Tarek Sultan, chairman of Agility - Gulf Business
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Tarek Sultan, chairman of Agility

Tarek Sultan, chairman of Agility

Five mins with… The chairman of Agility, the region’s largest logistics firm.


Name: Tarek Sultan
Job title: Chairman and managing director
Company: Agility, the region’s largest logistics firm
Years in company: 15

What will your company be focusing on this year?

We will continue to grow our business organically by leveraging our global footprint and our position in emerging markets.

Are you concerned that the current volatile global economic climate will affect your strategy?

The outlook following the recession remains challenging on a global level. However, our market leadership in emerging markets, where strong growth is forecasted to continue, means we are well placed to navigate the crisis. Agility’s global presence and investments in emerging markets will help balance the higher volatility we expect to see in the US and Europe in the short-term.

What are the growth areas currently for your industry?

Logistics and supply chain companies are facing an uncertain 2012. We anticipate a continuation of the mixed global economic picture, with emerging markets moving ahead and more developed markets continuing to struggle.

The Agility Emerging Markets Logistics Index, published earlier this year, points to new rising stars – such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam – all improving their infrastructure, which means better logistics opportunities.

Trade lanes will increase between the Middle East and emerging markets such as Brazil and India. The shift in trade patterns strengthens emerging trade corridors – for example, between Asia and Africa, Asia and South America, as well as intra-Asia, intra-South America or intra-Africa. Percentage volumes on the South-South-Route (South America – Africa) are growing in double digits.

We will also see the continued rise of “near-sourcing” markets such as the UAE, Mexico and Turkey, while Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia will also continue with their strong development.

The rise of emerging markets and intra-regional trade means that 3PLs will have to redesign or at least, rebalance their transport networks and re-evaluate their trade lane priorities.

It may also mean relocating warehousing and creating new pricing structures to adjust to changing volumes. Lastly, it means working more closely with customers to reduce the risks that come with longer supply chains, rising shipping rates and tightening capacities.

What new products will your company launch this year?

As we move ahead, we are heavily focused on strengthening our core commercial business. We will continue to grow business with existing and new customers by leveraging our global footprint and market-leading position in emerging markets. At the same time, we intend to drive efficiencies in our operating platform.

Will you be expanding into new territory?

We are currently present in 100 countries with over 500 offices. Our expansion strategy is now focused on organic growth. Emerging markets are transforming the shape of the global economy and are currently the engine for growth in an otherwise lacklustre global economy. We continue to see big opportunities in Asia Pacific, India, Russia, China and in Middle East – where we have been investing for years in building networks and infrastructure.

What will be the biggest challenges for UAE businesses in your sector in 2012?

The UAE is strategically located at the crossroads between important trade routes connecting the east and west, enabling shipments to be made from the Emirates to regions as far afield as South America, the Far East, Northern Europe and the United States, in a similar number of days. In recent times, the UAE has further leveraged its strategic location through major logistics infrastructure developments.

However, logistics service providers do face a number of challenges, particularly a lack of skilled workers in the industry. In order to address this challenge Agility has implemented a number of policies designed to develop skills internally, through extensive training programmes.

Furthermore the industry is also exposed to fluctuations in the global economy. Because of its close connection to economic cycles, the logistics industry is a good gauge of how markets are performing. When economies are buoyant, the need for our services is equally strong. Consumer and business demand for goods and services inevitably translates into a greater requirement for transport and logistics services. Therefore, as an asset based logistics provider, this can create both rapid growth and business slowdown that we must adjust to.

What’s your leadership style

My leadership style is to hire talented people who can think outside the box, and then let them take responsibility. I am not a micro-manager  – I believe in the power of hiring the right person for the right job, and then giving them the scope to grow and be creative.

It’s important to empower on-the-ground decision making, especially in an emerging markets context, where the ability to react quickly in rapidly changing situations is often a big part of the value Agility adds to the customer. It’s also important to encourage people to seize opportunities in these very dynamic markets.

It’s these qualities amongst the Agility leadership group that has taken us from a $200 million dollar company to a $4.8 billion dollar company in just over a decade.

What makes the perfect employee?

An individual who has deep local knowledge, coupled with a can-do attitude and a true commitment to going above and beyond. This translates into high levels of personal ownership and service for customers, fellow employees, the communities in which we work, and ultimately, our shareholders.

Define success in five words…

Empowered people, delighted customers, satisfied shareholders, and responsible and ethical business. Ok that’s ten words, but sometimes it takes ten.

Three tips for becoming the boss…

Anticipate the future – see the big picture trends before others do. The world is changing fast and the boss needs to be someone who cannot only understand those changes, but help shape it.

Seize opportunities, be bold – it takes a certain amount of agility and tolerance for risk to be able to act quickly when opportunities arise, but these are critical leadership qualities.

Remember the power of people and relationships – be genuinely committed to your employees, your customers, your partners, your shareholders and your communities.

When I’m not at work I like to

Play tennis and golf, and spend time with my family.

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