Ahmed Ziyadh | CEO and Managing Director of Asia Forwarding

Ahmed Ziyadh is the CEO and Managing Director of Asia Forwarding. He joined the Maldives Customs Services’ Documentation & Valuation department as an Officer. While working at Customs, he became interested in international trading, and wanted to find a way to introduce and easy freight shipment services to Maldivian businesses who wanted to import goods from all over the world. That is how the idea for Asia Forwarding formed.

How did you get started as a businessman?

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Even from childhood, I was always interested in starting a business. The interest grew during my time at Customs as I got to learn more about the procedures of international trading—which documents are needed, how business is conducted within countries and how the market offers opportunities for Maldivian businesses to grow. I wanted to create a platform where Maldivians can import goods from all over the world in a convenient way.

How did Asia Forwarding come about?

When we first started Asia Forwarding, we began with services such as customs brokerage and project cargo handling. With the introduction of One and Half Degree team, Asia Forwarding was kicked out and had to handle logistics of the projects through Custom clearance. However, we didn’t let go of the projects, but it didn’t work out successfully. A structural change was brought to the organization and we moved forward to enter into new markets and penetrate into the international shipping, freight forwarding & logistics business.

This was during the time when MNSL, which had a good employee base, downscaled their operations. We offered those employees who were leaving MNSL to come onboard with us and some became shareholders of the organization. To further improve the international shipping, freight forwarding and logistics services offered by Asia Forwarding, we gathered the ideas and suggestions from the new recruits and implemented them to expand the organization.

Asia Forwarding established offices in three destinations: Bangkok, Dubai and China, with the main office in Maldives. The first location we focused on to expand Asia Forwarding Thailand was at Bangkok, as it is a popular destination for Maldivian businesses to import goods from and also since Maldivians want to have a single platform where they can purchase and ship goods from worldwide. We stationed one of our shareholders at Bangkok and established a presence there to ease the process and provide the services to Maldivian businesses. This was in 2011 and the establishment is 100% owned by Asia Forwarding. However, not long after we started operations in Bangkok, we had to scale and slow down the business due to some internal management conflict. Despite this, we sent another Maldivian to the office in Bangkok and continued services.

We also expanded our freight forwarding business to Dubai as we believed it would make the process easier for us and our clients to have an office in this location. One of our partners relocated and began managing the office in Dubai in 2014. Compared to the Chinese market, Dubai proved to be inconvenient due to its weakening economy and we embarked on establishing a branch in China as per our expansion plan.

When we talk about China, people tend to think goods are being brought from one location. However, the country has lots of cities which have different ports from where goods are being imported on a daily basis. As it isn’t easy to establish or operate multiple offices within one location, we carefully chose Quanzhou and opened a partnership office there since it’s one of the most visited locations by Maldivian businesses. Our aim was to send a local there to manage and handle all our operations, but due to administrative and difficulties in obtaining visas, we were unable to send someone from our team. Currently, we have a Chinese partner & staffs for managing our daily operations in the office at Shenzhen & Quanzhou. Despite this, we are trying our best to send a Maldivian abroad and establish him/her there as the focal point for Maldivians and assist them in forwarding their goods.

We established partnerships with agents worldwide through a network under WCA—world’s largest and most powerful network of independent freight forwarders with over 7450 member offices. Asia Forwarding is also a registered member in this network which has helped to pave the way for the organization to be in a leading position in the region with the promise of top-notch service. Members under WCA only freight forward goods to agents registered with the network, in order to ensure the process goes smoothly and that any issue which occurs is resolved without any further mishaps. We are also a proud member of FIATA—the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations which is a non-governmental organization representing 40,000 forwarding and logistics companies and International Federation of Customs Brokers Associations (IFCBA). As mentioned before, WCA and World Freight Network (WFN) are the world’s largest and most powerful network of independent freight forwarders, this membership has helped to boost our operation in the long run. Every year the associations conduct gatherings and meetings where members can network, conduct business and discuss ways to further boost sales in the future. We have attended some of these events and built partnerships that will push us forward to meet our targets.

Discussions are in place to add a branch of Asia Forwarding in Singapore & Indonesia, as these are also a hub business travel to import goods from. We are hoping to establish our own office or a partnership office in this country within 2020.

What is the most challenging thing freight forwarders’ face here in Maldives?

There are many challenges faced by businesses here in Maldives. When we look into the freight & logistics business, our main challenge is that a freight forwarding act has yet to be passed. Currently, there are no institutions governing the operations done by freight forwarding businesses other than the Trade Ministry, whose responsibility is to register and to ensure licensed businesses are operating. We are in need of a specific mandate or an institution who will govern and specify the regulations.

Maldives has a number of prestigious hotel brands with resorts opened and operating within the country. They purchase goods from their trusted partners abroad and they usually tend to freight the goods from DHL, Kuehne + Nagel and other well-known brands. It is very easy for them to obtain projects but however, they might not understand how the local markets work, that is to say the regulations or procedures. Despite this, we may see them in the future establishing their offices here in Maldives and this might decrease opportunities for Maldivians. I’m not sure opportunities are currently provided in Maldives for international brands to operate here but license is given for shipping companies.

Can you recall the most challenging day of your career?

A logistics project we did for STELCO to move a 150-metric ton generator through MPL to its final location, that was by far the most challenging task we faced. The generator was brought to Maldives under affiliation with a Denmark company-based company called Blue Water Shipping. We were unsure how strong the ground was at the location as no such survey has ever been conducted here in Maldives. To successfully carry out the project, we had to meet with a lot of authorities including the Municipality and Planning Ministry. We had to win their confidence. We had to convince them that we could do it without causing any damage to the generator, the vehicles, the roads and the ground. The route was long and had many obstacles as we had to move it from the port to STELCO. Several tests and practice runs with dummy loads were conducted and we went through various options before settling on the best route to take.

On the day we actually moved the generator, even Maldives Ports Authority employees worried about whether it could be done. It was brought to Maldives in a special vessel and taken to STELCO in a Multi-axle Hydraulic Modular Trailer. There was nothing gone wrong with the project, but in the end, we were able to complete the operation successfully without any problems at all.

What do you consider the highlights of your career?

In Maldives, a number of awards are given by institutions to recognize the hard work of companies and to encourage them to move forward. Similarly, we have received an award from a quality summit held in New York. It was an international award which recognized our line of work and services. Also, being recognized as a GOLD 100 company by Corporate Maldives for three consecutive years has boosted our image and presence here in Maldives.

For myself, I have reached most of the milestones I targeted. From a customs officer at Customs to managing a shipping & freight forwarding company is a huge leap and it has turned out to be very successful. Right now, there isn’t any similar working company that can challenge us. Seeing that we are progressing in terms of growth and that we have been successful in establishing offices in neighboring countries, I would say, this is my success. My dream right now is to make Asia Forwarding, one of the leading freight forwarder brands in the Asia region.

What is in the near future for you and Asia Forwarding?

As we are heading towards a fully digital era, you can already see that numerous e-commerce platforms such as Amazon or Alibaba have changed the face of purchasing. Similarly, we intend to launch an app where you can check shipping prices from our affiliated partners, including the Customs clearance cost, which will take our services to the next level and bring convenience to our customers. Instead of calling and inquiring, they can simply check the details through the app where they will instantly get a quote on how much it will cost depending on volume and weightage. That’s what’s in the near future for Asia Forwarding, but of course, that’s just one aspect of it. There’s so much more we can do, that we will do, and there’s a lot that we haven’t even imagined yet. The future is a wide open horizon.

My own target is to become a shipping & logistics freelance consultant and move away from where I am to give others who wish to pursue a career in this field a chance to experience and grow themselves. There are opportunities for locals and I would like to see more young people joining in, developing themselves and utilizing all the resources that are available here for them instead of letting the chances go by and see international brands establishing a presence here. Even though we don’t have our own shipping line here in Maldives, we used to have 50 cargo vessels during President Nasir’s time. Therefore, I hope to see the same in the future. A Maldivian shipping line being developed and operated by locals.

Your advice for people who wish to pursue a career in this field?

I think the main challenge faced by SMEs is finding funds for projects. For instance, if the business scales down in the beginning due to whatever problems that arises, people normally tend to let go of the idea and try to work out something completely new. Rather than doing this, be resilient, patient and work hard! There is no doubt that you can achieve your goals if you keep on trying.

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