Can you briefly describe your journey to becoming the CEO of Gulftainer (GT) USA?
I first joined Gulftainer in the UAE in 1987 as a Superintendent at Khorfakkan Container Terminal – Sharjah. Then, I served in various senior roles, including Managing Director of the company, before I became the Group CEO in 2006. Before that, I worked as an officer on merchant vessels for 12 years, transporting similar cargo to what we now handle in our ports.
In 2014, I also assumed the position of CEO of Gulftainer USA. In this role, I’ve had the privilege of leading Gulftainer’s operations in the United States, which presently only encompasses the management of Canaveral Cargo Terminal in Florida. However, in 2018, we were also awarded the 50-year concession to develop and operate the Port of Wilmington in Delaware. Unfortunately, we handed back this concession to the State in 2023 as there was a disconnect on the future development requirements. During our tenure as the operator of the Port of Wilmington, we improved its performance to totally remove the annual requirement of the Delaware State to subsidise the port operations. Despite the return of the concession, we were able to leave Delaware knowing we had added tremendous value to their port and improved its productivity to the extent that it could operate profitably, which was the first time in many years.
This journey has been truly captivating. I take great pride in our growth and success as a team here in the United States, further enhancing Gulftainer’s status as a leading regional ports & terminals operator and a provider of niche supply chain and logistics solutions. We will grow and expand our asset base in the USA – watch this space!
GT USA has placed a significant interest in expanding Canaveral Container Terminal (CCT). What prompted this decision and how do you see the transformation of CCT operations?
When we first entered Canaveral Container Terminal in 2014, it primarily handled bulk cargo and was relatively modest in size. Fast forward nearly a decade, and the terminal has undergone remarkable growth. We’ve instilled our commitment to high productivity and safety standards into the facility, consistently achieving top marks in the annual US Coast Guard security inspections since the commencement of our operations.
Canaveral Container Terminal is well-positioned to be the USA’s niche trade hub of choice for the southern regional markets of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama, with a total population of some 50 million people. Ideally located on the country’s East Coast, the terminal offers end-to-end supply chain and dynamic logistics capabilities for the region, providing both importers and exporters with highly efficient, unrivaled, productive, and competitive trade solutions at its facility to customers.
With Canaveral’s excellent road connectivity, Gulftainer had chosen to establish its first USA operations from Canaveral Container Terminal, which has a promising potential for trade growth, building on the momentum of the influx of new arrivals to the region post-covid. Also, free from congestion, the terminal offers an opportunity to establish an alternate maritime shipping hub away from the traditional ports of Miami, Port Everglades, Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Tampa, Savannah, and Philadelphia. The terminal facility consists of two berths, two ship-to-shore (STS) cranes, two mobile harbor cranes, natural deep water, plenty of land and a highly skilled workforce – and its operations activity include containers, lumber, project cargo, dry bulk, PCC, and space maritime, all facilitated by Gulftainer’s highly capable team.
To establish Canaveral Container Terminal as an alternate maritime shipping hub in the region, offering integrated supply chain solutions for our customers, Gulftainer has expanded its terminal’s footprint from 20 acres to 30 acres to cater to the growing demand for trade and shipping. It also plans to develop this additional land through a joint venture project to introduce a state-of-the-art multi-purpose facility offering other new services, such as dry, chilled, and hard frozen storage facilities for importers and exporters.
Looking ahead, Gulftainer is building a fully integrated digital ecosystem in its ports and terminals that will also play a key role in optimizing our customers’ shipping and logistics requirements. Staying true to its vision, Gulftainer will continue to expand its footprint across the USA with potential new investment opportunities to the South and the West Coast and introduce new services such as manufactured goods, high-end timber products, bulk commodities, seafood, fruit, citrus, meat, dairy products, project cargo, new and used cars, military and heavy equipment.
Clearly, efficiency is pivotal to the success of GT USA. What plans does Gulftainer put in place to secure a high level of efficiency in its operations?
Efficiency has long been a hallmark of Gulftainer USA’s operations, and our ability to deliver seamless and efficient handling and cargo delivery in the region is a testament to our commitment to excellence. This comes as a result of strategic planning with strong local knowledge of the industry, technology integration and dedicated customer service.
Our Canaveral Container Terminal enjoys a strategic location that gives a significant advantage to our operations. Moreover, Port Canaveral’s proximity to major transportation arteries, such as the I-95 highway, provides an efficient conduit for cargo movement, ensuring swift access to critical markets not only within Central Florida but also well beyond.
GT USA’s consistent investments in cutting-edge infrastructure at the Canaveral Container Terminal include the deployment of state-of-the-art cranes, advanced container handling equipment, and a meticulously designed terminal layout that optimizes workflow. Modernizing our facilities has fortified our capacity to handle containers efficiently and expedite their transportation.
We’ve been in the industry long enough to know that collaboration is the cornerstone of our success. We have created a synchronized and efficient supply chain ecosystem by fostering effective partnerships with key stakeholders, including shipping lines, trucking companies, and logistics providers. This collaborative approach ensures the smooth flow of cargo from the terminal to its destination, a fundamental element of our rapid container delivery services.
Comprising the integration of advanced terminal operating systems, automation solutions, and a highly skilled workforce, our team works tirelessly to ensure the seamless flow of operations. Their unwavering commitment to safety, productivity and delivering exceptional customer service plays a pivotal role in defining our services in the region.
Our commitment to innovation and continuous improvement is unyielding. We constantly aim to enhance our operations and provide our customers with logistics services that are not only efficient but also dependable.
With Central Florida’s rapid population growth, how is GT USA preparing to accommodate the anticipated surge in imports and exports?
Florida ports have been at the forefront of the booming demand at the USEC post-Covid. In 2022, the state’s seaports handled 4.3 million TEU, 112.5 million tonnes, 630,000+ vehicles, and 10.7 million cruise passengers. 16 Florida ports accounted for 13.3% of Florida’s GDP, supported 900,000 jobs and contributed $117.6 billion to Florida’s economy.
Florida’s strong performance in answering supply chain demands by encouraging shippers to change shipping lanes and call on the state’s uncongested ports, such as Canaveral, has well-positioned Florida to gain an even larger market share over the next five years. As a consequence, Gulftainer has recently expanded its terminal footprint from 20 acres to 30 acres to cater to this growing demand.
We are aware of the region’s burgeoning demand for goods and the imperative for efficient logistics solutions to accommodate the upsurge in imports and exports. To address this, we have also implemented several plans to expand our infrastructure and terminal capacity; this encompasses the augmentation of berths, the addition of container storage space, and modernization of our handling equipment.
Technology will also play a key role in optimizing our customers’ logistics requirements via fully integrated digital platforms offered at our facility. The quest for cargo tracking and automation has deepened over the years – our state-of-the-art IT systems provide supply chain visibility, enabling more efficient turnarounds for our customers.
Our focus remains on meeting the evolving needs of our customers and tailoring our services to provide the most efficient and cost-effective solutions. As we expand, we acknowledge the dynamic nature of the logistics landscape. Therefore, we prioritize flexibility and adaptability in our operations and planning, enabling us to respond effectively to shifts in demand.
How do you position Canaveral Container Terminal against its competitors, especially with its unique location and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean?
Canaveral Container Terminal (CCT) enjoys a unique position owing to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the major shipping routes. It has the unique ability to berth vessels faster than any of our competing ports, as the distance from the pilot station to the berth is less than a mile. This positioning enables Gulftainer to distinguish CCT in several significant ways, being a vital gateway to the Atlantic Ocean providing direct access to international shipping routes.
This proximity stands as a substantial advantage for shippers seeking efficient routes to European, Latin American and global markets, ultimately reducing transit times and costs.
With the region’s population and economic activity on the upswing, CCT serves as a convenient and efficient link to this dynamic market. We have made substantial investments in establishing excellent intermodal connectivity to major highways, railways and airports, facilitating the smooth transportation of cargo to and from the terminal.
Our dedication to infrastructure investments, including the deepening and widening of berths, expansion of container storage areas and modernization of equipment, positions CCT as a state-of-the-art facility and sets itself apart through its strategic location at Port Canaveral, providing access to the Atlantic Ocean, Central Florida’s market and exceptional intermodal connectivity.
GT USA emphasizes working in partnership to develop secure supply chain solutions. Can you share some examples of successful partnerships that have catalyzed growth for the company?
Partnerships hold a central role in our approach at Gulftainer and in particular Gulftainer USA. Our collaboration with the Canaveral Port Authority has been pivotal in the development of the Canaveral Container Terminal (CCT), which allowed us to expand and modernize the terminal, transforming it into a state-of-the-art facility capable of handling larger vessels and a diverse range of cargo. This partnership has not only benefited us but has also contributed significantly to the growth and economic prosperity of the region.
We have also forged robust relationships with major shipping lines operating in the region, which enabled us to attract a diverse portfolio of global carriers to CCT, ensuring a strong container volume activity and resilience for shippers.
We maintain close working relationships with local and regional businesses, trucking companies and transportation to offer customized logistics solutions. This involves collaboration with manufacturers, distributors and retailers to comprehend their unique needs and devise supply chain strategies that foster growth for their operations.
These partnerships have allowed us to optimize the supply chain solutions and logistics services we offer, reduce transit times and enhance overall efficiency. We remain steadfast in our commitment to cultivate and nurture these relationships as we continue to innovate and grow in the industry.
It is our intention to introduce new customer partnerships in the future, where we will provide fully comprehensive services and jointly invest in further facilities at our growing terminal.
In your tenure as CEO, what have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced, and how have you addressed them?
As a global operator, I have encountered a variety of challenges during my tenure, ranging from economic downturns and geopolitical factors to civil wars and coups, but my approach has always been the same – take a deep breath and find a solution. The Gulftainer l have helped create has learned to be fluid and can diversify our customer base and cargo types to mitigate the impact of market volatility by reducing our dependence on a single industry or region.
The continuous expansion and modernization of our infrastructure was another approach we used to meet changing and growing demands from customers through making substantial investments in our terminals, equipment and technology.
We’ve invested in advanced terminal operating systems, automation and data analytics to overcome any challenges in operational efficiency and ability to provide real-time shipping information to our customers.
Sustainability has become a paramount concern for our industry. We’ve implemented eco-friendly practices, reducing emissions and exploring renewable energy options. Our commitment to sustainability aligns with the expectations of our customers and stakeholders.
Looking ahead, what are some opportunities you see for GT USA, and how do you plan to capitalize on them?
There are several exciting opportunities on the horizon for Gulftainer USA. Central Florida’s population and economy are experiencing rapid expansion, leading to increased demand for goods. We recognize a significant opportunity to serve as a vital logistics gateway to this thriving market. Our plan involves further expansion of our infrastructure, increasing capacity and enhancing efficiency to accommodate the expected surge in imports and exports.
The ongoing e-commerce boom is reshaping the logistics landscape. We are poised to capitalize on this trend by offering tailored solutions for e-commerce companies, including efficient last-mile delivery options. To achieve this, we will continue to invest in cutting-edge technology and forge strategic partnerships to streamline e-commerce logistics and meet the evolving needs of online retailers.
Building on our strong and lasting partnerships, we will actively seek strategic collaborations that expand our network, diversify our suite of solutions and reinforce our market position. To this end, our aim is to strengthen a customer-centric approach, which remains a top priority to drive our growth and innovation, that will create a real value proposition for our customers and prospects.
We are presently looking at four other Ports and Logistics opportunities in the USA.
As a CEO, how do you ensure that you’re always ahead of industry trends and shifts?
In a dynamic and fast-paced industry such as supply chain and logistics, technology is the key driver for growth and opportunity. Several years ago, we embarked on an ambitious technology transformation strategy to implement innovations within IT, business procedures and engineering to achieve our goals.
One of the notable achievements was the implementation of a bespoke Marine and Container Handling (MACH) Terminal Operating System (TOS). This system revolutionized how we operated our terminals, laying the foundation for further automation, including IoT, predictive analytics and mobility.
The focus on technological innovations is paramount to meet customer expectations, deliver real-time shipping and cargo tracking information, as well as enhance seamless shipping. Gulftainer launched the ‘future of ports challenge,’ aiming to identify groundbreaking and highly disruptive technologies that could redefine the supply chain and logistics industry.
On the automation front, Gulftainer has executed projects involving Robotic Process Automation (RPA), IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI), data analytics and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technologies for terminal operations.
To achieve this, my experienced team and I rely on data-driven insights to track market trends, customer behaviors and competitive dynamics. This data-driven approach helps us make informed strategic decisions. At Gulftainer, we foster a culture of learning and innovation, to stay relevant to the industry trends. As always, we actively listen to our customers’ feedback. It is a top priority to understand their changing needs and incorporate their insights into our strategic planning.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career, and how has it shaped your leadership style?
The best piece of advice l have received is to always respect people and, in particular, your workforce. People often ask how we achieve the results we do. How do we reach the productivity levels that keep Gulftainer recognized as one of the most productive port operators in the world? My reply is simple – my employees and the pride they have in what they do. The whole work ethos of the Gulftainer Group is based on pride in what we do. I’ve learned that if I want my team to be dedicated, collaborative and innovative, I must demonstrate these foundations myself. This sets a high standard for everyone to follow.
Effective leaders communicate clearly and openly. By practicing transparent and honest communication in my own interactions, I encourage the same from my team. This helps promote a culture of open dialogue and demonstrates a strong commitment to our mission and vision.
Leading by example is another element I stress. It encourages a culture of accountability within the organization, where everyone feels responsible for their actions and outcomes. In essence, the advice to ‘lead by example’ has shaped my leadership style by emphasizing the importance of authenticity, consistency and personal accountability. It reminds me that my actions as a leader have a significant impact on the organisational culture, employee morale, and overall success.
Given the current trajectory, where do you see GT USA and CCT in the next 5-10 years?
The future is extremely positive for GT USA, and I envision significant growth and development for both Gulftainer USA and Canaveral Container Terminal (CCT) over the next 5 to 10 years. Gulftainer will continue to expand its footprint across the USA, exploring potential new investment opportunities on the South, East, and West Coasts. We anticipate further expansion of CCT’s infrastructure to accommodate the increasing demand for containerized cargo. This expansion will include the addition of berths, container storage areas and modern equipment to handle larger vessels efficiently.
Our commitment to technology will continue to drive our operations. We foresee the integration of advanced automation, artificial intelligence and data analytics to optimize cargo handling, improve efficiency and enhance customer service.
Sustainable business is another important area of interest for Gulftainer. We will further reduce our environmental footprint through investments in renewable energy, eco-friendly practices and emission reduction initiatives. This will allow us to adapt to changing trade dynamics and environment.
We will strengthen our position as an end-to-end supply chain and logistics solutions provider in the region. Forging strategic partnerships and alliances that extend our network, broaden our niche trade solutions and enhance our regional and international footprint.
By staying agile, embracing technology, fostering partnerships and nurturing our talent, we are well-prepared to thrive in the evolving supply chain and logistics landscape in the years to come.