The Gulf Agency Company (GAC) has successfully combined the expertise from its shipping, logistics and marine divisions to establish a market-leading service for the transportation of ship spares throughout the world.
Mention the GAC group in shipping circles and the recognition is immediate. As this Dubai-based company has moved from strength to strength to dominate the shipping, logistics and marine service sectors in the region, its reputation has followed suit - being synonymously associated with dependable and efficient services.
Operating since 1956, the GAC group now has a staff team of more than 7000 people, over 250 offices in 40 countries and a global network of enough partners to reduce other lesser matched competitors to tears.
Having championed the shipping, logistics and marine sectors individually, the company had the bright and, in many respects, unusually unique idea of combining its considerable expertise to create a yet unheard of specialist service - and so GAC Marine Logistics (GML) was born in 2003.
Nurtured in the capable hands of industry veteran Chris Steibelt as its managing director, the very concept of GML arose from what he describes as "pure logic".
Having been involved as an agent for the last fifty years, GAC Group's shipping division was busy managing agency calls on behalf of ship owners, of which an integral part involved getting ship spares from the airport or seaport onto vessels.
The group's portfolio included a successful logistics division that was operating separately, organising the transportation of goods all around the world. It also had a third division, marine services, that was running a fleet of supply vessels which supported the agency services of the company to take crew, technicians, stores and spares from the port to the vessel anchored offshore. Doing the maths, as they say, was pretty elementary.
Clear logic said if we combine all three services, then we can offer ship owners something that they have never had before," Steibelt explains. "An integrated service to manage the movement of ship spares around the world, from the country manufacturer through to being delivered on board the vessel.
As a 'seamless' single-source service, GAC Marine Logistics takes responsibility for the entire supply chain, relieving the ship owners and management companies of the headaches associated with ensuring those essential spares reach the vessel in a timely and orderly fashion.
Steibelt is keen to explain how it works in practice. "As an example, traditionally the client would have to contract a freight forwarder to get the spares from, for instance, Japan to Cape Town. They would then have to pass on the paperwork, the information and the pre-alert to their designated shipping agent in Cape Town. Next, they would have to receive the spares, customs clear them, and put them onboard the vessel," he says.
The GAC Marine Logistics way is to say just give it to us, we'll take it onboard in Japan and we'll put it onboard in Cape Town and then we will tell you and send the invoice for the services."
Sounds pretty tempting for the service's comprehensive list of potential customer segments, which Steibelt lists as ship owners, ship management companies, companies specialising in the supply of marine parts and equipment, engine manufacturers and specialist traders sending items to ship management companies.
With the shipping industry, both regionally and internationally, showing no signs of slowing down its growth, more ships into the region means more business for this ambitious service provider.
We have seen a growing number of ship owners enlarging their fleet in the Middle East, including Qatar, Saudi, Kuwait and the UAE," says Steibelt. "Furthermore, the UAE is a major delivery point for spares. If you consider what percentage of the world's tanker fleets come through here, and very often use the Fujairah anchorage for stores -that's really where we come into our element."
As a global service, however, the booming Middle East region represents a mere portion of the business the company hopes to attract and build on. With its strategic expansion programme well underway, GAC Marine Logistics has been spreading its wings across the world.
With a network of offices covering Singapore, Mumbai and Sao Paulo, the company added Hong Kong, Greece and Rotterdam to its burgeoning portfolio last year. This latest in GML's global conquest, Rotterdam also houses a dedicated ship spares and marine parts warehouse facility. Not surprisingly, each of these office locations have been meticulously chosen due to a large amount of shipping activity taking place in those areas.
Singapore is probably the world's largest delivery point for ship spares. Both Rotterdam and the UAE are also very large," Steibelt maintains. "In supporting that, we have sales and customer service points set up now in Hong Kong, India, Greece and Sao Paulo to take care of our clients based around there."
Indeed, as the world's largest port, Rotterdam's considerable maritime activities include towage, mooring, bunkering, dry docking, repair and maintenance as well as offshore support. Singapore also plays an important role in the market for the procurement and delivery of spares. And the next location on GAC Marine Logistics strategic expansion strategy? "To give you a clue, Houston is also very large. So Houston is an area we are looking very closely at now," Steibelt intimates. "That's enough to be getting on with for the time being!"
Certainly if the company's figures are anything to go by, its expansion strategy has been paying hefty dividends. According to Steibelt, the first half of 2006 saw an increase of a staggering 86% in revenue over the corresponding period last year. And as the captain of the venture right from its inception, this must make him a very happy man indeed.
It was just over four years ago that Steibelt was handed the gauntlet of developing GAC Marine Logistics. "It made sense to me. I was told that it's not something that happens overnight. Our market can be a little bit conservative in making changes. It takes time but the rewarding thing is when you see the number of enquiries developing and the job getting done successfully. It still gives me a buzz personally to see it happen," he enthuses.
Steibelt already came with extensive experience in the logistics world, having now clocked up an impressive 20 years experience with the GAC group. Prior to this, he was based with the English container shipping company, OCL (Overseas Containers Limited), which went on to become the better known P&O. With his strong background, Steibelt seems pretty well equipped to tackle the challenges that an international marine logistics service may throw up.
Working on a global clock, for example, can come with its own trials and tribulations. "Once, a client called us at 4.00pm in the UAE, on a Thursday in Ramadan, and said our ship is in serious problems in Long Beach California. They had a 35 kilo spare part in Japan and needed it picked up and hand-carried to be in California by Saturday night.
Now, if you consider that 4.00pm Dubai time in Ramadan is likely to be a little bit challenging for starters, it is 9.00pm in Japan. So those are the things that are presented to you as challenges and they are fun to see if you can do it," he laughs.
Of course, it goes without saying that, in the marine logistics world as in other sectors, there are the workable challenges and those which are basically impossible. "There are times when the client says we want this done or that done and you have to say that it is not possible," Steibelt confesses.
Furthermore, in spite of the considerable advancements in its host region, the company is also sometimes faced with potential delays due to some customs procedures involved in moving ship spares from one part of the region to another. "We would be keen to work with government, customs and port authorities to make our service more efficient for our clients," he highlights. "When you have a moving target to meet such as a vessel, you can't afford to have unnecessary delays here, else you miss the ship.
With such challenges out of the way, GAC Marine Logistics can continue to enjoy the luxury of being a leader in a field where its competitors are still playing catch up.
You could say that we don't have so many competitors in this field where we are offering an integrated service. There are some very good companies out there, who have a high degree of skill in freight forwarding but they may not have the skill in ship agency or that combination of global logistics and global agency competence. So in that respect, we are in a reasonably privileged position," says Steibelt.
Whilst he modestly argues the unlikelihood of any business being completely 'unique', what separates GAC Marine Logistics from the rest lies with this core concept of an integrated service. "With the GAC shipping agency infrastructure around the world, I would say that there is scarcely any port, any country where we cannot get information from our network of offices.
That's extremely valuable to our clients because we can just tap that knowledge and we put the logistics and the agency together and give them a combined service," he concludes. "They deal with a single party, which is us, and we try to remove the headache of getting these items delivered on time.