Ship shape

As the industry comes of age, Dr Kanak Madrecha, Kanoo's quality and business excellence manager, explains why the highest standards and new benchmarks must be attained.


From humble beginnings as mechanical engineer at a textile factory, Dr Kanak Madrecha has quickly climbed the ranks, becoming one of the Middle East’s leading forces in sea freight.

Indeed, his list of credentials speaks for itself, with Madrecha mixing his role as projects manager at shipping agency Kanoo with his duties as founding member of the Supply Chain and Logistics Group and team leader at both the Dubai Quality Award and Sheikh Khalifa Excellence Award.

“As a mechanical engineer, I was fascinated by the science of measuring and improving productivity,” he says. “Technical efficiency and automation is where my professional career started.”

Although a specialist field in itself, the challenge was not suffi cient enough to hold the interest of Madrecha’s inquisitive mind. A return to academia gave him the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. in Quality, learning to exceed product or service specifications and business excellence. This was followed by a stint teaching supply chain management, after which he returned to the private sector, working as a systems, applications and processes (SAP) software consultant for Siemens.

“For the last 12 years, I have been at Kanoo Group head office working in business excellence,” he says. Testament to his achievements in this regard is the fact that Kanoo has won the government award for Business Excellence and Quality in Dubai for the last six years.

Process improvement and a constant drive to attain greater levels of efficiency, from the boardroom right down to the sharp-end of the business, is his remit, and he works across the cargo, logistics, chemical distribution and machinery divisions. Madrecha describes his role as that of a “shared resource” across the Kanoo Group’s activities. In the sea freight sector, the company’s primary activity comes under the Kanoo Shipping division, one of the fi rst shipping agencies in the region, and one that has grown into the largest regional player in a hotly contested market sector.

Kanoo Shipping acts for world leaders, such as Maersk Line from Europe, Mitsui of Japan, and a huge variety of break bulk and chemical carriers on a more specialised one-off basis throughout the Gulf.

‘‘We provide all the husbandry for our principals across the region, whether it be spare parts and ship repairs, stevedoring, crew on and off services, and of course, all of the necessary paperwork and importexport preparations,” says Madrecha. “There are a number of regional carriers entering this market, but it nevertheless remains dominated by the major foreign operators from Europe, USA and Japan. The major challenge for Kanoo in this regard, has been to grow the business in the Middle East.’’

However, this is an industry involving a great deal of inertia, and the region is very much in its industrial infancy. This doesn’t prevent Madrecha being optimistic about the future. ‘‘The new port facilities for this growth tend to be built around the chemical plants, and good examples are Sohar in Oman, Rabigh in Saudi Arabia, and of course Ruwais and Jebel Ali,” he says.

The Middle East may not yet be on a par with older industrialised economies in these established industries, but it is clear from the progress made so far, and the scale of construction occurring around all of us within the region, that its time will come. With such a rapid pace of growth and development, comes with it a responsibility that falls with operators throughout the supply chain. At the upcoming Chemical Logistics & Supply Chain Management conference, Madrecha will be addressing industry heads as a keynote speaker on what these challenges and responsibilities mean to employers.

“With regard to health and safety measures, it is my job to educate people to ensure that no emergencies are created and that no incidents or accidents occur,” he explains. “It is imperative that training in this industry is undertaken properly. That is a particular issue in this part of the world, because the safety culture is not very prevalent and many industries are embarking upon business of a magnitude that has, regionally, not been seen before,” says Madrecha.

Given the highly dangerous and potentially costly implications of any accident in the shipping business, be it freight, dangerous goods, or petrochemical in its nature, such warnings should be heeded. ‘‘It is one thing to learn the necessary safety procedures, but you have to believe it as a culture of its own too,” he says.

Madrecha uses the analogy of a motorist to illustrate his point, “People sometimes drive too fast on the Sheikh Zayed Road. They know the speed limit is 120kph, but they still press their accelerator when they reach this speed. It is because they do not believe they will have an accident. Only when people see accidents are happening more often does behaviour change.”

However, even with such a stark example, he concedes that human nature sometimes needs more than a warning. “For behaviour to change for good takes longer, but here in the UAE and across the region the awareness is increasing markedly,” he says.

The wider issue of knowledge transfer from long-established industries is a vital part of this process. Through embarking upon active training and education programmes, fi rms need to realise the benefits of improving standards and begin to set higher operational benchmarks. That said, even Madrecha admits the challenge can prove frustrating. “We live in a fast-paced world. You have to understand that this is a slow process, but one that is certainly happening. The transfer that needs to take place is a three-stage process that has to encompass knowledge, attitude and behaviour,” he says.

“The best firms will achieve success in this regard in a planned and ordered way. As a firm of distinction in the region, and a proud family name behind it, Kanoo set about a programme of corporate social responsibility and set high targets in health, safety and environmental fields. Now we are very proud of our record.”

When it was decided that Kanoo would embark upon a mission to achieve globally recognised certification, Madrecha set detailed planning in motion. Kanoo Shipping Agencies Division (KSAD), Abu Dhabi, was chosen as the pilot project for ISO 9002:1994 certification. In December 1994, it became the first shipping agency in the region to gain this distinction.

Compliance codes from the International Maritime Organisation such as the ISM, a directive providing a global standard for the safe management and operation of ships (also encompassing pollution prevention), have helped. However, Madrecha is keen to make clear that the issue is not merely about compliance. “Yes, it involves mandatory fulfilment, but it is also about improvement. Imagine a sliding scale from zero to ten – ten being the worst record or heaviest ecological impact, in which you rate your own safety and environmental record. Hypothesize that your firm is running at eight; using structured techniques, it is my goal through educating people to reduce that to a four or a fi ve within a three year timescale,” Madrecha says. “Essentially, improvements in all aspects of your business should be a goal in itself.”

He admits that 100% change is not possible overnight. “Continuous improvement in business processes is a healthier attitude, and one that will bring more success in the long run.”

Improvements in environmental practices encompass more than meeting minimum operational standards. “If you drop too much oil in the sea the wider environment can very quickly be affected. Ultimately, the fi nancial cost of clearing it up, or containing the damage of a chemical accident, will be very heavy,” explains Madrecha.

The negative impact on a shipping line’s public image is also a major consideration today. “Whilst uniform environmental regulations are now widespread, it is the issue of enforcement that dictates the way people currently behave. In American and European waters, stringent monitoring takes place. Across the Gulf region, whilst some ports have an excellent record there are others that do not enforce environmental restrictions as strongly,” explains Madrecha.

This in itself acts as a psychological barrier to progress on an industry-wide scale. “The major carriers with whom we work all have robust contingency plans, and involve Kanoo in their training for the handling of accidents and spillage scenarios,” explains Madrecha. “These are however, experienced firms and this needs to be the case throughout the industry. Such cooperation is vital as we move towards a more harmonised industry. Soon firms without ISO certification, and a good reputation for safety and standards, will fi nd it increasingly difficult to do business in the region.”

Governments play a key part in the trickle down effect of shifting attitudes. The UAE has done very well in this respect, and further developments continue for establishing oil spill control centres along the country’s coastline. Such measures are slowly being duplicated across much of the region, but the industry, and no doubt the residents would welcome wider participation and greater investment too.

Having grown at such a rapid pace, the shipping industry in the Middle East now has to wake up to the responsibilities such success brings. A mindset change is already happening and local operators have picked up the gauntlet and shown innovation in achieving their own high standards. Industry leaders must show the way, leading by example, and only then will standards improve through the commercial sea freight world.

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