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Bountiful Bahrain

Bahrain Bay

GAC Bahrain has experienced a big turnaround in the past decade and profits are way up. Fredrik Nystrom, Group Vice President - Middle East, believes the success can be attributed to the push to sell integrated services (boosted by the previous MD’s decision to have the Business Managers for Shipping and Logistics switch their seats to encourage them to work closely together), a hunger for new opportunities and innovative thinking leading to products tailored to the local market.

Pontus Fredriksson

Pontus Fredriksson, in the MD’s seat since 2015, gave us his summary:

What was your company’s situation 5 years ago?

Our turnaround had already begun in 2011-12, under the leadership of Mikael Leijonberg. However, at the time, the company was being supported by a relatively small collection of profitable services.

And today?

Overall we are more profitable. Though we are still heavily dependent on a few core services, we have diversified more and more every year.

We now own our office and warehouse, completed in September 2017. Not only is it in a better location and costs less, it is a better working environment and overall has given staff a boost.

How did you get there?

Staying close to the market through networking has proved very beneficial on such a small island as Bahrain. We’ve been pretty successful in securing a range of logistics and shipping projects, with at least one major job awarded to us each year.

We’ve also focused on developing ‘bread and butter’ business such as LCL container handling, warehousing, husbandry etc. Though not high margin businesses, they are stable. Projects come and go.

At the same time, we have increased our portfolio and kept an open mind regarding services beyond the ‘norm’ for ship agency and freight forwarding. We have introduced a survey department, a dedicated charter desk, a greater number of destinations for direct LCL boxes, specialised procurement for the O&G sector and Saudi visa services.

We’ve also optimised our cost base. This is NOT to be confused with just cutting costs. We’ve made some big investments in commercial resources and our own assets including our office, warehouse, and fleet of trucks and cars. We’ve also increased our workforce, which is now 40% bigger than it was in 2011.

We have focused on promoting our services smartly. Local marketing at key locations - GAC-branded umbrellas at the rugby and yacht clubs and sponsoring local sports – has raised our profile for a fraction of the cost of mainstream advertising.

Meeting room without chairs

What was your priority when you took over as MD?

Actually, I deliberately tried not to make many changes before I had a better understanding of the company. This wasn’t difficult as the company was already heading in a good direction.

One thing I did do was take steps to reduce internal meetings to a minimum.

“To keep meetings short, I introduced a meeting room without chairs. And it works!”

Who have been your key allies in achieving your goals?

It has been a consistent team effort from everyone. There has been great collaboration between all departments within GAC Bahrain, unhindered by focusing on where profits will be recorded. The same has also increased more cross-selling.

My Business Managers Mike Camara (now MD at GAC Malaysia) and Klaus Holmager and CFO Dominic Mundakal (now GAC Malaysia’s Finance Manager) were great allies. I have also received much support from the regional office, especially from Shanaka Fernando (now Regional Business Development O&G, USA).

How did you get your team ‘on board’?

Many times the management team suggested ideas that I didn’t initially think were feasible. But as they believed in them so strongly we decided to try them. Luckily, I have often been proven wrong.

I have tried to make sure we have fun, both inside and outside the office. I’m a big sports fan so a lot of focus has been around that (step challenge, dead hang, running, football, cricket, yoga, push ups, plank, etc). Some might say there’s been too much emphasis on all that physical activity, but when it helps promote a healthy lifestyle, I reckon everybody benefits.

What were the most important factors in the company’s turnaround?

Pontus lifted by a forklift

Teamwork, honesty and an open mind prepared to accept change – something especially important in volatile global and local markets.

What part did luck play?

In the Swedish military you get taught that you need to “be in the right place, at the right time - and with the right equipment”. Of course, we have sometimes been lucky, but I believe our success is built on our strong foundation and the hard work of our team. As the great golfer Gary Player put it: “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.”

What is the best thing about working in Bahrain, and the most frustrating?

The best thing about Bahrain is the people. We have ‘lost’ eight of our managers since I joined, mainly to other GAC companies but also to the competition, but I’m very happy when good people are rightly promoted.

The most frustrating thing is being stuck in traffic – something which happens every day.

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