Sheikh Ali bin Jassim Al Thani is the Chairman & Managing Director of Milaha (formerly known as Qatar Navigation). Since his appointment in 2009, he has overseen the merger of three major Qatar-based maritime players – Qatar Navigation, Qatar Shipping and Halul Offshore – to form a multi-faceted shipping, maritime services and logistics company, Milaha. With his extensive experience in strategic mergers and acquisitions, he is now driving Milaha’s transformation and ambitious growth agenda to become a globally recognized player.
After receiving a Bachelors of Science degree from Portland State University in the US, Sheikh Ali started his career at the Ministry of Finance in Qatar as a financial analyst in the Investment Bureau. In 1992, he was given the responsibility for managing direct investments on behalf of the Investment Bureau, which was later transmuted into the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA).
Sheikh Ali is currently a Director at QIA and also Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of Housing Bank for Trade and Finance and a Board Member at United Arab Shipping Company.
As Qatar’s oldest national shareholding company, Milaha has a rich history: The country’s first shipping agent in 1957, granted the country’s first ever commercial license.
Today, Milaha is a diversified holding company with core interests in maritime transport and logistics.
Established in 1957, as the first public shareholding company registered in Qatar, Milaha has quite an interesting history. What would you say are some of the most important milestones of Milaha since inception?
Since its establishment under the name of Qatar National Navigation & Transport Company in 1957, we have been pioneers in the industry whether in terms of being the first shipping agent in Qatar or as being the first public shareholding company in the country. Since then, we have gone through multiple stages of rapid, yet calculated, advancement which started with the start of our operations in Dubai in 1978, followed by the inauguration of the first integrated ship repair facility in Qatar in 1982. In 1991, we achieved another milestone by launching Qatar’s first service center for marine suppliers, engines, and equipment. Later in 2000, Halul Offshore Service was founded as a joint venture between Qatar Shipping and Qatar Navigation. More recently in 2005, we became the largest shareholder in Qatar Gas Transport Company (Nakilat), which owns the biggest LNG fleet in the world, thus making us an integral part of the LNG supply chain for the State of Qatar. We later acquired Qatar Shipping and Halul Offshore Services in 2010 leading up to the strategic transformation and launch of the new Milaha in 2011.
As the Gulf countries continue to diversify away from oiland gas. What is the impact you are witnessing in nontraditional oil and gas logistics that used to be the bulk of your business?
Milaha is a firm believer in the Qatar National Vision 2030, which was put forth by His Highness the Father Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and is now carried forward by His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. One of the main pillars of this vision is a diversified economy that gradually reduces its dependence on hydrocarbon industries but uses the competitive advantages provided by these industries to expand. Diversification into related supply chains is at the core of our strategy with our company comprising five different units -- Milaha Maritime and Logistics, which manages Doha Port among other operations; Milaha Offshore; Milaha Gas and Petrochem; Milaha Trading, which covers maritime equipment sales and servicing; and Milaha Capital, which includes real estate assets and developments. In the future, we are planning to focus on the container business in addition to chemicals and gas. And we have two mixed-use real estate developments under construction in a high-profile area in Doha.
The logistics and transport sector has become very competitive in the Gulf over the last few years. What makes Milaha a strong contender within this sector?
Our strongest advantage is our ability to provide synchronised, end-to-end solutions to our customers in an environment of increasingly de-linked supply chains. With a portfolio of business units that are each strong in their own right but also work together synergistically, we have built a strong regional reputation that is based on our long-standing relationships with some of the biggest energy, energy-related companies, and shipping lines. Furthermore, being based in Qatar offers us a strategic advantage as the country is steadily becoming more significant in the global arena, and this will continue to enhance Milaha’s opportunities to go beyond the region. In addition, our financial strength and stability, backed by our strong human capital gives us a significant leg up as we continue to explore opportunities to grow and expand.
In 2011 Milaha went through a complete rebranding and transformation exercise. What is the reason behind this new image the company has established?
Following the acquisition of Qatar Shipping and Halul Offshore Services in 2010, we started thinking of ways to become sustainable and immune to the changing business cycles of the shipping and maritime industries. Additionally, it was important to rally all our people across the various business units, some of which were “new” in the group, behind a shared vision of the future. We were also looking at creating a brand that encompassed not just our existing markets but also markets outside the region.
The new brand acknowledges our strong local foundations while promising an ambitious and confident shift to a more global and customer-oriented mindset. As a company, our primary goal is to serve our customers, whether local or global, in the best possible way that we can as a group, not as individual businesses. And Milaha gave us the umbrella brand to rally behind.
As a recognition of the successful rebranding, we, along with our brand agency, Bellwether, received a total of 11 awards at the 2014 Transform MENA awards ceremony, including ‘Best Overall Visual Identity,’ ‘Best Creative Strategy,’ and ‘Best Visual Identity for the Industrial Sector’.
Since you took office as the new Chairman in 2009, you have overseen the merger of three important Qatar-based maritime players – Qatar Navigation, Qatar Shipping and Halul Offshore – to form a multi-faceted shipping, maritime services and logistics company, Milaha. Where do you see Milaha in the next 10 years?
In recent years we have seen just about the worst downturn ever in the global shipping markets which contributed to many of our peers and competitors going under or having to undertake significant restructuring. During this time, we have managed to continue to grow our bottom line each year. This is because our success is conditioned on our diversity, versatility and ability to weather and even thrive in conditions like this. Since our early years, we have been creative and pioneering in the way we evolve, adapt, and proactively anticipate market needs and changes. I see us continuing to do so in the next 10 years as we seek to grow our fleet, further diversify our portfolio, and consolidate our local market share while using that as leverage to reach new markets as part of our vision of becoming a globally-recognised player in the shipping and maritime services sector.
It is not only about growth. Simultaneously, we will continue to further solidify our foundations and focus on making our operating model as efficient as possible. On that, we have begun the execution of a five-year technology master plan to drive cost efficiencies in a number of core business activities and provide more transparent and efficient corporate support services.
I have faith in our solid foundation and our ability to grow despite the volatility and cyclical nature of our core businesses. The only way to go for Milaha is forward and up.