Logistics & Beyond: Interview With Mr. Sanju Mani, General Director at Goodrich Central Asia04. January 2021
Kazakhstan has been an active trade route for merchants and travelers from time immemorial. This country used to be a hub of economic and socio-cultural exchange between two major continents, Europe & Asia. Kazakhstan is often called the “small Switzerland” because of its amazingly beautiful lakes and mountains, steppes and deserts, rivers and high hills, and even the sea, which is, in fact, the biggest lake in the world, the Caspian Sea.
Today we speak to Mr. Sanju Mani, General Director at Goodrich Central Asia, representing Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the Project Logistics Alliance. Goodrich Central Asia was incorporated in Mumbai, India 1997 and by now has several offices around the world. Their vision statement: “Expanding Horizon” perfectly matches with their offices in the areas of Central Asia which is one such new horizon. Their own offices at Transit Ports and Border Bottle Neck points ensure the smooth passage of cargo in and out of customs union and Kazakhstan.
PL-Alliance: It has been 5 years that you are working with Goodrich Central Asia in Kazakhstan. Your carrier started with Maersk Line in India. How would you describe your journey? And what were the key moments during this growth?
Sanju Mani: In 2004 I joined Maersk Line India. At that time, I was just out of college and joined Maersk. Who best to teach you Shipping/Logistics than them? Those were the best 4 years where professionalism, the best shipping practices were drilled into me as a young graduate. At Maersk, I think, there was a little less of human touch with more emphasis on the system. Then too, I chose to be different by adding that care which evolved over this 16-year long journey.
In 2008 I was offered a chance to move to Middle East Maersk Line, while working there I received a call from my mentor at CIS Mr. Simon Sajan. He persuaded me to join his company in Almaty, and I started my CIS journey. Goodrich Almaty/Atyrau opened in 2015 with 5 people. As of 2020, we are 20 people and have started one more office in Aktau and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
I still owe it to Maersk and my mentors, Ms. Deepa and Ms. Ruchika for ensuring I get my experience in all departments of Maersk. This has helped me over the years. Then you need that tinge of Luck and in Central Asia Vodka Helped. [smiles]
PL-Alliance: The transport sector is one of the basic industries of Kazakhstan. With the development of the Silk Road, the volume of freight traffic, as well as investment in transport and warehouse has also significantly increased. Do you think the companies in Kazakhstan are well adapted to satisfy this increased demand? Do you see a rise in foreign companies trying to enter the markets?
Sanju Mani: Yes, the Silk Road is expanding from what it was 8-10 years ago. At this point, Kazakhstan is not adapted to handle the sort of volumes coming out of China and is being proved now as we speak. All the existing borders are closed with almost 8000 wagons stuck at the border and rates going up over the roof. The Europe-bound volumes from China get preference from operators which then affects the CIS bound volumes which creates a huge shortage of wagons, platforms to start with.
DP World has a facility in Khorgos which caters to the EU/CIS bound traffic. Regarding the rise of foreign companies, over the years we have Kerry Logistics coming there with JV Globalink, Ceva Logistics, DSV, K&N, and Schenker starting up their own offices and looking to mark their presence in this trade route with substantial investments. As for the companies in Kazakhstan, they have the know-how and some have already started investing in terminals that cater to the trade at the borders.
PL-Alliance: Kazakhstan is an expensive country with the logistics costs adding about 25% of the final product while the world average stands between 10-11%. Why is the cost so high? How does Goodrich operate at such high costs and manage to maintain an impressive clientele?
Sanju Mani: Kazakhstan is a landlocked country which is the first reason for sure. So being landlocked multimodal logistics comes in and we end up using Rail/Road, Rail/Truck, Sea/Truck, etc. to explain in the simplest way. The second factor being the big export-import balance, KZ is not a manufacturing hub yet as compared to some other countries in Asia which are way smaller. But yes, name an element in Mendeleev’s Periodic Table we have that here in KZ and UZ.
Goodrich inherited a good experienced small team to start with when it opened in 2015. We also don’t run behind every cargo but stick to our strengths which are mining, oil & gas, and construction industry verticals wherein we cater the best possible solution to our clients. Being small sometimes helps, as we are able to give personal attention to our small yet happy bunch of clients. Yes, this has its own positives and negatives, but as a team, we have sailed through.
A proof of this is the Abudhabhi Plaza Project which is the biggest residential/commercial tower coming up in Central Asia and from 2015 till date we are catering to their logistics requirements, and we now move 70% of their freight. A couple of companies after seeing their challenging logistics requirements being met by us have gone ahead and given us exclusivity for their upcoming projects.
PL-Alliance: The position of Kazakhstan between the largest trading partners – China and the European Union – is the main stimulus for the development of the country's transport and logistics system. The logistics performance index for the year 2018-2019 was 71 . Goodrich has been operating in Kazakhstan for quite some time now, have you seen any changes or ease of business in these years?
Sanju Mani: Yes, starting from 2008, I am seeing a lot of changes thanks to the efforts of the government it has indeed become easier. Of course, there is a lot to improve especially when it comes to the logistics industry like a border crossing, HS codes, and the ever-changing road regulations when you move heavy cargo.
PL-Alliance: With the current trend of instability, what would you suggest should be the measures to take while tackling so much inconsistency and to retain customers in these times?
Sanju Mani: According to me, a good and responsible team is very important. Our team is responsible since day 1 and some of the team members are even working with us for the past 8-9 years. I also think the personal touch is very important and especially for small businesses it is an affordable luxury.
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