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   May 4, 2006
Mumbai: Abdul Qadir Rahman Buhari has been doggedly pursuing a senior Scandanavian shipping executive for the past one year. The 41-year old MD of West Asia Maritime, a Chennai-based shipping company, is keen to hire the executive—he’d rather not name him at this stage—to head his new Asia Pacific operations.

Expat CEOs are no longer a rarity in India’s corporate scene. Retail, aviation and telecom have seen their share of expats heading operations out of the country. But if Bukhari’s plans materialise, this could well be the first time that the shipping industry snags an expat at the highest level. But it isn’t just West Asia Maritime. Even Great Eastern Shipping, Varun Shipping, and Mercator Lines say they have similar plans.

So what’s suddenly prompted Indian shippers to hunt down expat talent? Each firm has its own logic, but one thing’s common: Indian shipping is passing through unprecedented boom—and there aren’t enough experienced hands to manage operations that are growing by leaps and bounds.

Consider the evidence: in the l a s t four years, West Asia Maritime’s turnover has grown from Rs 5.5 crore to about Rs 828 crore. Now, Bukhari is pitching for acquisitions in the Asia Pacific acquisitions in a bid to expand his fleet size and also grab a bigger chunk of the freight trade.

Like many sectors, there’s one surefire reason why shipping firms could trip up in their quest for mega growth: an acute lack of leaders who can manage operations of such scale and size. For almost a decade, hordes of Indians with at least ten years of experience have been heading abroad to work for foreign shipping firms. Not only was the money fabulous, there was also the opportunity to work on new technologies and bigger ships. So much so industry sources say that Indians can be found everywhere, be in UK, West Asia, Australia or even Africa, many of them are in senior positions. As long as Indian shipping firms remained small and focussed on their fledgling domestic operations, this exodus didn’t really matter.

But now, it’s beginning to hurt. Says Govind Iyer, the CEO of Egon Zehnder, a leading search firm who’s got a mandate for an expat CEO from a couple of domestic firms like Varun Shipping, “With Indian companies in a high growth phase, there are two choices available: look for talent from other sectors or hire from within the sector those who have been through the same experience. Indian firms need highquality, profit-oriented people. A lot of people in the global firms have been through this high-growth phase that Indian firms are going through.’’


With Indian shipping passing through a boom phase, there aren’t enough experienced hands to manage the operations

West Asia Maritime could be the first to hire an expat as the head of the Asia Pacific operations

With a turnover of Rs 828 crore, West Asia Maritime is pitching for acquisitions in the Asia Pacific to expand its fleet size and also grab a bigger chunk of the freight trade Great Eastern Shipping, and Varun Shipping also have plans of hiring expats

Manju Menon | TNN

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