Ziyad Alhomaid and Asim Alrajhi, CEO and COO of Homoola
- How did the idea for Homoola come about?
- So how did Homoola make the leap from idea to business?
- What makes the Homoola solution stand out?
- What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to turn an idea into reality?
- What was the goal or passion that led to Homoola?
- What are some of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs can expect to face?
- How is Homoola going to keep scaling up in future?
Ziyad Alhomaid and Asim Alrajhi are old university friends who, now in their mid-thirties, are turning trucking on its head across the Middle East. As CEO and COO of Homoola, they run the trucking enterprise solution solving the “empty mile” problem and accelerating change in the logistics sector.
Homoola is an Arabic word meaning “cargo” or “load” – and the company aims to take the load off shippers. Homoola’s digital platform is bringing new efficiency to road freight in Saudi Arabia and beyond by using load-matching technology to pair shippers and trucking companies. It gives shippers access to capacity at times of peak demand and allows them to optimize the efficiency of their shipments at others, while preventing carriers from driving empty miles or sitting idle waiting for cargo.
Since Homoola launched in 2016, the business has scaled up rapidly, carrying more than 7,000 loads in the first year and seeing average monthly growth of 35%. Agility became a key investor in 2017, recognizing the startup’s impressive potential, and Homoola has an exciting blueprint for future expansion.
We asked Ziyad and Asim to tell us more about Homoola’s secrets for startup success, and to share their top tips for new entrepreneurs.
How did the idea for Homoola come about?
Ziyad: We planted the first seeds back in 2004, before we went to university. We were transporting trucks from Dubai to Saudi Arabia, learning how the industry worked. Then we both went to learn more at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business. When we graduated and moved back to Saudi, I began working in manufacturing and Asim had a job in logistics. In 2016, he got in touch because he was so struck that 40% of trucks return completely empty, costing the economy $5 billion every year. Knowing how big the inefficiencies were in the traditional way of doing things, we could see the enormous potential of a digital solution that made load-carrying more efficient.
So how did Homoola make the leap from idea to business?
Asim: We started talking seriously about all the other problems in shipping goods, and how to solve them. It’s a fragmented market; things are done on the phone rather than digitally, and often there’s no quality assurance. It’s hard to know when loads are going to arrive, who is going to deliver, or even if they’ll arrive in one piece. Homoola was our solution to those problems, and it’s been evolving ever since. Agility invested in 2017, and things have taken off even more as a result. Not only did the investment allow us to work full time at Homoola, but we’ve benefited enormously from Agility’s help with our strategy. Our monthly meeting with senior leaders from Agility – sometimes including the CEO and COO – is invaluable, as is their knowledge of transport all around the world, their access to technology, connections to international figures in the industry, and experience of digitizing their operations in Europe.
What makes the Homoola solution stand out?
Ziyad: Our idea for a digital platform is a crucial part of the customer appeal of our business model – but Homoola is more than just an online marketplace. We set out to provide a complete solution which gives shippers unrivalled availability and quality of service. We look after every part of the cargo’s journey from insurance, quality assurance, rating and payments to tracking and monitoring the load – all backed up with 24/7 customer care. With that support, customers love using the platform because it’s a quick and easy way of sending a shipment. They fill in a few details online, choose which kind of truck they need, and get a quick quote. Once they’ve placed the order, they have real-time tracking on their mobile, so they always know where their goods are.
Asim: This is even more important for shippers who need to transport a high volume of goods all at once. Normally, they can’t move everything through one carrier because the carrier simply doesn’t have enough trucks. But because Homoola has such a huge volume of trucks available, we solve this pain point. Rather than having to chase up multiple companies over the phone, we handle the entire volume of cargo, and the customer can track it all easily on our mobile app. It’s so effective that many of our customers have grown from using us for a small number of their loads to trusting us to look after 100% of their shipments.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to turn an idea into reality?
Ziyad: Firstly, know your goals. What do you want to achieve? What are you passionate about? Create a project you really want to commit to. Secondly, find strategic partners. You need to know exactly what you’re looking for in your co-founders and your investors. There’s going to be ups and downs, so you need a strong team around you. Co-founders should have a complementary skill set to yours so you have all bases covered. Finally, be ready for the journey! It will be tough at times, so fasten your seatbelt and prepare for the long haul.
What was the goal or passion that led to Homoola?
Ziyad: We saw the opportunity to bring the digital age to logistics and make a huge efficiency and sustainability impact. Our platform connects a network of shippers and carriers together to use trucking space as efficiently as possible and stop them driving empty. There can be a lot of waste in traditional logistics – shipments often come with a lot of paper. We’re reducing this on the carrier side as well as for shippers, and working towards a paper-free solution. So it saves time, money, energy – and the environment.
Asim: We also wanted to empower local people to build careers in the logistics industry. In Saudi Arabia, it’s a lucrative industry so we’re focused on building an ecosystem around road freight. This is in line with supporting Saudi Vision 2030, which is the government’s plan to diversify the economy by developing different service sectors. We’ve created 30+ jobs for local talent in our in-house team of developers, accountants and administrators. Having that positive social impact is a big motivator for us.
What are some of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs can expect to face?
Ziyad: Startups are usually challenging traditional ways of working, and bringing new ideas to the market. So you are likely to meet some resistance and a lack of understanding about what you offer. Be patient with clients, and don’t expect them to understand the first time – it’s taken four or five months to onboard some of our clients. The only certainty is that there will be setbacks. Learn everything you can from your mistakes, and from the mistakes of others. Then move on.
Asim: Absolutely, you need to expect failures. They’re inevitable, and what’s important is that you pick yourself up and learn from them. You have to view them as a step in your journey to success.
How is Homoola going to keep scaling up in future?
Ziyad: Well, we’ve got the “first-mover advantage” because we’re the only solution like this that’s operating in Saudi Arabia at the moment. So our network of truckers and customers is still growing on a monthly basis, and in the short term we want to keep expanding within the Kingdom. But there are other ways we are planning to expand too in the slightly longer term.
Asim: We’re already shipping goods around the GCC and Jordan, as well as within Saudi Arabia. But we’re looking at creating new bases in neighboring countries soon, starting with the UAE and Jordan. And then we want to look beyond just trucking and integrate with big shippers in the region. There’s a lot more to do!
By Henadi Al-Saleh
Head, Agility Ventures
I recently attended a Business Year conference on the role of the private sector in the future of the Kuwaiti economy. The event highlighted Kuwait’s potential to support a vibrant start-up community, but the need was clear for entrepreneurs to capitalize on the country’s digital transformation to drive innovation.
I spoke on a panel alongside entrepreneurs from other well-known Kuwaiti brands including Carriage and Just Clean. There were also insightful contributions from several others, including Kuwait’s Minister of Finance and the Director General of the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA).
We discussed the fact that while funding for SMEs is critical, a complete eco-system including incubators, talent, laws and other elements must be a part of the wider picture.
I’m encouraged because many of the essential components of a strong knowledge-economy eco-system are coming into place in Kuwait: public and private funding sources, incubators, accelerators and vital sources of mentorship, advice, connections and go-to-market expertise. Kuwait’s legal and regulatory framework is evolving in a positive way.
At Agility, we believe that established companies like ours have a key role to play in supporting SMEs, especially those in the Middle East. We do this both by building products that facilitate SME growth, and by directly providing funding, mentoring and other resources to startups in Kuwait and the broader region.
In March, we brought experts from the MIT Media Lab to Kuwait for the Agility Data Hackathon, a four-day event in which technology students, coders and entrepreneurs competed to solve real world societal and business problems with data and analytics. The idea: to bring together a new generation of Kuwait problem-solvers and encourage development of the collaborative, creative mentality critical to the future of Kuwait and its citizens.
Agility Ventures, our in-house venture capital arm, invests in and advises startups on supply chain ideas and technology. Startups we’ve supported so far include Homoola, a Saudi Arabia company using data analytics and technology to bring new efficiencies to road freight, and CargoX, a Brazilian road freight platform.
We’re also acting as role models, driving our own digital transformation through in-house innovation and investment and the introduction of new products and services. As part of our SME product strategy, we’re investing more than $100 million in Shipa, a new family of tech-enabled freight, e-commerce and delivery services that help small businesses reach international markets. New technologies can streamline the shipping process and make it easier for small businesses to reach overseas markets.
Can Kuwait transform itself into an innovation hub and a private sector-led knowledge economy? The Business Year conference showed that we have the right ingredients for a thriving startup community: funding initiatives, banking structures, connectivity, and well-placed consumers. Now we need to connect the ingredients so they form a healthy, integrated eco-system rather than existing in isolation or as part of fragmented networks. With key stakeholders leading the call for change and entrepreneurs driving innovation, a connected ecosystem will deliver lasting results.
3D printing is big news. It is already a $14.5 billion dollar industry, and is set to keep growing steadily over the next few years.
Each year since 2000, the World Economic Forum has selected high-potential, early-stage companies that are poised to make a social and business impact through innovation.
MIT Media Lab co-hosts Kuwait’s first “Data Agility” hackathon
Fifty tech students, coders and entrepreneurs recently competed in an intense, four-day event in which they teamed up to use data and technology to find solutions to some of Kuwait’s most pressing social and business problems. These innovative minds were taking part in the first “Data Agility” hackathon, co-hosted by Agility and MIT Media Lab, one of the world’s pioneering interdisciplinary research laboratories.
Hackathons are intensive design sprints, where teams compete to see who can use data to fashion the best solution to a pressing problem in just a few hours or days.
Because they bring problem-solvers together in a competitive environment, hackathons have a reputation for fostering innovation and creative thinking — and for getting results fast. (See results below.)
Coached by MIT Media Lab members, nine teams set about creating innovative ways to crack issues faced by consumers, businesses and the government. Armed with data provided by Agility and Kuwait’s Public Authority for Civil Information, competitors were able to tackle problems such as unsnarling Kuwait’s epic morning traffic and making sure consumer products are always in store when shoppers want them.
What were the solutions? And could taking part in a hackathon help your business? We caught up with Lamia Hayat, Manager of Agility Ventures and coordinator of the event, to find out more about the solutions and what the future holds for Kuwait’s tech entrepreneurs.
Four days isn’t long to solve these problems from scratch! Can you talk us through what happened?
LAMIA: It was a real whirlwind! The opening ceremony took place Sunday night with an inspiring address from Agility CEO Tarek Sultan, and an insightful panel discussion on trends in data science, automation and privacy. We were also very honored that Lawrence Silverman, the U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait, attended to give his remarks and support.
Then competitors picked their teams and set to work on Monday morning at a collaborative working space in the city. I’m so glad we hosted it there because there was a really creative and fun vibe, and being surrounded by entrepreneurs and startups working on their own projects meant there was a real collaborative energy.
It went very quickly, but actually, lots of hackathons only run for 24 or 48 hours. Rather than intensive all-nighters, we decided to spread it out with official hours of 9am-5pm to fit with everyone’s lifestyles. We wanted to be accessible to everyone, including parents with young children, and I think this structure really helped us attract a diverse range of people.
What was the key to making the hackathon a success?
LAMIA: There was a real diversity of thinkers from universities, public institutions and private sector organizations. Competitors took part from businesses, banks, technology innovators, start-up accelerators and more – there were so many different perspectives. And it wasn’t just about the solutions that came out of it, but about building networks, sharing ideas and growing the community of tech innovators in Kuwait.
We were supported by various public bodies, including the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS), Kuwait Achievers for Future Opportunities (KAFO), and the Public Authority for Civil Information, which generously donated the data used during the event. People really came together to support innovation and entrepreneurship.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are interested in doing a hackathon?
LAMIA: I really recommend it! It’s a fantastic learning opportunity; you get to practice new skills, a new way of working, and meet a great diversity of interesting people.
And if you’re in Kuwait, get involved with ours! We’re already discussing next year’s, and putting lots of thought into how we can make it even bigger and better.
MIT Media Lab Participants
A doctoral student in the Collective Learning Group at the MIT Media Lab, Kevin’s research focuses on democratizing data analysis for non-technical people. He is currently interested in high-density data interface design, visualization recommendation, and applied machine learning.
A Postdoctoral Fellow at the Human Dynamics Group at MIT Media Lab, Eduardo’s work primarily focuses on the combination of swarm robotic systems and blockchain technology to implement new security, behavior, and business models for distributed robotic systems.
A Kuwaiti PhD student at the Human Dynamics group at MIT Media Lab, Abdulrahman holds a bachelor in Computer Engineering and he is currently working on distributed machine learning algorithms.
After completing his undergraduate degree at Old Dominion University, Abdulrahman worked for 3 years at Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR).
The Hackathon Winners
Most Innovative Solution: PIFSS Team
This all-female team from The Public Institute for Social Security used Agility data to come up with a truly innovative warehousing solution which predicted inbound and outbound flow.
Best Business Solution: The Producers
Using traffic data, a team with members from the Civil Service Commission and Kuwait National Petroleum Companies produced a solution to Kuwait’s traffic problems with the potential to become a thriving startup.
Most Outstanding Solution: Team TANG
This team of extremely talented students from schools including the Kuwait College of Science and Technology, produced an outstanding methodology for predicting warehousing capacity using four years of previous data.
KUWAIT – March 24, 2019 – Agility, a leading global logistics provider, is collaborating with the MIT Media Lab to host a four-day competition that opened Sunday and challenges teams of Kuwaiti tech students, coders and entrepreneurs to solve real-world societal and business problems.
The Data Agility Hackathon will be co-hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, one of the world’s pioneering interdisciplinary research laboratories. Experts from the MIT Media Lab are coaching 50 Hackathon participants working in teams of 10 to find ways to crack issues faced by consumers, businesses and the government.
Hackathon competitors will use high-powered tools to analyze data provided by Agility and Kuwait’s Public Authority for Civil Information. Among the questions they will examine:
- Can satellite imagery unsnarl Kuwait’s epic morning traffic so we can get to work, school and the airport faster?
- Can predictive analytics ensure that your favorite cosmetics and fashion items are in store when you go shopping?
- How can data science speed online purchases right to your door, faster and more reliably than ever?
Thinkers and representatives from Kuwaiti ministries, universities, businesses, banks, technology innovators, start-up accelerators and foundations also are taking part. The data used by the teams includes satellite imaging, Kuwait traffic information, location-based data, and warehousing and freight data.
Tarek Sultan, Agility CEO & Vice Chairman, said: “The Data Agility Hackathon brings a new generation of Kuwaiti problem-solvers together to learn, grow, and use their skills to improve life. We are trying to foster a collaborative, creative mentality and develop the skills critical to the future of Kuwait and its citizens.”
Ryan McCarthy, Director of Member Relations at the MIT Media Lab, said: “Hackathons bring together intellect, creativity and the latest technology tools to address unique regional challenges. We’re enthusiastic about bringing our interdisciplinary approach to design, prototyping and problem-solving to this event.”
Sunday’s opening ceremony featured remarks from U.S. Ambassador Lawrence Silverman; Dr. Youssef Al-Ibrahim, Chairman of the Supervisory Committee of Kuwait Achievers for Future Opportunities (KAFO) Project; and Abdulrahman Al-Otaibi, a Kuwaiti doctoral candidate at the MIT Media Lab. The opening was followed by a panel discussion on the trends and implications of data science, automation and data privacy.
Dr. Al-Ibrahim said: “Following the vision and direction of His Highness, the Amir to continue to empower the youth of Kuwait, we initiated KAFO following the national youth project. It is our mission at KAFO to identify young talent and connect them to others so that they can learn and collaborate as part of our role in contributing to the knowledge economy. We are proud to be part of this advanced program which promotes problem solving through innovation to enable youth in building the future.”
Agility has been a member of the MIT Media Lab since 2017. The Data Agility Hackathon is supported by the Kuwait Foundation for Advancement of Sciences and KAFO.
Q&A with Rashad Sinokrot, CEO of GCC Services
According the UN Refugee Agency, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people and more than 25.4 million refugees worldwide. Many face significant risks to their safety, health, education and employability, which is why the Innovate for Refugees competition is helping to address these problems.
This global initiative is run by the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab — an organization affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that is dedicated to supporting those in the entrepreneurship ecosystem across the Arab world. It searches for the most innovative tech-driven solutions that improve refugees’ lives by providing access to education, shelter, sanitation and much more. Every year, it awards over $240,000 USD in grants to help these startups grow — without taking any equity from the businesses.
CEO of GCC Services
What makes the competition unique is that a quarter of the entrants were once refugees. We spoke to Rashad Sinokrot, CEO of GCC Services, and one of last year’s judges, to find out more.
- In the second edition of the Innovate for Refugees competition, each of the five winners was awarded $20,000 USD to help their businesses grow. They are:
- Akyas: producing single-use biodegradable toilets and sanitizer kits.
- Hope In Sand And Pipes: helping refugees build a transitional shelter using locally available materials.
- More Than One Perspective: facilitating an advanced training program that offers workshops, training and mentoring to prepare highly qualified refugees to enter the labor market.
- Paper Airplanes: providing free, mobile-friendly video technology which connects refugee teens and adults with a course of individualized 12-week sessions from a personal instructor.
- Tech For Food: providing digital skills trainings which take people from having never touched a computer to employable in the international digital economy in 8-16 weeks.
- The winners of the third edition have recently been released on the MIT Innovate for Refugees website. Details of the fourth edition are due to be released soon!
Can you tell us more about your experience of the Innovate for Refugees program?
Judging the Innovate for Refugees competition was an uplifting experience. I found out about the initiative because Agility is a consortium member of MIT Media Lab, and co-sponsors the Innovate for Refugees program. GCC Services is part of the Agility group and our work in remote site services with United Nations peacekeeping missions made me well-suited to judging the entries.
The judging panel saw some fantastic solutions. Many focused on providing access to education and the labor market, which both have a high impact on livelihood once people have resettled in host nations. Paper Airplanes uses virtual learning technology to help children continue their education while they are living in camps, and MTOP connects refugees with employers in Austria who can benefit from their diverse perspectives.
How is the competition affected by the fact that 25% of entrants were once refugees themselves?
With so many entrepreneurs who have lived as refugees, there is a huge amount of passion in the air. People are engaged and they really care about making a difference.
All of the projects with former refugees on the team are very practical. That personal understanding of the real issues people face means there are no fairytale ideas or unworkable concepts. It’s all things refugees need and would want to use. Of the five winners last year, three had team members who were former refugees, so having that direct experience really adds value.
It also means there are some touching personal stories. In one team, a Syrian woman who had been a refugee was working with a German man to help people from Syria integrate into German society. While they were working together on this venture they certainly put integration into practice, as they ended up getting engaged!
What role does technology have in ensuring these innovations make an impact?
Technology is crucial. Like the impact of digitalization in business generally, it allows these solutions to carry further, faster — and to reach far more people than traditional products can.
Most of the entrepreneurs are young and tech-savvy; they are familiar with the latest platforms and want to keep learning more. Over half of the refugee population worldwide are under 18, so it’s great to see them designing solutions for other young people.
With that said, of course any viable solution needs to be accessible and not have too many requirements from the end user. The most successful solutions were presented in a simple way so that they could be used by people with few means. Not all refugees live in camps, and some have access to the internet via a cell phone, or laptop. But they may not have 4G or 5G, so making the requirements as low as possible is really important.
Some refugees do struggle with tech skills, and limited access to computers is a significant disadvantage in today’s labor market. Tech for Food, one of the competition winners, is addressing this problem by teaching Syrian refugees digital skills through intensive vocational training.
But not all of the products need the user to have access to any technology; some simply use technology in innovative ways to create a product that can then be distributed to those who need it.
Which projects were particularly impressive in terms of their innovation, scalability, team, financial sustainability and impact?
One startup that impressed me on many factors was Akyas, led by Bara Wahbeh. She has produced a single-use biodegradable toilet bag which tackles hygiene problems in areas without sanitation infrastructure, such as refugee camps, war zones or impoverished areas. The bag biodegrades and integrates with the environment to become safe, disease-free soil.
This combination of manufacturing and biology was innovative and very impressive. The product is environmentally and financially sustainable, and addresses multiple problems at once. As well as providing a sanitation solution, it prevents gender-based violence by allowing women to go somewhere private to go to the toilet. It’s an impressive product, and has huge potential for scalability.
Will Agility and GCC Services continue to support the Innovative for Refugees competition?
Absolutely. This is exactly the kind of innovation that we love to support — it makes a difference to people’s lives. We’ll be co-sponsoring and judging the competition again this year, and will undoubtedly be just as inspired by this year’s innovations.
E-commerce in the GCC, worth $26.9 billion in 2018, could rocket to nearly $49 billion by 2022.
E-commerce is disrupting the retail sector.
Warehousing is in the midst of a tech-driven revolution as companies race to identify and adopt emerging technologies that cut costs, optimize operations and improve overall supply chain efficiency.
After many years in early stage venture capital funding, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the startup world.
The GCC e-commerce market is set to become one of the fastest-growing in the world, swelling to $20 billion a year by 2020, according to global consultancy A.T. Kearney.
That would represent an astonishing four-fold increase in the size of the market in just four years. It’s the reason why e-commerce giants are racing to put down roots in the region, and why new digital marketplaces are sprouting up. The Middle East is poised to experience an e-commerce boom. How can you make sure your business is prepared?
The growth in Middle East e-commerce is constrained for the moment by a shortage of financial and logistics infrastructure. But policymakers in Dubai and other key markets want to become e-commerce hubs and are trying to attract investment in the sector by simplifying and fast-tracking business registration and permits for physical assets such as warehousing, office space and vehicles. Indeed, investment is pouring in, as demonstrated by Amazon’s $580 million acquisition of Souq and successful efforts by Mumzworld, Awok and Namshi to attract funding.
Middle East consumers do have some idiosyncrasies – they retain a preference for cash payments, for instance, and have indicated deep concern about online security. For these and other reasons, many successful retailers in the region have not felt the urgency to bring their goods to the online market. So despite its potential, the e-commerce sector currently makes up less than 1% of the GCC region’s GDP, according to tech advisory firm Gartner.
How can SMEs ride the region’s e-commerce wave? First, they need to understand a few facts about the region’s fast-changing landscape.
- Big + Global is not always an advantage. Mastercard reports that 54% of consumers in the Middle East and North Africa prefer shopping on local websites to buying on foreign ones. This means there is an opportunity for local SMEs to be “first movers” and carve out a piece of the market before the giants get established.
- The shopping mall is changing. Stores in the gleaming shopping mega-malls across the Middle East are doubling as e-commerce fulfilment centers for online shoppers who want same-day and next-day delivery along with easy returns. At the same time, malls themselves are being transformed from traditional rack-and-shelf shopping space to leisure destinations emphasizing dining and “experiential” options such as indoor skiing, wall climbing and waterparks. Reem Mall, under construction in Abu Dhabi, is a prime example of this new mall experience.
- Creative upstarts can come out on top. E-commerce marketers have disrupted or obliterated the business model in a number of categories where established players became complacent. In the United States alone, there are several interesting examples: pet supply store Chewy, razor subscription service Dollar Shave Club, mattress supplier Caspar and furniture store Wayfair.
Markets in different shapes, sizes
SME sellers looking to go digital in the Middle East have to figure out whether it makes sense to develop their own digital stores, to sell in third-party marketplaces devoted to a narrow product range, or go rely on large players that offer a wide array of product lines and feature competing sellers.
They need to understand whether how they’re going to handle cross-border shipments, warehousing, delivery, customer service, fulfilment and returns. They need to know the costs and benefits of using a global provider, a local one or a go-it-alone approach.
Amazon and Alibaba have their advantages, but that also makes it hard for them to fully penetrate or offer a satisfying online experience in certain product categories and markets. Businesses with specialized products and extensive ranges within those specialties often can use their expertise to create advantage.
The market for soft furnishings such as sofas, armchairs and made-to-measure curtains is one example of a category in which big players often struggle to compete with local-market leaders. These products are often tailored or customized to the buyer’s taste and only finished once the customer places the order. Giant e-commerce companies generally don’t provide customization options because they don’t specialize in these products.
The future of e-commerce in the Middle East
At Agility, we see huge e-commerce potential for SMEs in emerging markets. The unique conditions in many Gulf countries make the region a particularly exciting and urgent prospect. Logistics providers are now offering technology-driven solutions to SMEs that help them overcome the logistics challenges of e-commerce, with digital freight platforms, such as Shipa Freight, allowing companies to get rate quotes and book, pay and track air and ocean shipments with a few clicks.
SMEs looking to grow their online sales can benefit from partnering with logistics companies that have robust infrastructure and e-commerce expertise. First movers will have a crucial advantage if can they find partners who help them manage inventory, deliveries and returns for maximum efficiency.
To learn more about how Agility is supporting the growth of SMEs worldwide visit our Shipa Freight website, where you can read our global study Ship for Success that examines the trade patterns and barriers of SMEs.
Close encounters with the Willy Wonkas of Tech
By Henadi Al-Saleh
Some of the most mind-opening moments of my career have come from Agility’s decision last year to become a consortium member of the MIT Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. Behind-the-scenes access to the lab’s latest innovations has changed the way I think about our challenges. It’s been a long time since I was a kid marveling at the sweets in a candy store, but spending time at the lab is like being with the Willy Wonkas of technology.
The Media Lab is creativity in action. The people there describe their research as “anti-disciplinary,” meaning they want to free themselves from the limitations imposed by dividing knowledge up into different school subjects. Lots of universities describe their research as “interdisciplinary” – crossing the boundaries of academic disciplines – but the MIT Media Lab is taking it to the next level.
The lab’s mission is to use technology to create a better future for humanity. Whatever helps them fulfill this mission, they’ll do it. From the stuff I’ve seen coming out this liberated mind-set, it really works! They aren’t just thinking outside the box, they’re tearing the cardboard up. Just being involved with the Media Lab makes you think sideways, upside-down and back-to-front. What if clothes adapted themselves depending on your body temperature, rather than you having to change clothes, or buy different garments? What if the healthy things we don’t fancy eating tasted like the things we love most?
What’s lettuce got to do with logistics?
Sure, this stuff is exciting and cool, but what’s it got to do with being a global logistics provider? Well, nothing. And at the same time, kind of everything.
The lab has developed drones and object-locating technology that could revolutionize warehousing, but the bulk of its work has little obvious or direct connection to logistics. We joined because we want to explore new ideas and push the boundaries – and because we want to be inspired. Researchers at the lab approach their jobs with a sense of wonder and discovery, often stumbling on real world applications as they go along. What they love is when consortium members like Agility come to them with problems, such as how to more efficiently deliver humanitarian aid in Africa.
Culture change and radical thinking are notoriously hard in business. Disruption is scary because you’ve got to keep executing every day. But this is the way to open your mind to the possibilities. When our team travelled to Boston for the Media Lab’s Spring Member Summit a couple of months ago, we weren’t just tapping into a wealth of knowledge, we were tapping into a mindset. For me, these experiences are about sparking the “why,” and showing the incredible things humanity is able to achieve.
Chocolate-flavored lettuce is pretty out-there. At first it seems like a silly novelty, but then you realize how it’s thinking around a problem in a creative way. We all know that poor nutrition is damaging to our health, but many of us prefer tasty junk food and sweets to healthy, good-for-you foods. Well, what if healthy foods were just as tasty and appealing? I love chocolate, so the lab’s answer certainly set my mouth watering.
The WOW! Factor
Many of the other amazing things we saw at the lab are still top secret, but here’s one from the Affective Computing research group. It shows Agility Ventures’ very own Lamia Hayat making friends with a robot—an off-the-shelf Cozmo that the researchers are using in their experiments with machine learning.
He’s super cute, but the capabilities the researchers are working on giving artificial intelligence could ultimately help give children with autism the ability to learn how to read different emotions. Discover more about the lab’s incredible “deep learning” program and perhaps you’ll be as inspired by its infectious, hands-on creativity as I am.
We’re thrilled that we became consortium members. If you want to find out more about the lab and its work – and you definitely should! – visit the MIT Media Lab website and check out its amazing innovations in action on the lab’s YouTube channel. And if you hate vegetables, keep your eyes peeled. It might not be long before they taste a whole lot different …
Homoola today announced the formal launch of its digital load-matching service in Saudi Arabia, where it will bring new efficiency to road freight by using technology to pair shippers and trucking companies. Homoola’s load-matching technology addresses the pain points felt by both shippers and carriers. It gives shippers access to capacity at times of peak demand and allows them to optimize the efficiency of their shipments at other times.
Agility sponsored the Innovate for Refugees technology competition, an initiative by the MIT Enterprise Forum (MITEF) Pan Arab. The competition, which commenced in 2017, and is running through 2018, looks for the best tech-driven solutions to address the challenges faced globally by refugees. Projects were judged on innovation, scalability, team, financial sustainability, and impact.
Twenty semi-finalists presented their work to a jury comprised of key investors and business people, including Rashad Sinokrot, CEO of GCC SERVICES, one of Agility’s Infrastructure companies.
The winners were announced in Amman, Jordan on January 28, at a ceremony that attracted more than 300 investors, business entrepreneurs, media representatives and public figures. The winning teams, each receiving a $20,000 prize, included individuals hailing from Jordan, Lebanon, Kenya, Egypt, Tunisia, Sweden, France, Greece, the U.S., Germany, Austria and Turkey.
- Paper Airplane (the U.S.) provides free online language and skills instruction to people affected by conflict. The goal is to help individuals learn languages and marketable skills for their pursuit of higher education and employment.
- Tech for Food (Iraq, Lebanon) provides digital training sessions targeting vulnerable communities to help them become employable in the international digital economy.
- More than One Perspective (Austria) is an advanced training program that offers various workshops, training and mentoring to prepare highly qualified refugees to enter the labor market.
- Hope in Sand and Pipes (Lebanon) provides a transitional shelter for refugees using locally available material with minimum maintenance requirements and environmental considerations in the design to minimize the effects of the heat in the summer and cold in winter.
- Akyas (Jordan) is a personal single-use biodegradable toilet with a sanitizer kit. The bag is made of biodegradable plastics and designed to provide maximum hygiene.
In addition to the cash prize, finalists will also benefit from a mentorship program in innovation and leadership. Mentors will work with one team to insure the success of their initiative, for two hours per month, over a six month to one-year period. The MITEF Pan Arab team will follow up regularly with both mentor and mentees to note progress and challenges faced throughout the mentorship session.
This was the second year of the Innovate for Refugees competition, with wide participation, including more than 1,800 applications from around the world.
Agility’s corporate venture arm, Agility Ventures, partners with start-ups who are championing technologies that can help build faster, more secure, and more sustainable supply chains. They offer start-ups unrivaled access to a global network of resources and the expertise to incubate, invest and scale the best ideas.
Agility has a globally recognized CSR program, covering humanitarian logistics, community volunteerism, fair labor and environmental sustainability. Agility’s humanitarian logistics program has supported humanitarian partners, including the United Nations World Food Program, in more than 50 pro-bono projects related to natural disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies. Since 2006, Agility has completed more than 1,700 community education, health or environment projects affecting more than one million people in 80 countries, including the construction or refurbishment of 38 schools in 18 countries.
In 2016, the World Trade Organization released an extensive report on small and medium-sized businesses.
Agility is the first freight forwarder to collaborate on a Maersk-IBM solution to provide more efficient and secure methods for conducting global trade by using blockchain technology to manage and track container shipments.
Agility Ventures is an investor, board member and advisor for Eunimart, an India-based e-commerce startup. Eunimart CEO Shayak Mazumder attended a World Economic Forum event at the invitation of Agility Ventures.
I recently attended a World Economic Forum (WEF) event in Tianjin, China, as part of the Agility delegation. To say that it was a great opportunity for a fledgling startup like Eunimart would be an understatement. This is exactly the kind of opportunity that can help catapult a startup from a second-tier city like Hyderabad in India to a world stage, helping us get access to global investors and bigger business partners, and overall acting as a catalyst for rapid growth.
By Shayak Mazumder, CEO Eunimart
I have been a part of several startup ecosystems. What new technology companies typically need is to get a co-founder/idea to mentorship, investment and validation. Remember, traditional businesses operate with existing business models and bring forth incremental change, but startups bring about a paradigm change in the way we operate. That’s why investing in startups is a practical way to stay ahead of the curve and is beneficial for all members in the ecosystem. The WEF event brought together the people and elements needed for companies like ours to accelerate formation of their ecosystems.
International collaboration for greater synergy
It was during my MBA at INSEAD that I first truly understood the value of collaboration and bringing globally diversified thought processes to bear on problems that have a global scale. This not only creates unique solutions and more sustainable results, but, most importantly, provides a global market to validate ideas. At the WEF, the first startup I met was from Namibia and the second from Argentina. I ended the event with partnership plans in several countries.
Mentorship from industry experts and thought leaders
I have never met so many thought leaders in one space. While I work to help SMEs sell their products globally in a scalable manner through our platform, the sheer variety of topics, technologies and expertise at the WEF is unprecedented. I reveled in this unique opportunity to open my mind to new ideas and technologies and in the three-day period grew more in my understanding of tech than I had in the last one year.
Policymakers and technologies need to collaborate
There is nothing more important than policymakers and governments remaining abreast of what changes technology can bring. While early stage startups seldom look to collaborate with policymakers, simply due to the small scale of their operations, they fail to grasp the massive impact that policy and regulation have on their business models. Policymakers, on the other hand, tend to automatically connect new tech with existing business models rather than imagining new business models enabled by innovation. WEF provided us with an opportunity to hobnob with various government agencies. We were able to educate them about how existing problems could be solved through new technologies.
Bringing the various ecosystems together
More than anything else, WEF brings several ecosystems together. There are governments, corporations and other institutions, all trying to promote startups and doing great work. So you see Startup India, for example, promoting 30K startups in India! At WEF, what’s impressive is the sheer volume of opportunity — where Startup India looks to collaborate with Startup Bahrain and incubators in Pakistan end up joining hands with Malaysian ecosystem enablers.
The awe that I felt a first was mixed with a sudden dose of reality. It was like someone doused me in cold water and left me exposed and shivering. The volume of people and ideas was humbling. Once I got used to the enormity of the event, I was overwhelmed by the number of amazing people I met – and the sense that I should be trying to meet more. How in a setting like that can you figure out who is most important to you and would create that extra value for you? The only strategy is to be open and to start conversations with as many people as you can, explore their ideas and discuss your ideas with them. I met several potential business partners and investors. What impressed me was how open and like-minded everyone was. In what can be a gloomy world, the event left me with optimism. It was a breath of fresh air.
Our host nation, China did not disappoint, whether it was police officers who dropped their duties to give me a lift or hotel receptions where only payment options were through QR codes. China’s aspirations to be a global leader came through clearly. It all added up to a WEF with a potent mix of amazing talent and opportunities to use new connections and ideas to our benefit. I’m a believer. I would love to go back as often as I get the opportunity. My thanks to Agility.
Eunimart is India’s leading cross-border, e-commerce company, using AI technology to enable small merchants sell globally. Eunimart provides end-to-end cross border solutions for e-commerce, connecting SMEs to multiple international market places, including Amazon Global, eBay global, Lazada, Linio, Bonanza, Souq, Wadi, and Wish. Agility Ventures works with Eunimart to help facilitate entry into new markets, and offers Eunimart access to the Agility logistics/customer networks for use of their services. Agility Ventures, which has a seat on the Eunimart board, advises the company on performance and on securing additional investment.
Agility CEO Tarek Sultan shares his view of innovation in the logistics industry and explains how embracing disruption is enabling Agility to stay ahead of the game.
Offers world-class warehouses for lease to multinationals and local businesses
MAPUTO, Mozambique – April 13, 2021 – Agility, a leading global logistics and warehouse provider, has opened a new Agility Logistics Park in Maputo, adding to its growing network of international-standard warehouse parks serving key African markets.
The new 290,000 SQM Agility park is strategically located on the new Maputo ring road in the Marracuene-Chiongo district, providing easy access to the burgeoning Maputo market and road connections to the major highways leading to large markets in the north of Mozambique and to South Africa.
The 32,000 SQM of Agility warehousing constructed for the first phase of the development provide ready-built, secure, international-standard facilities that are available to lease by both local companies and multinationals. Tenants lease the warehouses for storage, distribution, packaging, processing, assembly and light manufacturing.
Agility warehouses meet international environmental standards and feature eco-friendly construction materials. Agility used energy-efficient roof and side-insulated panels; wind-driven roof fans; skylights for natural lighting; LED and energy-saving bulbs; and solar-powered streetlights. The site will recycle paper, plastic, metal, and carton waste. It provides eco-friendly waste management services and carbon footprint reporting.
The Agility Logistics Park in Maputo is part of an expanding network of quality warehouse parks that Agility is funding and developing in key markets across Africa to support the development of domestic and regional trade. Other Agility Logistics Parks are located in Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Nigeria.
Geoffrey White, CEO Agility Africa, said: “We believe that the provision of international-standard warehouses in Africa for storage, distribution and light manufacturing is one of the fundamental building blocks necessary for economic growth. The Agility Logistics Parks enable companies, whether multinationals or small and medium local enterprises, to access quality infrastructure easily, quickly and cost effectively, enabling growth and prosperity.”
Agreement will integrate NAS’s KuwaitMosafer platform with the Forum’s Common Trust Network
KUWAIT – April 12, 2021 — National Aviation Services (NAS), the leading airport services company in emerging markets, has partnered with the World Economic Forum to enhance safe air travel by using its KuwaitMosafer platform to share Kuwait’s vaccine records with countries and airlines across the globe.
The partnership will facilitate safer international air travel by using KuwaitMosafer to make vaccine certificates issued by the Kuwait Ministry of Health instantly accessible to airlines, airport authorities and governments via the Forum’s Common Trust Network. The Common Trust Network, launched by the Forum and the Commons Project Foundation, enables the safe, secure sharing of verifiable lab results and vaccination records to advance cross-border travel and commerce.
Hassan El-Houry, Group CEO of NAS, said, “Countries are keen to collaborate with us to revive passenger travel generally and to make it possible for high-spending Kuwaitis to safely resume business and leisure travel in greater numbers. Through platforms like KuwaitMosafer, we are focused on safer and simpler digital solutions that can aid both local and global recovery of travel.”
With multiple, interlinked technology solutions, Kuwait is considered a global leader in digital health tools that can be deployed at the airport.
The Common Trust Network’s partnership with KuwaitMosafer was fueled by Kuwait’s efforts to restart global travel. Those efforts were highlighted in an article published by the Forum on its website. The article describes digital tools that NAS has developed to restore confidence and accelerate recovery in the air travel industry.
“With the Covid-19 vaccine certificate, passengers can travel reassured with complete data confidentiality and the ability to share their personal records as and where required,” El-Houry said.
The Common Trust Network is enabled by a global registry of trusted laboratory and vaccination data sources, standard formats for lab results and vaccination records, and standard tools to make those results and records digitally accessible.
The Commons Project also introduced CommonPass, a globally interoperable app that allows travelers to document their COVID-19 status digitally for cross-border travel and share via a QR code. CommonPass is already deployed by Lufthansa on all flights from Germany to the U.S. and by Jetblue on flights to Aruba. Japan’s Nippon Airways (ANA) and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific are also currently piloting this technology.
As leading player in the aviation industry, NAS is a key participant at regional and global discussions including the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos each year. NAS recently signed up to the Good Health Pass Collaborative, a cross-sector initiative to develop a blueprint for privacy-protected, user-controlled, globally interoperable, and universally accepted digital health pass systems. It is also in discussions with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to maximize integration and facilitate travel with the IATA Travel Pass that will allow storage and management of certifications for COVID-19 tests or vaccines.
NAS introduced the Medical Utility Network Accreditor (MUNA), a patented blockchain technology that connects PCR testing labs in different countries and cities together to verify and authenticate certificates for cross-border travel. KuwaitMosafer and BelSalamah, another online platform developed by NAS for safe passage of travelers from high-risk countries to Kuwait, are both linked to the MUNA network. This makes it possible to share authenticated PCR test results generated from audited labs in over 40 cities. El-Houry said: “The MUNA data in Kuwait shows promising results. All travelers arriving to Kuwait from high-risk countries are registered on KuwaitMosafer or BelSalamah and must get their PCR tests conducted at MUNA-authorized labs wherever available. We discovered that the number of positive cases entering the country were three times higher before MUNA was introduced. This suggests a significant reduction in infected cases entering the country with forged certificates or fake results.”
Moves 50,000+ medical gowns to Uganda
BAAR, Switzerland – April 6, 2021 – Agility, a leading global logistics provider, has donated the transportation of nine tons of medical materials from China to Uganda for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in partnership with Qatar Airways Cargo.
The donation, through One Million Kilos, Chapter 1 of Qatar Airways Cargo’s sustainability program “WeQare” included more than 50,000 surgical kits to be used at hospitals and medical centers in Kampala, Uganda. In China, Agility’s teams received, inspected and packaged the materials for export. The cargo was flown to Kampala, Uganda, by Qatar Airways Cargo; upon arrival, Agility facilitated customs clearance and delivered the goods to UNHCR.
Michael Blaufuss, Agility SVP of Air Freight, said: “This project demonstrates the value that Agility brings to its customers and charity partners. Our teams were able to work quickly with UNHCR and its vendors to export the medical gowns during the holiday period, and get them to in Kampala. The donation of space by Qatar Airways Cargo was critical in getting the supplies to the destination quickly.”
‘1 Million Kilos’ is the first chapter of WeQare, where charities were able to use the services of Qatar Airways Cargo through freight forwarders and transport humanitarian aid and medical supplies all over the world, free of charge.
Guillaume Halleux, Chief Officer Cargo at Qatar Airways said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how essential air freight is in the time of crisis. Through WeQare’s One Million Kilos campaign, we are pleased to support Agility and UNHCR in transporting essential supplies to places where they are needed the most. “
Nader El Nakib, Head of Private Sector Partnership; Kuwait, said “This donation will be used by UNHCR’s medical teams to help displaced persons receive improved medical care, while protecting UNHCR’s frontline health workers. We are especially grateful that Agility and Qatar Airways were able to provide these international air cargo services during the global pandemic. This donation means UNHCR can redirect funding to support other beneficiaries in need of assistance.”
Agility has a globally recognized sustainability program, covering humanitarian logistics, community volunteerism, fair labor and environmental sustainability. Agility is part of the FTSE4Good Index Series, a resource used by investors to identify companies around the world with strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices. Agility is also ranked in the top 10% of all companies and the top 4% of the logistics industry for overall sustainability performance by EcoVadis. Since 2006, Agility has responded to 75+ humanitarian crises since 2006 across the world.
Agility and Transport Intelligence discuss the 2021 global economic outlook, ongoing supply chain turmoil, and lasting change brought about by the pandemic — all reflected in the just-launched 2021 Agility Emerging Markets Logistics Index.
State-of-the-art facility features energy efficiency, sustainability, indigenous art
MELBOURNE, Australia – March 17, 2021 – Agility, a leading global logistics provider, has moved its Australasia regional headquarters to a new 32,000 sqm facility in the Melbourne Airport Business Park.
The building has advanced features intended to make it energy efficient and environmentally friendly. It is mounted with 4,108 solar panels that can generate up to 1.8MW of electricity for Melbourne Airport’s existing 12MW solar farm. It also features a 10,000-litre, roof-rainwater harvesting tank that will provide water for toilets and drip irrigation of the landscaping. Additionally, the main office has a solar-electric hot water system.
The new Agility Australasia facility is equipped with best-in-class technology for logistics with 30,000 sqm devoted to warehousing and 2,000 sqm for office space. Agility Australasia offers a complete range of logistics, multimodal transport and distribution services for industrial, service and retail companies operating in the region. The building will also feature space for Agility Fairs & Events.
Qanstruct, an innovative, Melbourne-based design firm, led construction of the facility, which took 13 months and employed more than 100 workers at the peak of the project. To enhance the facility, Agility landscaped the property with 1,800 plants and acquired 10 one-of-a-kind art pieces, all painted by indigenous women.
“We faced various challenges especially during the peak of COVID-19, but all parties were compliant to restrictions and the construction was completed safely,” said Michael Potenza, CEO of Agility Australasia. “Now that our facility is open, we are collaborating with customers, suppliers and innovators to pioneer the sustainable supply chains of the future. These supply chains are green and fair, which should inspire confidence in every customer.”
Figures in the table above have been rounded
KUWAIT – 15th March, 2021 — Agility, a leading global logistics provider, today reported 2020 net profit of KD 41.6 million, or 21.73 fils per share, a decrease of 52.1% from 2019. Revenue for the year reached KD 1.6 billion, an increase of 2.7%, and EBITDA reached KD 162.4 million, a decrease of 15.9%. The 2020 results include one-time expenses related to restructuring that took place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for KD 12.5 million and KD 28 million expense associated with the loss of Amghara land.
For Q4 2020, Agility reported a net profit of KD 10.1 million, or 5.25 fils per share, a decrease of 56.6% from Q4 2019. Q4 EBITDA was KD 40 million, a decrease of 21.2%. Q4 revenue increased 12.4% to KD 452.7 million.
Board of Directors Recommendation
Agility’s Board of Directors has recommended a cash dividend distribution of 10% (10 fils per share), along with 10% bonus shares (10 shares for every 100 shares), subject to approval of the General Assembly.
Agility Consolidated Results
Agility Vice Chairman and CEO Tarek Sultan said 2020 was a challenging year for most businesses around the world, including Agility. “Our company moved swiftly to adjust its cost structure to match the reality confronting each part of the business, while at the same time making sure to preserve our long-term strategic vision and ongoing support for our communities around the world,” he said.
Sultan said: “We are proud of the steps we took to keep our front-line workers safe, and keep cargo moving for our customers in the face of one of the greatest supply chain disruptions the world has ever seen. We also stayed committed to ongoing pro-bono support for government, humanitarian, and education partners that are coping with the global pandemic.”
Sultan outlined areas that Agility is prioritizing for future investment:
- Gearing up the company’s Life Sciences capabilities for distribution of vaccines, therapeutics, medical equipment and related products.
- Making strategic bets on emerging technologies and companies that Agility believes will reshape supply chains, including Agility’s online logistics, last-mile and e-commerce portfolio, through its Shipa group of companies.
- Boosting its sustainability and ESG initiatives and partnerships, including efforts to reduce fleet emissions, improve energy efficiency in logistics facilities, and work in partnership with customers.
Sultan said Agility must remain agile, flexible and ready to adjust to ongoing global economic uncertainty in 2021. “Our goal is not only to weather the storm, but to emerge stronger than ever from this crisis,” he said.
Agility’s full-year results and fourth-quarter results in particular, were affected by one-off expenses related to the loss of Amghara land and COVID-19 net restructuring expenses. Before accounting for those expenses, Agility would have reported 48.6% EBITDA growth in the fourth quarter, vs. Q4 2019, and 5.1% growth on a full-year basis.
Agility has a healthy balance sheet and is able to meet its liquidity requirements. Local, regional and international banks have recently extended the company $1.1 billion in 3 and 5 year credit facilities. In addition, the company’s focus on working capital management across the board in the midst of tough market conditions has yielded positive results. Operating cash flow for the year was KD 177.8 million, a 17.3% increase over 2019.
Agility Global Integrated Logistics (GIL)
“We have seen a significant improvement in GIL’s performance for 2020. This was driven by favourable market conditions in Air Freight and Contract logistics, coupled with a strong focus on cash and cost. GIL grew overall in 2020, despite challenges in other areas within the business, like Ocean Freight, Fairs & Events, and Project logistics, and the net restructuring charges of KD 12.5 million resulting from cost-cutting initiatives we took during the year. We are optimistic about the future of that business and its ability to create value for our shareholders. Our optimism is reinforced by the strong performance we continue to see in the first couple of months of 2021, as net revenue and EBIT continue to grow.” Sultan said.
GIL’s full-year 2020 EBITDA was KD 66.6 million. Positive momentum for Air Freight and Contract Logistics was complemented by a strong focus on containing costs and driving operational efficiency throughout the organization. That led to full- year EBITDA growth of 13.6% vs. 2019. Excluding restructuring one-time expenses, EBITDA grew 35% vs. 2019.
GIL’s 2020 full-year net revenue was KD 283.7 million, a 3.8% increase compared with 2019. Net revenue grew in Contract Logistics and Air Freight, while declined in Ocean Freight and Fairs & Events. Volumes declined in both Air Freight and Ocean Freight in 2020 by 15.6% in Air Freight (tonnage) and 12% in Ocean Freight (TEUs), as a result of COVID-19’s impact on demand and economic contraction across industries and geographies. However, higher yields in Air Freight, driven by continued demand for exceptional shipments, including many for Life Sciences customers and products, offset the decline in volume. Air Freight net revenue grew 31.4% vs. prior year.
In 2020, Contract Logistics posted 12.2% net revenue growth, mainly as a result of strong performance in the Middle East (specifically, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi) and Asia-Pacific (Australasia and Indonesia). Fairs & Events results remain the most affected by the pandemic because of widespread event postponements and cancelations.
GIL’s 2020 gross revenue was KD 1,223.6 million, an 8.8% increase from 2019.
For Q4 2020, GIL EBITDA was KD 19.4 million, a 17.1% increase from same period in 2019. This improvement was primarily driven by strong Air Freight and Contract Logistics results, as well as significant cost reductions across the business.
GIL’s Q4 net revenue was KD 76.4 million, 9.3% higher than the same period in the prior year. Along with net revenue (NR) increases in Air Freight and Contract Logistics, there were net revenue declines in Ocean Freight, Fairs & Events, and Project Logistics.
The Q4 Air Freight NR increase of 52.5% was driven by a continuation of exceptional shipments, Life Science product movements, and even higher charter activity. Ocean Freight NR, down 7% vs. Q4 2019, was affected by volume reductions and capacity/equipment shortages.
Contract Logistics net revenue in Q4 grew 22.9%, as the MEA Region (Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi) posted strong results at new facilities and through increased efficiencies. Fairs & Events continued to be hit significantly by Coronavirus-related event postponements or cancelations.
GIL’s Q4 gross revenue was KD 347.3 million, a 22.9% increase from same period in 2019, the result of higher market freight rates in Air and Ocean.
GIL continues to focus on cost containment and operational efficiency in line with its strategic objectives. GIL’s is working to increasingly digitize and automate its processes to enhance customer and supplier connectivity, create innovative customer solutions, and enable comprehensive business insight to support optimal decision-making.
Agility’s Infrastructure Companies
For full year 2020, Infrastructure group’s EBITDA declined 24.4%, and revenue fell 12%. For Q4, EBITDA decreased 50% and revenue fell 12.3%. COVID-19 had an uneven impact on the Infrastructure companies. Entities operating in the aviation sector were significantly hit, whereas others were resilient and reported growth during the same period.
Agility Logistics Parks (ALP) reported 5.4% revenue growth for the year, driven by increased demand for warehousing capacity from customers mainly in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In Africa, Mozambique and Cote d’Ivoire, operations came online, joining the existing Ghana operation as part of Agility’s Africa expansion strategy. Despite construction disruption due to COVID-19, ALP was able to deliver 62k sqm of new space in Saudi Arabia and 18k sqm in Africa. ALP kicked off construction of a 26k sqm facility in Kuwait on an expedited basis. ALP is looking for opportunities to expand its land bank in new and existing countries where it operates.
Tristar, a fully integrated liquid logistics company, posted an 11.9% revenue decrease for 2020, primarily due to lower international fuel prices, reduced commercial fuel volumes, lack of mobilization revenue realized in 2019, and the impact of the pandemic on road transport. Tristar’s Maritime segment reported an increase in revenue from deployment of new vessels and favourable market charter rates.
Despite lower revenues, Tristar reported an EBITDA increase over 2019, reflecting higher earnings from the Maritime segment, where increases in vessel fleet and market charter rates offset lower earnings from the Fuel segment.
Tristar continues to advance its growth strategy. It took delivery of six vessels for long-term charter contracts with Shell. Tristar also introduced Cryogenic Gas transportation in Saudi Arabia. It is in the final phase of an airport fuel system in Uganda and continues to optimize Road Transport and Warehousing (RTW) contracts in the U.A.E. Today, Tristar has operations in 21 countries and territories across 3 continents, and over 2,000 road transport assets and 35 maritime vessels. It operates 69 fuel farms and over 100 remote fuel sites, providing a wide spectrum of integrated service offerings.
National Aviation Services (NAS) reported a 38.9% drop in revenue in 2020, despite a record January-February. The remainder of 2020 was defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced a near-complete suspension of air passenger traffic for the bulk of the year. All of NAS’s major airports experienced closure to international traffic for at least some part of the year. NAS’s lounge business was hardest hit, followed by passenger services. Through the year, the industry witnessed a passenger traffic drop of 80% on average, while cargo volume dropped by an average of 15% – the largest- ever drop in air cargo.
Although patchy, NAS is witnessing a slow revival in air travel in its key markets. NAS remains optimistic that it is well positioned to take advantage of a recovery and to resume its strong growth once things start to normalize.
United Projects for Aviation Services Company (UPAC), reported a 2020 revenue decrease of 49.9%, primarily due to the suspension of operations at the Kuwait International Airport and the continuation of travel restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic. The Kuwait operation is starting to show signs of recovery as UPAC continues to take various measures to reduce the negative impact on its business.
Construction of Reem Mall in Abu Dhabi was more than 75% complete as of December 2020. Located on Reem Island, the mall will include 2 million square feet of retail, leisure, dining, and entertainment choices. It will feature the region’s first fully integrated omni-channel retail ecosystem with fully enabled digital, e-commerce and logistics capabilities. Reem Mall will be home to the world’s largest snow play park, Snow Abu Dhabi. With a national vaccination program well underway in the UAE, the economy there is reopening. The resumption of consumer activity and movement, coupled with the unique positioning of the Reem Mall as an entertainment and digital destination, makes the company optimistic about the future performance of that investment, Sultan said.
GCS, Agility’s customs modernization company, posted 22.9% decline in revenue in 2020. The decline was the result of COVID’s negative impact on trade and goods flow.
GCS, like the other entities within the group, took measures to reduce the impact of the pandemic on its business. GCS is in the process of exploring different opportunities in customs modernization and diversification of its income sources.
Sultan said Agility remains committed to driving shareholder value and achieving its vision. “We will continue to remain true to our name, and be flexible and proactive as we navigate through COVID-19 and beyond. As always, we thank our employees, our customers, our shareholders, our suppliers and our partners for their support – this year more than ever,” he said.
Financial Performance for the full year 2020
- Agility’s net profit stands at KD 41.6 million, a 52.1% decrease from KD 86.8 million in 2019. EPS was 21.7 fils, compared with 45.3 fils a year earlier.
- EBITDA was KD 162.4 million, a 15.9% decrease from 2019.
- Agility’s revenue for 2020 was KD 1,620.7 million, an increase of 2.7% from KD 1,578.6 million in 2019. Net revenue decreased by 7.1%.
- GIL’s revenue was KD 1,223.6 million, an 8.8% increase from 2019.
- Infrastructure group revenue was KD 413.3 million, compared with KD 469.7 million in 2019, a 12% decrease from last year.
- Agility enjoys a healthy balance sheet with KD 2,272.1 million in assets. Its net debt position is KD 185.3 million as of Dec. 31, 2020. Operating cash flow was KD 177.8 million for full year 2020.