INTERVIEW: Khalid Alghamdi, COO, Almajdouie Logistics

Khalid Alghamdi, chief operating officer of Almajdouie Logistics, discusses 50 years of success and the importance of safety, education & the emerging rail sector.
Khalid Alghamdi won ‘Logistics Manager of the Year’ at the 2015 Supply Chain & Transport Awards (SCATAs) in April.
Khalid Alghamdi won ‘Logistics Manager of the Year’ at the 2015 Supply Chain & Transport Awards (SCATAs) in April.

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Almajdouie Group is one of the great successes stories in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, particularly in the eastern region.

Established in 1965 as a land transport and trucking company, founder Sheikh Ali Ibrahim Almajdouie had a clear vision from the start – to expand in the commercial and services sectors, and strengthen the national economy by establishing several companies with diversified activities in logistics, automotive, manufacturing and real estate.

Over the past half century, the organisation has achieved its aims; from the single entity that launched in 1965, it has flourished and become a group of diverse companies. Seemingly at the heart of the group is Almajdouie Logistics (MLC), which integrated each of its independently operating – and 100% wholly owned – functions that had formed by the end of the 1990s into one flagship organisation three years ago.

“In 2012 we rolled out our restructuring strategy and integrated all of the resources that were part of the old establishment founded by our chairman in 1965,” Khalid Alghamdi, chief operating officer of Almajdouie Logistics, explains.

MLC offers integrated logistics and supply chain management solutions through a 6,000-strong workforce, a fleet of 2,000 heavy vehicles and two million square metres in terminal and warehousing facilities.

“Our main five activities are freight forwarding, travel forwarding, transportation, heavy lift and engineering, warehousing and terminals, and 95% of our customers are local [in Saudi Arabia]. Our travel forwarding customers are all international,” Alghamdi continues.

Celebrating its ‘golden’ anniversary this year – the precious metal associated with the 50 year milestone – MLC has made sure it took the time to look back at all its achievements.

“At this year’s Annual Day we reflected on our success and hard work over the past 50 years,” Alghamdi shares, talking about a company event for staff that takes place each year.

“Our chairman has encouraged people to be part of the family [under a single holding group] and we still have people today who have been working in the group since 1975. Our teams are our assets. They [employees] feel like they are home and they belong to a family. I have not been in the company for such a long time, but I feel like I am part of this family,” Alghamdi adds.

This has no doubt contributed to the company’s longevity as has the chairman’s “entrepreneurial spirit”, which Alghamdi says is alive and well today, commenting: “You can see it in him and his sons, and the employees as a whole.”

Alghamdi, who describes his leadership style as “leading by example” won ‘Logistics Manager of the Year’ at the 2015 Supply Chain & Transport Awards (SCATAs) in April, voted for by an independent judging panel. The logistician has been working in the industry for the past 15 years.

“I like it [logistics] – you have to be very imaginative to work in such a field. It is not easy; you have to work smarter and you have to keep learning, constantly, because every day there is something new. The economy impacts logistics and logistics impacts the economy, so you have to always be aware of the market and learning. This keeps it interesting all the time,” he reveals.

The past couple of years for MLC are certainly a good example of this outlook and demonstrate why the company has established itself as a specialist in handling and transporting large and heavy cargo.

In 2014, the company executed a total of 1.41 million freight tonnes of cargo for projects including Sadara, Kemya, Ras Al Khair, Shaybah, Wasit Gas Plant, Tasnee and Maaden Ammonia (all in the Eastern Region), Rabigh, YERP, Shoibah, Marafiq, Jeddah South Power Plant and Yanbu 3 (all in the Western Region) and Jizan Refinery and Shuqaiq power plant in the south. During last year, MLC was contracted to transport project equipment to Sadara, the largest petrochemical complex ever built in a single phase, consisting of two stainless steel heat exchangers (one being 59,828 kilgrams and the other 416,612 kilograms) across 45 kilometres. MLC also ferried ten heavy and oversize columns to Sadara’s headquarters from Jubail Industrial Port; the heaviest was 601 metric tonnes, the longest was 76 metres, the widest was 8.5 metres and the highest was 8.3 metres.

Prior to this work, MLC became the first Saudi privately-owned firm to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for ‘Heaviest Item Moved by Road Freight’ in 2012 when it transported eight evaporator units, each weighing at least 4,891 tonnes, from the manufacturer in South Korea to a project site in Saudi Arabia. The combined weight for all the units exceeded 41,000 metric tonnes.

Alghamdi reveals that the organisation has bettered itself since.

“This year our projects logistics sector was able to break our own world record – we moved six new evaporators that weighed more than 5,736 tonnes in April 2015,” he says.

Discussing another milestone, he continues: “Recently, we became the first company in Saudi Arabia to undertake a survey under an assessment for SQAS (Sustainability and Quality Assessment Systems) and we received certification for implementing the Integrated Management System (IMS). These add value to the safety of our people working in the field.

“There are different challenges [faced in logistics] but the most important is human capital – the safety of our people.

Alghamdi has often voiced the MLC’s dedication to safety in interviews and the company last year, under his supervision and support, launched a new programme called AMAN - Safety Comes First, designed specifically to raise the level of safety and occupational health in all the departments of Almajdouie Logistics, plus applying the evaluation.

Addressing other challenges, he says the technical aspects of projects and changing government regulations are among the main ones. Luckily the falling oil price has not posed problems for the firm.

“So far, we have not seen any impact on our own business in Saudi Araba but we have seen a small delay here in some projects, which will impact our projects forwarding department – but so far we are maintaining,” he shares.

Moving onto growth areas, rail is a hot topic of discussion, given that Saudi Arabia is due to connect to the UAE by 2018.

“Growth markets here are in the railway sector and we will see fair competition between [road] transport and rail, which will add some value to a wide range of logistics products – clients will need a value-added service,” Alghamdi predicts.

“The GCC rail network means the region is moving into a new era of having intermodal terminals, connecting major cities and countries. While it is not a new concept in the world, it is a new concept in the GCC and it will change the whole look of logistics within the region,” he adds.

Currently, MLC is pushing to grow its operations and Alghamdi mentions upcoming projects and investment in Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. “We are focusing on growing our presence outside of Saudi Arabia, so we are looking to the GCC. We are expanding by buying more equipment and adding to our fleet. We are also looking to expand our infrastructure in terminals and warehousing in Saudi Arabia and Jebel Ali [in Dubai],” he confirms.

The company is also focused on training the next generation, which falls in line with KSA’s drive to move away from a reliance on expatriate labour. Alghamdi is optimistic about future take-up of logistics careers, commenting: “If you look around at how many colleges and universities are teaching logistics for the locals, it is a minimum, but I have seen in the last couple of years people are opening up and teaching GCC nationals what logistics is – it is a new concept to this part of the world but people are becoming more interested in finding out what it’s about.”

For its part in enticing people to join the profession, in 2010 MLC established its own practical and industry-based programmes institute that Alghamdi says “teaches locals how to become professional logisticians”.

“We opened Middle East Logistics Institute (MELI) and it has been successful, not only for Saudis but for non-Saudis too. It is vocational training for executives – there is a diploma of nine months and a diploma of two years in association with Michigan State University [in the US]. We have graduated 440 in the past four years and they have the freedom to work with Almajdouie after graduation or select any other company,” he comments.

And with a note of pride, he concludes: “Actually, you see a lot of logistics and transport companies come to interview these graduates and then hire them.”

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