which industries and geographies are driving the most growth?

There are a few big growth drivers. One is the agricultural industry, which is driven by food security programs, for example the import of animal feed, rice, sugar and others. This is driving a lot of growth, because these are very large volumes, and most of these commodities are imported out of Europe as well as the US and Australia.

Oil and gas is always going to be a big industry for us, however, it is more focused on the project side, for example materials, maintenance, construction and additives. On the export side, the gulf is more oriented towards the far east, and most of the trade is driven by China, Korea and Japan, and to a smaller extent south east Asia.

Last year Khalifa Port celebrated a milestone of 5 million TEUs. Where do you hope to see that number in the coming years?

Four years ago this was a new port, and Abu Dhabi was not really a player in the regional port industry. That has changed, and we really have established ourselves as a hub. We are not just servicing the region, and our growth profiles will change a lot going forward.

If you look at relative growth in the last 3 or 4 years, we have outperformed everybody else in the region. This is partially through the Abu Dhabi economy, which has done well, but also because the port industry market has changed. 30 percent of our volume is not Abu Dhabi cargo, it is destined for other destinations. Our mission was not to be the biggest port in the region. Rather, we want to grow in a way that enables the Abu Dhabi economy, that develops the port industry here, and we want to lead the industry in terms of service levels and what we deliver to customers, productivity and innovation.

Innovation is one of the cornerstones to success for Khalifa Port. Can you expand further on the innovative solutions and processes that you provide to your customers

There is still a lot of efficiency to be gained with process automation, as ports are historically notorious for inefficiency. We need to not just buy what is available on the shelf, but we need to drive the development of our suppliers, in terms of terminal operating systems, equipment specifications and automation. We need to develop solutions that are not currently available.

We believe there is a lot to be gained in terms of process automation, which is really using the mass data angle to remove all of the procedural interference between us and the shipping lines. In terms of the services we offer, we are focused on what our customers really want and really need, allowing them to focus on producing and selling, and we will handle everything else. We are in a position to be able to take control and collapse the supply chain in a way.

Are there any specific examples with regards to the oil and gas industry?

The best example that we have is Borouge, which is one of our key clients. They have a continuous production process, and produce up to 4 million tons of polymers, which is a very asset-heavy operation meaning they have a massive need to manage their supply chain. What we have done is slowly take activities off of their hands that are not core to them. We expanded what we do, and now do a lot more than simply manage containers for them. We manage their polymer storage inventory, we containerize, we do quality control and we do packing. We are integrating their systems. We want to be partnered with our customers in such a way that it is impossible to go somewhere else.

What do you believe are the key reasons that companies are choosing to set up their operations here at Khalifa Port?

Of course there have been some consolidation within Abu Dhabi, but there is a more long-term view, and there is still a very strong drive, and an ambition to grow the economy in a planned way. If you see what is happening here, especially for global companies wanting to do business in the Middle East, they will shop around, in Oman, Dubai and here. They will compare everything, but yet they still need to land somewhere. The reason that many companies are landing here at Khalifa Industrial Zone is that we are still in the early stages of growth, meaning there is a lot to look forward to in the coming years.

Looking forward to the coming three to five years, what is your vision for Khalifa Port?

We want to remain among the Top Ten fastest growing ports in the world. The ships are full, freight rates are high, and we will continue to grow moving forward. We want to continue to lead the industry in terms of innovative technologies, and for us the biggest mission is to establish ourselves as a real differentiator within the industry.

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