Eugene Mayne, Group Founder and CEO, Tristar Group Image Credit: Supplied

When and why was Tristar set up?

Initially established as a road transportation business in 1998 to meet the need for safe and reliable road transport for the petroleum industry in the UAE, Tristar has since grown into a leading energy logistics company with over 2,000 road transport assets, 34 maritime vessels, operation of 62 fuel farms and over 100 remote fuel sites, providing a wide spectrum of integrated service offerings.

Today, we have evolved into a leading integrated energy logistics company serving a diversified base of blue-chip investment grade companies. We have operations in 21 countries and territories across three continents. With a strong reputation for quality built over two decades underpinned by a commitment to safety and operational excellence, I am proud to say that we have become a trusted brand in the global logistics industry. We have witnessed strong growth as a company and are happy to report that in 2019, we had a consolidated revenue of $514.3 million and an EBITDA of $103.2 million.

Tell us about your contract with Linde Helium while elaborating on other recent significant partnerships.

Over the last few years, we have established long-standing partnerships with major players in the oil and gas industry that include Linde Global Helium and Shell. We have witnessed steady growth in our business operations, where we are able to constantly meet our customers’ needs, expand our services globally and adapt to the trends in the industry.

We signed several significant deals in 2020. In the last quarter, we signed an $8 million contract with Linde Helium – a testament to our long-standing relationship with the company. In June, we took delivery of four out of six vessels from the Hyundai Mipo Dockyard, which are part of our long-term $166 million contract with Shell. We look forward to receiving the other two vessels this January 2021.

In the first quarter of 2020, we signed a five-year contract via our joint venture, United Stars, with Linde-Sigas to transport their products to domestic clients from five depots in Damam, Jeddah, Riyadh, Jubail and Yanbu. In January 2020, we acquired over 11,000 square metres of logistics land in the port of Duqm in Oman where we have built a 3,048-sqm warehouse that will offer 3PL and 4PL services.

There is a tangible shift towards AI in logistics with cargo movement free of human interference. How critical is AI as part of Tristar’s growth?

Logistics firms are investing in specific types of technology and training that will enhance human productivity and reduce operating costs. For example, robotic process automation, remote vehicle management, and other artificial intelligence solutions provide customers real time visibility over the supply chain and enable fleet owners to conduct predictive maintenance and wear and tear analysis that could prevent costly and unplanned machinery breakdown.

Tristar’s logistics operations are considered an industry benchmark, curated to meet the demanding needs of its blue-chip clientele in the region and around the world Image Credit: Supplied

We have implemented blockchain to provide real-time oversight of warehousing and distribution processes to our customers. It also enables our operations to eliminate the risk of human error and to optimise operations with automatic vehicle scheduling which results in fewer trips. Moreover, we are also able to monitor our greenhouse gas emission within the same blockchain data base.

Smart Ship Technology is also being studied for our maritime logistics business to improve bunker consumptions by studying and leveraging tidal movements to plot vessels passages to gain fuel efficiency and predictive analysis for timely maintenance to avoid costly vessel downtime and off hires.

We have initiated a technology-based compliance training programme for employees to ensure that we are updated on our ethics and compliance principles. To future-proof further our internal system we are going to establish an independent Security Operations Centre.

Tristar operates across 21 countries with a presence in three continents. How are you planning to increase your global footprint?

We have a unique integrated logistics model that has been built around our customers and this concept will continue. All our expansion plans, whether organic or by acquisition, will have our end customers’ interests in mind. Our current pipeline of potential business opportunities and our growth strategy to expand our customer base by deepening and widening our service offerings will provide expansion of our geographic footprint.

Saudi Arabia and the wider GCC will continue to be targeted markets in addition to Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

Could you shed some light on what big data has in store in terms of logistics management solutions?

The pace at which technology is transforming businesses today is rapidly increasing but I believe we are yet to see the full potential of technology with stronger processing power and the rise of AI. We are already experiencing the arrival of 5G and it is only a matter of time before 6G with higher speed of transmission is rolled out.

In 2020 we have experienced the power of technological innovation due to necessities resulting from the pandemic. The future of work may no longer be a 9-5 routine with technology allowing for more flexible hours, which will be driven by the rise of the gig economy. Autonomous electrical vehicles with cobalt batteries could be mainstream for the logistics industry and monitoring vehicle movements using biometric facial recognition will ensure optimisation of the supply chain.

Reacting to the immediate issues presented by a crisis is necessary, however it is not sufficient. Preparing for a potential rebound, understanding how to take advantage in the event of a recession, and reimagining the future of logistics will be required to stay ahead going forward. Therefore, we will see logistics companies developing new digital capabilities to adapt to customer needs in 2021 and beyond.

You have been known to be a strong advocate of and deeply concerned about sound mental health among seafarers. Tell us more about this endeavour and the group’s other initiatives.

At Tristar, we have adopted several initiatives of our own to ensure the safety, happiness and mental well-being of all our people including our ocean-going crew and seafarers.

Suicide rates among seafarers suffering from mental health have more than tripled since 2014 from 4.4 per cent to 15 per cent now according to the P&I Club. It is estimated that nearly 50 per cent of seafarers who reported symptoms of depression said they had not asked anybody for help.

We organised the annual Safety at Sea conference that brought together seafarers and experts in the industry to advance the global conversation on the health and well-being of seafarers on November 10, 2019. Our second Safety at Sea conference was held virtually on December 9, 2020 with more than 1,000 attendees across the globe with many officers and crew attending aboard their vessels.

By hosting these conferences annually, it is our endeavour to draw attention of the industry and all stakeholders to the mental health subject, which is a taboo topic and poorly discussed issue.

The pandemic exposed the weak chinks in logistics solutions worldwide. What are your takeaways from 2020?

Our unique business model ensures that we are not exposed to any one sector of the logistics industry due to our diverse capabilities, long term contracts and our extended footprint. In addition, over the years we have built strong customer loyalty through operational excellence. Despite the restrictions due to Covid-19, we managed the overall health and well-being of our 2,500 odd workforce without any casualties, and ensured no disruption to our customers’ supply chain.

Our business, which enjoys a strong reputation, developed through years of operational excellence, underpinned by a customer-centric model, and a commitment to the highest quality and safety standards, has become a trusted logistics partner for major oil companies globally.

Our continued success going forward will be defined by our stakeholder relationships and therefore we will need to further build our ecosystem of winning new customers with new products and services and for this we have to be ready to compete based on speed of action and decision making.

The UAE is considered a global hub for logistics solutions. As the Group CEO of a major UAE-based logistics player, how supportive in your view has the UAE been to local businesses?

We take pride in being a UAE born and bred company. Our success would not have been possible but for the business-friendly policies and world-class logistics infrastructure rolled out by the UAE government. The government has placed the UAE in a position of strength in the global community with best-in-class infrastructure, connectivity and business-friendly policies that in turn have provided a sound platform for local companies to develop international business relations. The Dubai Chamber as one example has been proactive in introducing local companies to overseas opportunities, which in turn has enabled local companies to develop international footprints.