Monday June 25, 2012
Abi Sofian takes on challenge
Northport (M) Bhd CEO Abi Sofian Abdul Hamid is set to prove that he is not just the seasoned operations guy at Northport but also someone who can take care of the dollars and cents, and a be good employer. In his first ever media interview, the port’s new top brass shares with StarBiz reporter Sharidan M. Ali his thoughts, vision and business direction of the company.
PETALING JAYA: Lenggong-born Abi Sofian is not a new face in the port industry especially in Northport where he started his career back in 1991.
He was part of the team led by Northport former managing director (MD) and chief executive officer (CEO) Datuk Basheer Hassan Abdul Kader, which navigated the the merger of Klang Container Terminal (KCT) and Klang Multi Terminal into Northport.
When he was younger, Abi Sofian, 50, did not think that he would end up in the port industry until it was time for him to settle down.
“I came to Port Klang as a civil engineer with an Australian consultancy firm which was involved in the upgrading of facilities at KCT.
“At the end of the project in 1993, I was asked whether I was interested in joining KCT.
“Having spent about two and a half years working literally above water, I thought it was a good opportunity for me to finally settle down at one place and learn more about marine engineering from civil engineering practices,” he said.
Soon after, KCT set up a facilities department to look after all engineering related works other than those involving terminal equipment. “I was re-designated as facilities engineer. My involvement later expanded to include corporate matters such as looking at lease terms on infrastructure, facilities aspects, contracts for civil works and corporate branding. I took my new responsibilities quite seriously and I decided to study law in 1996.”
As Northport was established, Abi Sofian found the issues in the port operations very challenging and exciting.
“I began to interact with other departments especially the business units as they needed my involvement in their capacity planning.
“With further exposures in the port industry like government agencies, regulators, business groups, I supposed I was then embedded in the port industry,” he said.
Northport, which is owned by NCB Holdings Bhd, appointed Abi Sofian CEO in April. “I was totally surprised when I was offered the job. I did not have the slightest idea that the person would be me.”
Rather than feeling pleased, he considers the job a challenge.
“I intend to take the port to greater heights by continuing what Datuk Basheer had left behind and introduce some new things to further improve the operations,” he said.
The affable and ever-smiling Abi Sofian said years of involvement in the operations of the terminal was an advantage. He can now focus on sharpening his skills in corporate and financial aspects.
According to Abi Sofian, Basheer placed a good working structure in defining the business profiles of Northport as well as the harmonious working relationship between employees and management team.
This conducive environment would be retained, he said.
“In spite of this, I believed there are still areas with good potential to be realised. Developing a strategic human capital is one area.
“I believe a fully developed employee will not only able to positively contribute to the company but the nation as well.
“I am also a true believer in key performance index but we have to spend some time to come out with the right and realistic target and benchmarks.
“Of course as a trained engineer, I subscribe to the importance of systems and processes as well,” he said.
Focusing on the port business, Abi Sofian is an ardent believer in bottom line performance.
“Although I admit that the volume growth is important, we do not deliver the containers to the shareholders, we deliver profit,” he said adding that Northport was targeteting to handle 3.2 to 3.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) this year from about 3.11 million TEUs in 2011.
Abi Sofian said the port would continue to improve its revenue but it would also be looking at cost management to continue get better margins.
“And as a service provider we also must not forget about the quality of service. In a nutshell, all these criteria are the keys to business sustainability,” he said adding that high value boxes also bring better margins to the port.
To a question about whether Northport had been conservative in its annual volume target, Abi Sofian said it was just being realistic. “As the main gateway of import and export, our volume growth is in line with the gross domestic product growth.”
“As of last year, 60% of our volume were import and export boxes while the remainder were transshipments Again, the most important matter is the profit per box that we can achieved rather than how many boxes we can do,” he said.