Any company which requires external acquisition and transportation of products or parts knows the difficulty of logistics organisation; this is why many businesses choose to outsource responsibility of their operations to a logistical solutions company.
Mike Douglas is the CEO and owner of Dubai-based SKA International Group, which specialises in logistics solutions – primarily for fuel supply – and works predominantly in difficult areas. Founded in 2003, most of SKA’s work currently occurs in Iraq, where Douglas has been based for the past 11 years.
“In earlier days it was primarily the responsibility of the US government and military to undertake reconstruction projects here,” Douglas says. “Recently we’re more geared towards the oil and gas business that’s been developing in Iraq. We’ve also operated in Afghanistan, and in Somalia we’ve spent the last six years investing money and effort developing infrastructure and logistics. We’re currently involved in Uganda too, and here in the UAE at the Ras Al Khaimah airport.”
What Douglas describes as ‘difficult areas’ often means post-conflict zones, and he understands the importance of employing the right people when becoming involved with such countries: “Not everyone wants to work in the kind of countries we work in,” he explains. “We tend to get quite a few ex-military types who function well in these environments, but we have a big mixture of people from different backgrounds.”
At one point, staffing at SKA spanned 27 different nationalities, and Douglas has a policy of developing a management and employee team in every country that the company operates in. “We invest a lot of effort into training and employing local nationals, with a mixture of expatriate expertise within management. That’s where the emphasis lies. We attract people through advertising, recruitment firms, and most successfully via recommendations from other companies. It’s a challenge sourcing good people, but our cross-culture operation ensures we find them.”
SKA’s procedures are unique, allowing its employees to gain huge amounts of valuable experience within a niche market. Since it specialises in potentially dangerous environments, there is a huge emphasis on health and safety: “We highly value the security of our people, and we have a very good track record in keeping them safe,” Douglas explains. “We take risks, but not unnecessary risks because safety and security is paramount. It’s risky work, but in a controlled environment.”
Health and safety
SKA believes in the concept that all accidents are preventable. The company works hard to identify HSE risks that arise from its activities and lower them as much as possible. This is a policy that the business observes closely throughout all aspects of its work, and alongside that it takes a serious interest in environmental protection and corporate responsibility. SKA recognises that it has an obligation towards the protection of the communities it operates within, as well as to the people involved, and maintains a high standard of ethics. This protects the reputation of the company and encourages public confidence.
Managing logistics on a large scale requires advanced, state-of-the-art technology, particularly for a company which utilises many forms of transport in its operations. “We’ve invested a lot of money in technology,” says Douglas. “SKA has the first ever privately-owned fuel storage terminal in Iraq, and two years ago we signed a joint venture with BP to build an additional facility which has a 30,000 cubic feet capacity. That requires a huge amount of money and the latest fuel management technology. Then there’s tracking the truck fleets with satellite technology, asset tracking, and accountancy software. We have a very good IT system throughout every aspect of the company.”
As well as having a firm presence in Iraq, SKA is established in Uganda, where the company is working on a project to potentially build another vast fuel terminal. “It’s still at negotiation stage; this is a very ambitious project, but we see Uganda as a huge opportunity. We’ve bought land in Somalia and we’re building a terminal there as well.”
However, SKA’s work extends beyond its various logistical and fuel supply projects; passenger services, aviation, safety and security, accommodation, and life support also fall under the company’s umbrella. The business holds various contracts with the United Nations in Somalia and Yemen to supply food and life support to civilians: “We have huge camps in these countries. We also cover logistics support for the British Embassy and the European Union in Somalia, including use of a fleet of trucks to assist with UN missions.”
SKA continues to expand its repertoire of services, and is working to develop its relationship in Africa and the UAE. In Iraq, SKA had already built a terminal in the major industrial port of Khor Al Zubair, and is continuing to develop its venture with BP there. The aim is to facilitate the import of refined gasoline and gas oil products: “This is a big infrastructure project,” Douglas says, “and will benefit Iraq in terms of the ability to import refined products efficiently. There’s nothing else like this; Iraq will be a net importer of refined products for the next 10 or 15 years.”
Such is SKA’s faith in its systems that its own logistics model is applied in the same way it runs supply chains for client companies. For example, it develops storage facilities in Somalia for fuel, brings the fuel in from elsewhere, and takes take the fuel to Mogadishu airport to fill aircrafts using the logistical format its customers are offered.
The future for SKA
As of now, SKA’s strategy is to improve its following by continuing and expanding on its quality of work: “We’re improving our certification all the time. We adhere to ISO 9000, and we’ve invested a lot of time and effort into training employees and upping our standards. With the kind of people we work with – like BP – and others in the oil and gas world, if you don’t comply with certain criteria, you can’t really be in the business. A big focus for us is improving our ISO certification.”
While the business will certainly grow further, Douglas’s goal is for SKA to continue to develop within the territories in which it’s already well-known: “We’re continuing to focus on those areas, and see opportunity for growth in all of them. The amount of investment that’s going on for infrastructure, oil, and gas projects has been cut significantly in the last six-12 months. However, we still see huge opportunities for SKA, especially in these developing markets. We’re very confident that where we are, we’ve already made significant investments and will see the returns on that over the next few years.”