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Sunil Joseph

Sunil Joseph: A Serendipitous Entry into Logistics

Embracing the Unexpected Path to a Satisfying and Exciting Career in Shipping!

For many of us, the idea of meticulously planning our career paths is not just a notion but a rule to live by. We spend years in school meticulously selecting our majors and seeking out internships that align with our envisioned futures. However, destiny has a way of stepping in, often leading us down intriguing, unexpected paths, embracing serendipity, and allowing unforeseen opportunities and chance encounters to shape our professional lives.

Sunil Joseph, the Chief Commercial Officer at the Port of Salalah, falls into the latter category. His journey into the world of logistics began as an unexpected turn of events, thanks to a persuasive friend who saw the potential in him. What transpired from that moment is nothing short of remarkable.

With a career spanning an impressive 27 years, Sunil has been a stalwart in the shipping industry. Starting in shipping 27 years ago, he never looked back. His journey has been nothing short of exhilarating, encompassing various facets of the shipping world that continue to fuel his passion and provide immense satisfaction.

A key highlight in Sunil’s career is his appointment as the Chief Commercial Officer at the Port of Salalah in January 2020. His extensive experience of 22 years in various GCC countries, including the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman, has been instrumental in shaping his expertise. This journey included holding several senior leadership roles within A.P. Moller-Maersk, a global leader in integrated container logistics.

Prior to his current role, Sunil held the position of Chief Commercial Officer at APM Terminals, Bahrain. Here, he played a pivotal role in enhancing customer experiences and boosting revenue by devising customer-centric value propositions and innovative supply chain solutions. His educational background further complements his professional success. He holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Finance and has received executive education from the prestigious Columbia Business School.

Sunil’s career trajectory exemplifies the unpredictability and excitement that life can offer when one embraces unforeseen opportunities. His story is not just about navigating the seas but conquering them, turning each challenge into a new opportunity for growth and success.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

The Evolution

The Port of Salalah, situated in Oman, boasts a rich history and has transformed into a prominent international maritime hub. Its strategic location along the major East-West shipping lane positions the port as a crucial gateway, providing exceptional access to key regions such as the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, East Africa, and the Red Sea.

Originally known as Raysut Port, this port began its journey as a joint venture between Sea-Land, a prominent American shipping company at the time, and the Government of Oman. Operations commenced in 1998, marking the port’s humble beginnings. Following Sea Land’s acquisition by A.P. Moller-Maersk, the Port of Salalah became a part of APM Terminals, a significant player in the global terminal portfolio. Over the past 25 years, the port has made remarkable progress, evolving into a multi-faceted maritime facility that has played a pivotal role in the economic development of the Dhofar region through its extensive connectivity. Today, it proudly holds the distinction of being recognized as the second-most efficient port globally.

Customer-Centric Solutions

In discussions regarding Port of Salalah’s commitment to customer-centric solutions, Sunil emphasized the importance of understanding their diverse customer base. This customer portfolio encompasses shipping lines, freight forwarding/Logistics companies, and the ultimate beneficiaries of cargo—importers and exporters. As a multi-port operation, they cater to both container terminal and general cargo customers.

Their primary objective was to instill a customer-centric mindset within the organization. To achieve this goal, they initiated the creation of a dedicated customer care team. This team’s primary focus lies in capturing, resolving, and measuring customer issues and their timely resolutions. Additionally, they’ve made substantial progress in digitally transforming their services, including the development of a customer portal, while acknowledging that there is more work to be done in this regard.

Subsequently, Port of Salalah embarked on developing products and services tailored to meet the specific needs of its diverse customer base. These initiatives align with their overarching strategy, which aims to increase gate volume by offering value-added services and encouraging businesses to establish entities on the mainland of Oman.

Within this context, they have identified three primary product categories, leveraging their strategic geographic location:

  • Speed to Market: Port of Salalah assists companies with global ambitions in operating closer to emerging markets without establishing their entities or infrastructure, significantly reducing delivery lead times while maintaining cost efficiency. Collaborating with their shipping line partner, Maersk, they’ve co-developed products like Flex-Hub, resulting in remarkable reductions in delivery lead times for their customers.
  • Just in Time: They offer an integrated value proposition to their customers, including services from the Salalah Supply chain eco-system i.e Port, Free Zone, and Airport, tailored to their specific requirements.
  • Multi-Modal Solutions: This category encompasses various transportation options such as Sea-Air, Air-Sea, and Road Feeder solutions, catering to diverse logistical needs.

Subsequently, Port of Salalah’s commitment to fostering a customer-centric approach, along with the development of tailored products and services, is aimed at enhancing the value they provide to their customers. This strategy not only increases the competitiveness of their customers’ products but also facilitates the growth of businesses in mainland Oman.

Growth and Skill Development in the Shipping Industry

As Sunil embarked on his path in the shipping industry, he was essentially a newcomer, armed only with a deep passion and a keen interest in the field. It quickly became evident that to realize his ambitions, he needed to acquire specific competencies that would enable him to progress. He embarked on a multifaceted learning journey, with the majority of his knowledge and skills acquired through practical experience on the job and with the invaluable guidance of mentors and coaches, including his subordinates and direct managers.

Additionally, Sunil sought knowledge from readily available sources and delved into relevant literature and books, all of which contributed to his growth and development. To further bolster his skills and expertise, he pursued executive education programs, specifically the one offered by Columbia Education. Although the program wasn’t industry-specific to shipping, it proved to be instrumental in enhancing his leadership abilities. Furthermore, his completion of a PG Diploma in Finance significantly improved his financial literacy.

While these educational experiences weren’t directly linked to the shipping industry, they provided him with a well-rounded skill set and increased confidence, making him better equipped to face the challenges and opportunities within his chosen field.

Insight on Success Strategies

Sunil, while discussing the strategies he deems essential for success in the shipping industry, emphasized that in today’s dynamic market conditions, there exists a dual imperative. This imperative entails providing products and services that meet swiftly evolving consumer demands, all while sustaining competitiveness and agility. Consequently, the adoption of innovative products and solutions is not merely a matter of choice but an absolute necessity.

The recent global pandemic has brought into sharp focus the vulnerability of supply chains. Sunil stresses the importance of proactively incorporating resilience into the business strategy to address such challenging circumstances effectively. This approach not only enables companies to withstand adversity but also positions them to excel and leverage adverse situations. Therefore, forward-thinking planning assumes a pivotal role in their overall strategy.

Navigating Industry Shifts

In his role as a key player at the Port of Salalah since January 2020, Sunil has been dedicated to spearheading the next phase of growth for the port while simultaneously acting as a catalyst for the economic development of the Dhofar region by partnering and engaging with key stakeholders. To achieve this, a multifaceted approach has been adopted, with a primary emphasis on increasing gate volume and offering comprehensive integrated solutions in collaboration with essential partners within the supply chain ecosystem, including Salalah Freezone and the Airport. Furthermore, the Port of Salalah is actively engaged in the development of Multi-Modal solutions through Salalah. These endeavors are meticulously coordinated with pertinent government entities, aligning with their commitment to contribute to the logistics strategy outlined in the Oman 2040 vision.

Sunil and his team acknowledge the immense influence of the geopolitical landscape on the shipping and supply chain industries. Their approach to staying well-informed about the latest trends and developments involves maintaining close connections with their customers. By comprehending the distinct challenges and perspectives of their clientele in the face of global changes, particularly those that directly affect them, they are well-prepared to adapt and respond effectively. Operating as a port terminal places them in a unique position, allowing them to remain connected with both carriers and end-users, thereby providing a significant advantage in staying abreast of industry transformations.

Regional Shipping Challenges

In discussing regional shipping challenges, Sunil emphasized that one of the notable obstacles they face is the limited potential for natural gate volume that comes from consumer demands. This limitation is primarily a result of their relatively smaller population base, which, in turn, affects the attractiveness of shipping lines to provide mainline connectivity. The economics may not favor the carriers due to the limited import/export volume, leading to restricted options for customers in the liner shipping segment. To bridge this gap, Sunil and his team are in the process of stimulating gate volume growth through their product offerings which will in turn attract more liner shipping companies like other thriving ports around the world.

However, it’s crucial to note that despite these challenges, The Port of Salalah maintains one of the most robust regional connectivity networks, which has been consistently expanding. The primary driver behind this expansion is the presence of their largest container customer, Maersk. Leveraging their strategic geographical advantage, they have developed a comprehensive strategy aimed at generating gate volume, as previously outlined.

Approach to Fostering a Collaborative Work Environment

In the conversation about cultivating a collaborative and innovative work environment within his team, Sunil emphasized his strategy. He expressed, “I create an atmosphere of enthusiasm by instilling the pursuit of goals greater than individual aspirations. Regularly reviewing progress and providing constructive feedback play a pivotal role in guiding them toward their desired destinations.”

A GCC Success Story

With a rich shipping industry background spanning 27 years, his profound gratitude for his shipping career is directed toward this region, where he invested a significant portion of his professional life. Sunil firmly upholds the belief that comprehending customers and their unique business requirements is the cornerstone of success when providing them with valuable solutions. His extensive experience within the GCC markets, coupled with an in-depth understanding of its culture and business practices, has been instrumental in his triumphant endeavors within this region.