These are busy and exciting times for Captain Mohamed Juma Al Shamisi, who is tasked with pursuing the maritime ambitions of the state-owned Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC) as part of a far-reaching vision to develop and diversify the economy of the UAE.
Al Shamisi was the driving force behind the launch of Abu Dhabi’s multi-billion-dollar Khalifa Port in 2012 and he is now firmly focused on turning the hi-tech port and its massive 418-sq-km Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (Kizad) into the maritime hub of choice and a major player in the economy.
“We have very ambitious targets,” he tells Arabian Knight. “Once all phases of the development of Khalifa Port and Kizad are complete, both sites will have the potential to contribute 15 per cent of the UAE’s non-oil and gas annual GDP (gross domestic product).”
He admits that the challenge of managing the transition from a project-led organisation to a fully operational ports and industrial zone business has been a massive one and is still ongoing.
“Every part of the organisation has had to reassess its objectives and ability to deliver under the new direction and sometimes that process of change is not a very comfortable one,” says Al Shamisi, who first dreamed of becoming a chemical engineer but found his calling in the maritime industry through an interesting twist of fate.
He adds: “Delivering the assets is one thing, turning them into a profitable business that can deliver on the 2030 targets is quite another. But having said that, the Abu Dhabi Economic Plan 2030 is such a clear roadmap, it makes life easier to have such a focused direction.”
However, Al Shamisi is quietly confident that the disciplines and work ethic instilled in him from a young age along with his belief in a well-known dictum about hard work will help him turn ADPC into one of the success stories of the region.
THE EARLY YEARS
Al Shamisi hails from a well-established and large family in the garden city of Al Ain, where he grew up and still lives today.
Discipline defined much of Al Shamisi’s early life, as for the main part of his school years he attended a prestigious military school in Al Ain, which was very strict and focused on developing students to become the UAE’s leaders of the future.
“Following such a regime builds inner strength and means that you stand apart, almost with a sense of destiny,” says Al Shamisi, whose role models were his father and grandfather.
Al Shamisi also attended two summer camps in the UK as part of the school’s curriculum.
His first trip was to Colchester, a historic small town north-east of London, and came as a “total culture shock”. He was just 15 at the time and outside of school hours he lived in an English household and was treated “very much as a member of the family”.
His second summer camp was in Norwich, a large city in the east of England. Again, it was a dramatically different environment for a summer school, focused purely on developing English language skills.
After finishing school at 17, and emboldened by his time overseas, Al Shamisi accepted a scholarship from the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) to study chemical engineering in Colorado and was all set to fly to the US, but a chance meeting with friends – who were on their way to listen to an Adnoc presentation on a new jobs scheme – changed his destiny.
As one of the few in his group with a driver’s licence, Al Shamisi was persuaded to drive his friends to the presentation.
Adnoc was seeking to recruit officer cadets who would eventually become captains of the company’s oil tankers, and while listening to a Jordanian ship captain speak of a rewarding career in an industry which offered new opportunities and career recognition – both relatively new concepts in the UAE – Al Shamisi realised that this was the career he desired.
So, from the Norwich language school he went to South Tyneside College in South Shields near Newcastle upon Tyne. After a year of theoretical studies, there followed a tussle between the college, which insisted that “sea time” should be completed on a British flagged vessel, and Adnoc, which wished their cadets train on their own ships. Ultimately an agreement was reached and Adnoc’s cadets were given a selection of countries to choose from to complete their training.
Al Shamisi picked Australia, expecting big cities and bright lights but after landing in Melbourne was slightly taken aback when he transferred to the Australian Maritime College in the small town of Launceston, Tasmania.
However, he remembers it as a very happy time and he describes the people of Tasmania as the “Bedouins of Australia as they place the same importance on being welcoming, hospitable, respectful and caring to new people that they meet”.
ALL AT SEA
The very first ship Al Shamisi sailed on was the Wyuna, a historic ship which had been built as a pilot vessel to guide ships through the Bass Strait.
Al Shamisi vividly recalls the ‘man overboard’ drill in which the captain asked for volunteers to jump off the moving ship in order to demonstrate a ‘Williamson turn’. Surrounded by Australian cadets, two of whom were female, and two colleagues from the UAE, Al Shamisi was far from keen on taking the plunge. However, when one of the girls volunteered, Al Shamisi did not want to be outdone and soon found himself in the icy water, clad in a leaking orange thermal suit, but safe because, as he jokes, “sharks aren’t interested in orange objects”.
It was indeed a “unique experience” and not one he ever wants to repeat, he adds.
From the Australian Maritime College, he joined the Abu Dhabi National Tanker Company (Adnatco) and served on commercial oil tankers for 24 months. As a cadet, working with a multinational mix of officers and crew, he learnt all of the roles and tasks associated with tanker operations.
After 18 months on oil product tankers, he moved to LNG (liquefied natural gas) ships, which was a major transition. Oil product tankers were relatively small vessels while the LNG vessels were at the time the biggest ever built and equipped with highly sophisticated technology.
Al Shamisi remembers his time sailing with great affection and says that the experience underlined the importance of discipline as it was a very structured but intense working environment.
“We were always really busy. You think you would get bored on a ship but the time passes so quickly,” he says. Meal times were the most important part of the day, as it gave them an opportunity to catch up with the rest of the officers and “share conversation and advice”.
At the age of 21, Al Shamisi became an officer – one of the youngest UAE nationals to achieve this status – which was a sea change for him. “When you are a cadet you do most of the work but you are not in charge, now suddenly (as an officer) you are responsible for some very big decisions,” he says.
He continues: “Sailing on a ship offers amazing opportunities for leadership. If something goes wrong you have to solve it. You are in the middle of the ocean, you have to use your brain and think your way out of the problem, there’s no alternative.”
Al Shamisi then returned to the Australian Maritime College to take his ship master examinations. While waiting to take his oral exams, he received an email from the principal advising him that he had won the Baird Publication Prize for Best Performance in Navigation Studies.
He couldn’t believe that he had been chosen out of a distinguished class of international students so he wrote back to the college advising them that they had probably got his name confused. However, there had been no mistake and Al Shamisi was delighted to receive his prize, proudly raising a UAE flag at the presentation ceremony.
He was also recognised closer to home, winning the Sheikh Rashid Award for Academic Excellence which, under the patronage of Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, celebrates UAE students who have achieved outstanding results at their respective academic levels.
Al Shamisi had then risen to chief officer, and was about to go to Tasmania University to earn a master’s degree in business administration (MBA), when his father tragically died in an accident and his life changed forever.
“My father was a much loved and highly respected member of society and it was a ‘mission impossible’ to step into his shoes,” Al Shamisi says, adding that he had always considered his parent “more like a brother than a father”.
Thus at 27, married and expecting his second child, Al Shamisi was now in charge of two large families, and he could no longer travel freely.
He, however, did complete his MBA, after which he joined Gulf Energy Maritime, one of the top ten independent product tanker owners in the world. As a business development executive, his role covered both operational and commercial responsibilities and was based closer to home, but after less than a year Al Shamisi returned to Abu Dhabi and joined ADPC.
KEY CAREER MOVE
ADPC was created in 2006 as part of the restructuring of the commercial ports sector in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The company is the port authority as well as a port operator and developer and its objective is to contribute to the Abu Dhabi Economic Plan 2030, which seeks to diversify the economy away from dependence on oil and gas revenues.
Al Shamisi joined ADPC in 2008, when the department employed less than 10 people, and immediately set about reading and analysing all the concessionary agreements and constitutional documents to properly understand the business.
“My advice to anyone is to read, read, read and read some more,” he states. “You have to know and understand your history before you can hope to build a future.”
As Executive Vice President for ADPC’s ports business unit, Al Shamisi was responsible for overseeing the design and commissioning of the $7.2 billion Khalifa Port and the first phase of Kizad, which together formed the biggest infrastructure project ever undertaken in the emirate.
NEW PORT AND ZONE
Khalifa Port was inaugurated in December 2012 by the UAE’s President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. As the first semi-automated port in the region, the deep-sea port is one of the most technologically advanced in the world and its cranes can handle the biggest ships sailing the seas today. The port currently has the capacity to handle 2.5 million TEUs (containers) and 12 million tonnes of general cargo but ultimately, through phased development, this will increase to an annual capacity of 35 million tonnes of general cargo and 15 million TEUs.
Adjacent to Khalifa Port is Kizad, which links key primary industries with midstream and downstream producers in vertically integrated clusters and will ultimately cover an area two-thirds of the size of Singapore.
Khalifa Port and Kizad’s low operating costs and excellent transport links make them an attractive proposition for those seeking a manufacturing or logistics base with speedy access to their customer base or export markets.
Emal (Emirates Aluminium), the anchor tenant in Kizad’s aluminium cluster, operates the biggest single-site aluminium smelter in the world and its dedicated berth at Khalifa Port is capable of handling four million tonnes of cargo each year. Emal demonstrates the model that ADPC seeks to provide for all customers and investors – a smooth seamless cargo operation handling the import of raw materials and the export of finished product, providing a fast efficient turnaround of containers.
Al Shamisi comments: “Our aim is to serve all of our customers from end to end. We started with Emal and now we are using that model to demonstrate the possibilities and to develop business efficiencies specific to each of our customers’ supply chain requirements.
“It’s not a traditional approach for a port where you wait for the cargo to arrive. We want to support the whole process, from factory or farm to the delivery point, supporting the logistics from end to end. It’s about how we can make our offer more compelling, and our investment in further technologies will ensure that we can provide a 360-degree approach to customer service at all times.”
Al Shamisi was made acting CEO of ADPC in the spring of 2013 and confirmed in January 2014. During this time, he has been leading the company’s transformation from a project-led organisation to a fully operational ports and industrial zone business.
This has involved a change in strategy and a restructuring of the organisation, ensuring that the right people with the right skill-sets are in place to drive progress while supporting the goal of empowering Emirati talent.
ADPC manages nine non-oil and gas ports ranging from the community ports in the Western Region to the commercial ports of Abu Dhabi. Considerable infrastructure development is planned across the Al Gharbia or Western Region of the emirate, and as a result, the facilities in the ports which have been focused on local industry, fishing or tourism are being boosted to support business.
The opening of Khalifa Port meant that all container handling operations which had been previously managed at the city-centre Zayed Port could be moved to the new port.
As a result, Zayed Port’s bulk and general cargo has increased with very significant rises in ro-ro (roll-on, roll-off vehicles) traffic, and the port is now focused on developing its cruise line business and building on the emirate’s growing attraction as a winter sun destination.
BUSINESS VOLUMES GROW
Meanwhile, statistics show that business is on the rise.
In 2013, ADPC and Abu Dhabi Terminals (ADT), Khalifa Port’s container terminal operator, handled a total of 901,722 TEUs, which is an increase of 14 per cent compared to 2012, when the container terminal’s throughput was 787,048 TEUs.
Ro-ro traffic volumes at Zayed Port rose by 11.7 per cent from 79,906 vehicle units in 2012 to 89,280 vehicle units in 2013.
General and bulk cargo volumes remained fairly stable and slightly increased from 9.39 million tonnes in 2012 to 9.52 million tonnes in 2013. However, this is expected to increase this year, with the volumes of both general and bulk cargo, expected to exceed 12 million tonnes.
Also, as many as 92 cruise liners visited Zayed Port in 2013, a 19.5 per cent increase compared to 2012, when a total of 77 cruise liners called at the port.
The most recent 2013/2014 cruise season has been the busiest so far, with ADPC welcoming a record 10 maiden calls and a total of 189,709 passengers.
Al Shamisi reveals that ADPC has had a very good start to 2014 and this is expected to continue throughout the year and beyond. “Khalifa Port is expected to handle 1.1 million TEUs in 2014, which is an increase of 198,278 TEUs compared to 2013,” he says.
Away from work, Al Shamisi relaxes by spending time with his family. “During the week, I am totally focused on work, I travel abroad a lot and I am always very busy. I try to keep the weekends free so that my children and family can have all of my attention,” he says.
Al Shamisi misses the spare time that he had to read and study when he was sailing, as he is so busy nowadays that he “barely has time to think, never mind read a book”.
His advice to young Emiratis aspiring for success is, again, quite simply, to do their homework and “read, read, read and read some more”.
He also reveals his favourite quote on how to achieve success, which has been attributed to the English playwright William Shakespeare: ‘Know more than others. Work more than others. Expect less than others’.
“All three elements matter enormously and if you follow these guidelines, success will come. I have always tried to work harder, always read more and studied extensively and thought as much as I can, and I would always recommend managing one’s expectations. I have never expected promotions and have never looked for new job titles, but by doing the first two, my career has developed and success has followed.”
Looking to the future, Al Shamisi, who is now 35 years old, hopes to still be at the helm of ADPC a decade from now. “In 10 years’ time, ADPC will have grown and Khalifa Port will be in the second phase of its development with the third phase being planned. The company might have an overseas presence, but, most importantly, I hope that we will be very successful. I hope that we will be the leading logistics provider, that we will be enriching our country and will be regarded as a business role model in terms of technology, quality services and, above all, customer satisfaction.”
And if he were granted one wish to change the world, what would it be?
“Everyone says ‘peace’, and I would have to agree,” says our Maritime Knight. “There are so many terrible things happening across the world and it’s always the weak – the women, older people and children – who suffer the most.
“We must follow the example of Sheikh Zayed, the founder and late president of the UAE. He was an amazing leader with a clear vision of how people could live together in peace. The UAE today has more than 200 nationalities living and working together side by side to transform it intoone of the world’s leading nations.”