INTERVIEW: Oliver Klingbeil, MD, S.A. TALKE

Oliver Klingbeil discusses logistics skills shortages, the benefits of operating in Saudi Arabia & the impact of falling oil prices on the GCC’s chemical logistics landscape.
Oliver Klingbeil, managing director of S.A. TALKE.
Oliver Klingbeil, managing director of S.A. TALKE.

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Oliver Klingbeil is managing director of S.A. TALKE.

Tell me about your main activities
S.A. TALKE Ltd. is a joint venture company between the TALKE group from Germany, the SISCO group from Jeddah (Western Province) and the Al-Jabr group from Jubail (Eastern Province). The TALKE group has 68 years of industry experience in the logistics of chemicals and petrochemicals with more than 2,300 staff working in 16 countries across Europe, the Middle East, India and China. In 2003 S.A. TALKE made a pioneering move when entering into the first on-site outsourcing relationship in the region in this sector. Our main focus is to provide high quality logistic services for chemical and petrochemical manufacturers in Saudi Arabia, with safety as top priority.

Our three main business segments are: logistics, covering storage and logistic solutions for harmless and hazardous products, container terminals, and value-added services; logistic solutions, encompassing logistic analysis and consultancy, optimisation of logistics processes and turnkey construction of logistics plants; and transportation solutions, meaning individual transport solutions for bulk liquids, dry bulk and packed products.

What is S.A. TALKE focusing on currently?
We always focus on providing a high quality service, retaining business and developing long-term partnerships with clients. While we are part of a global organisation, we tailor our services to suit the local needs of our customers. Quality is the cornerstone of our success and safety is a non-negotiable priority – S.A TALKE achieved 2.5 million safe man-hours in 2014.

What were other big achievements in 2014?
Last year marked our tenth anniversary in Saudi Arabia. and we successful completed our first operational year of the Portside Logistics Facility at Jubail Commercial Port, which is one of our biggest projects, and the operational start-up of our third liquid product handling project in the Kingdom for Saudi Kayan – NDA (Natural Detergent Alcohol). Lastly, our major achievement of 2014 is the positive acknowledgement we received on our existing quality and performance.

What are the benefits of operating in Saudi?
Besides the sunny blue sky and the warm weather, the benefit of operating in an emerging market like Saudi Arabia is that a company like S.A. TALKE has now become a pioneer in setting high quality standards in all aspects of the petrochemical logistics industry.

Do you have any comment on Saudi Arabia rising from ninth to second in the 2015 Agility Emerging Markets Index, beaten only by China?
It’s not such a big surprise that China beat Saudi Arabia to the top spot because the Chinese market is more mature and diversified then the Saudi market. But having said that, the future of the Saudi market is very bright. As we know, Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil, and has one quarter of the world’s known oil reserves – more than 260 billion barrels.Being the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil, Saudi Arabia plays a unique role in the global energy industry. Its policies on the production and export of oil, natural gas and other petroleum products have a major impact on the emerging markets, as well as the global economy.

How easy do you find it to do business in Saudi Arabia and how important is it for foreign companies to find a suitable local business partner?
For any foreign company that is planning to do business in Saudi Arabia, it is necessary to invest time and money in conducting proper market research in order to lay down the foundations for their business. Once that is established, it is imperative to find a local partner who matches your business criteria and shares a similar long-term vision.

It is also essential for foreign companies to study the norms, business codes and laws of Saudi Arabia as these are very strictly enforced. Observing the laws and traditions are also important in building good working relationships. In the case of S.A. TALKE, our bond with our local partners (SISCO group from Jeddah and the Al-Jabr group from the Eastern Province) is built upon mutual respect and trust and this is the main reason that we are constantly growing together.

How do you think Saudi Arabia is perceived by the international business community?
Fom a business prospective it is a mixed bag because Saudi Arabia has strong traditional and religious roots that sometimes influence the way business is conducted here. For example, during the holy month of Ramadan, companies have to respect the local regulations and manage their work accordingly.

On the whole, as Saudi Arabia is diversifying and expanding into different businesses globally, the international business community is looking at it as an emerging market with tremendous potential. I recently had the opportunity to represent S.A. TALKE at the Saudi-German Business Forum held in Riyadh in March 2015, and it was very encouraging to see more than 250 German and Saudi high-ranking company representatives as well as the government taking part.

Why do you think has the logistics industry in the Kingdom not developed as much as the manufacturing and FMCG industries have?
The landscape of Saudi Arabia is harsh and covered by the timeless sand but despite this fact the logistics industry has gone through several phases, and it has developed since the first discovery of oil in 1960s. This is the reason that today there are many large scale infrastructure projects currently underway and the upcoming Saudi Rail network will further enhance the logistics segment in the Kingdom.

Now, if we compare the FMCG industry to the logistic industry in Saudi Arabia, it has to fill the gaps of the logistic industry by creating more educational platforms to further develop the expertise within the logistics industry. This is the key reason S.A. TALKE is focused on offering career development and educational programmes to its employees at all levels. Furthermore we are also planning to develop an academy for logistics with support from the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce in order to make this segment more attractive and to retain local Saudi talent.

How do you attract & retain a talented workforce?
Our focus is not only to retain our existing talent but to recruit new talent by offering competitive benefits and attractive career development programmes. This is the reason S.A. TALKE is actively participating in several local career fairs and why we established an internal steering committee that focuses on enhancing the skills of talented personnel of all nationalities. We are always looking to recruit new talent at all levels. Our job postings are advertised through various sources and all candidates can apply through our web job portal (or email hr@s-a-talke.com).

What challenges are faced by the chem & petchem logistics industry in the GCC?
One of the main challenges in the Saudi market for the chemical and petrochemical logistics industry is related to the lack of expertise. This industry is extremely sensitive due to the nature of the products and experienced logistics service providers are a must. Along the same lines, the transportation of dangerous goods on the road is a major concern where many trucking companies do not have the right equipment and do not have proper driver training. We are committed to the GPCA Gulf SQAS programme which we believe will help improve this situation. Last but not least, the availability of a rail network in the future should be an important improvement for the industry.

Where are the growth areas?
Obviously we have seen a huge growth in this sector in the past decade with so many new plants coming on stream in the region. Many of these have been commodity plastic plants, which have been key to our growth and the development of outsourcing in the sector. Now we are in an era that is bringing greater specialty chemical production and demands even higher levels of know-how. This is ideal for us as a group as it is our area of specialisation. So after years of more and more quantity, we are now being able to focus on providing higher quality.

How have falling oil prices affected your business?
The falling oil prices have obviously affected our customers because of the impact on their sales prices. Generally we have seen that production here in the region has continued pretty much on the same level and the impact is felt more throughout the supply chain as the product is often being stored for longer periods or sold in other markets. So, the key for us is to remain flexible and support our customers wherever we can.

What trends in the chemical and petrochemical industries are impacting your logistics activities?
As mentioned, the launch of Gulf SQAS standards in the GCC has created a new wave of positive change and we feel sure it will transform the way the transportation and warehousing companies operate. This is building on the success of SQAS in Europe and is a key development, and one which the TALKE group has supported. We are proud that two of our GCC locations were part of the GPCA’s pilot project.

What are your immediate expansion plans?
S.A. TALKE will start operations in the Western Province of Saudi Arabia in 2015, and we have plans to expand our infrastructure and operations in the Eastern Province.

How would you describe your leadership style?
It has been close to five years since I joined S.A.TALKE and my leadership style has evolved from being a visionary leader to a more coaching leader. However, if you ask my team, they will tell you that I am a coaching leader who is result driven. To further explain from another angle, I like to say that our employees are our biggest asset, who I believe are at the heart of our existence. I strongly believe that the success of any company depends on the success of its employees and as a leader it’s my duty to support and encourage my team and where necessary, to run the extra mile with them so they can attain higher goals.

I always make an effort to lead by an example and therefore I have an open door policy, which encourages a free dialog with my team members. This allows me to keep myself engaged with the team at all times and to integrate them into the decision making process.Today I am proud to say, that despite the challenges, thanks to the hard work and dedication from our employees to enhance our competitiveness, the company achieved good results in 2014. This is the core reason that we are growing rapidly and the number of our employees crossed 900 last year. By mid-2015 we will be operating with more than 1,200 employees.

What do you enjoy about working in logistcs?
After being in logistics for more than 30 years, I can confidently say that I enjoy the fact every day is a new challenge – there are no dull moments.

What three tips would you share for becoming the boss?
From my personal and professional experience I would recommend the following: believe in continuous learning, never say ‘no’ to new challenges, and be respectful to all while having some flexibility, especially when working in culturally diverse environments.

Lastly, what does success mean to you?
Success should not only be measured by numbers; it should include the loyalty and day-to-day accomplishments of the team members who continue to shape up the organisation with their hard work. Of course, there is more to success than just doing business – our success and confidence is built upon the positive feedback from our customers on our customer satisfaction surveys, which we aim to increase through the quality of our services and show our commitment to all of our customers.

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