EXCLUSIVE GROUP INTERVIEW with THE HAWKS


Interviews
PUBLISHED December 10, 2020 | updated December 27, 2020 00:02

“Majority of our diversification comes from related services; our transportation fleet, boatyards, the lathe and mechanical workshops – all created to support our core business.” Hussain Aman – General Manager, Director of Sales

A far cry from its humble beginnings, The Hawks Pvt Ltd is one of the leading importers and distributors of high-quality fuel in the Maldives. Staying true to their motto “Think Smart, Supply Fast”, the family-run company has developed an extensive product portfolio through more than 13 years of experience; with exceptional attention to the needs of clients, revered customer service, and the ultimate satisfaction to its esteemed clients across the nation. Having branched out into several related businesses as well as the tourism sector, The Hawks – under the guidance of Founder and Chairman Mr. Ahmed Rasheed Hassan – has come to be one of the most reputable and trustworthy fuel suppliers in the country. In this comprehensive Group Interview with The islandchief, The Hawks team gave us exclusive insights into their inspiring journey.

Please tell us how The Hawks Pvt Ltd – one of the leading fuel suppliers in the Maldives – began its journey, and what’s the story behind its name? 

Just one fuel truck with a capacity of 5,000 litres. That’s how we started our business back in 2007. Within two years’ time, we controlled almost 80 per cent of the fishing vessels’ market in the capital, Malé. We then focused on expanding our business portfolio and today, we are the second largest importers of fuel in Maldives, with the largest fleet; we have a total of 19 vessels operating just for fuel. We also own one of the largest fuel storage terminals with a capacity of 30 million litres. Now, our customer portfolio consists of all marine sectors in the Maldives including about 55% of the tourism industry.

We have established our fuel-related services all over the Maldives; our central storage facility, sub-storages and floating storages across the Maldives; one in Baa Atoll with the capacity of 4 million litres, another 1.2 million litre storage in Dhaalu Atoll, and we are in the midst of mobilising another 1.2 million litre tanker in Huvadhoo as well. Currently, we are able to deliver anywhere in the Maldives within 48 hours. By next year we are hoping to cut that down to 24 hours. Today, we also have a strong transportation fleet – 8 speedboats, 6 ferry boats, 2 tugboats and landing crafts – and we provide boatyard services, a fuel storage terminal, mechanical workshops, plus a construction company for megaprojects. We have also diversified into hotels with two boutique hotels, and we are building an additional city hotel in Baa Atoll set to be ready by last quarter of 2021.

Our name “The Hawks” comes from my eldest brother. He was the singer in a band - they performed in resorts and other events back in the 90s. They were called “The Hawks Band”. Our brother created a brand which later evolved to be the brand of our entire family business – The Hawks Pvt Ltd. The hawk in our logo represents family and courage. Over time, our logo and what we represent, evolved. Previously, it was just a sun with the hawk flying across the centre, meaning we operate whenever there’s light. Now, the sun has evolved into a globe. The reason we made the globe golden like the sun is that it’s always daytime somewhere in the world; meaning, we now operate 24 hours globally. 

What are some of the key milestones you have achieved, to date?

A huge milestone for us was the launching of our privately held, state-of-the-art fuel terminal. The entire terminal is fully automatic; discharging, loading, unloading – everything can be done with the touch of a button. We have one of the fastest terminals in the country in terms of loading and discharging – about 15 million litres per day. Our fire-fighting system is very sophisticated and can be controlled from anywhere. Also, we are the only terminal in the country that owns Mass Flow Metres. These European-standard, internationally certified metres are extremely accurate with to-the-point readings. Some of the key challenges oil companies face are quantity issues, but these metres were created with such technology that guarantees the right quantity for suppliers and buyers.

Additionally, we own and operate the largest oil fleet in the country. By next year, we hope to have another two more vessels and two more tankers. We also control a significant share of the resort market. We have a strong, reliable customer-base and uphold a good reputation with them. We believe this is a great milestone.

Another significant achievement for us is that we have gone beyond Maldivian borders, as I mentioned earlier. And next year, some interesting projects are in the pipeline.

The Hawks has seen an impressive growth with the increase in the number of professional services, supply vessels and employees. What led to the diversification of your business portfolio from fuel supply to tourism and construction?

Don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Diversification is important for any business to ensure that risks are minimised. Your source of income should not be from just one area. That doesn’t mean go beyond your control and get into every line of work. The minute you lose control of your business is the minute you fail. Majority of our diversification comes from related services; our transportation fleet, boatyards, the lathe and mechanical workshops – all created to support our core business. We created the lathe and mechanical workshop with one of the largest team of engineers, because we have up to 40 marine vessels. This way, we can control the pace of work. Same with our boatyard which was built for efficiency. We created our inhouse construction team, so that our buildings are of the best quality and standard – our fuel terminal was one of our biggest projects.

In terms of tourism, “why tourism?”, you ask. Well, “why not tourism?” is what I would say. The reason a lot of businesses are limited in the Maldives is because the Maldivian market potential is quite small – about 400,000 people, more or less. But with tourism, we’re talking about the world – billions. When you have a billion-people market potential, it makes sense for you to go into that area with the right tools.

Over the past 13 years, The Hawks has continued to evolve as a business, identifying market developments and adapting to local and international trends. What are some of the challenges you have had to overcome during this time?

When we first started out, procurement was a huge challenge. In the Maldives, we have to rely heavily on importers - it’s the same for fuel industry. If your procured quantity is not large the prices you get are not competitive enough. As a new player in the market, procuring large quantities is a challenging task, thus overall selling and acquiring the market was a significant challenge. 

Ensuring the quality of fuel entering the Maldives is another challenge. According to recent statistics, the entire country uses around 80 million litres a month; that’s about 55 million litres of diesel, 5 to 6 million litres of petrol and 18 to 20 million litres of jet fuel. Population-wise that’s a big number, but the Maldives doesn’t have fuel testing laboratory services - we have to rely on the load port documents. Of course, we are blessed that the government is one of the largest importers of fuel, so they make sure the quality is not compromised. But when buying from a third or fourth party, we cannot ensure the quality. The Hawks no longer faces this issue as we are now direct importers; we know from where our product is being loaded and its quality.

Maldives is 99 per cent water; you have customers all across the ocean, and you need a very strong fleet to ensure business-sustainability – especially in fuel. One of the reasons companies don’t succeed in fuel is due to such infrastructural problems. Timely delivery of diesel is one of the biggest fears of resorts - almost every island here is generated by diesel. No diesel means no electricity. Thankfully, our chairman ensured a proper working infrastructure to support the efficiency of our business and we continue to build it even today. Nevertheless, having a bigger fleet can also be a challenge. It means more people to look after and more boats to maintain. Fuel is a sensitive product - it is expensive, so it is crucial to have a strong, well-trained team. Even with captains, you cannot have those who only stick around for a second. We are very proud that all our barge captains are hardworking Maldivians – it isn’t easy to find the right people, and I believe our operations team does a wonderful job. 

With over 400 employees of various nationalities at The Hawks, how do you motivate and retain your staff in order to reduce employee turnover?

At The Hawks, we practice an open-door policy. Our management team is very approachable for any level of staff. Also, according to our policy, annual appraisals and staff increments are to be carried out once every two years. However, if anyone performs exceptionally and exceeds our expectations, they would not have to wait two years. Promotions follow the same guidelines. We also try to bring everyone together whenever we get the chance to celebrate birthdays, company anniversaries, as well as achievements. We make sure they know that every achievement is only possible because of them.

Another aspect is flexibility. Many individuals wish to continue their studies while working, which we encourage and support. If they wish to use the office to study after work hours, they have the freedom to do so. They can even use the boardroom if it is available. If they have exams during work hours, we never consider them absent. We also understand that there can always be emergencies such as waiting for a babysitter or various commitments and appointments - employees keep us informed and we do not fine them for being late. At The Hawks, we are more focused on the getting the job done in a stress-free environment.

Above all, every employee is attended to with care by the whole HR team. If they have any concerns or personal issues they wish to address, they can consult with us and we try guide them however we can. They know they can trust us, and everything is kept confidential. We are available 24/7.

The year 2020 has been very challenging for all businesses globally. How do you foresee the recovery of your ROI in the coming years?

Fuel is one of the most consumed commercial products – both, in value and volume – used by every resort, factory and company across the islands. These businesses are the key drivers of the country’s economy and GDP. Thus, fuel is a most promising sector to rebound early, as the economy starts recovering.

Now, with the favourable vaccine news, the market confidence is expected to lift better than before, which will allow us to access our customers again and resume our services back to pre-COVID volumes soon. We expect to recover back to our previous volumes a year from now – the point at which we will start building our ROI.

As far as the future is concerned, the company has made large investments to lift its capacity on shore, as well as its fleet, in order to support operations. With its existing capacity and positive further market prospects we see more opportunities to increase our sales volume as well as to improve the ROI.

What are the key opportunities for the country’s youth in terms of employment and training at your company?

We had actually been running internship programmes just until April this year, when the lockdown took place. We look forward to restarting the programme once the situation settles more. We also offer placement opportunities for youngsters. They do not require a specific amount of experience – we will train them. When they apply, we give them the chance, and if we are impressed in the interview, we give them the job. We believe that everybody has to start somewhere. 

We also provide apprenticeship programmes. We provide school-leavers with the opportunity to experience real-time work with each department; few days in HR, finance, operations, marketing and more. This is a great way to figure out your career path.

What are some of the CSR activities initiated by The Hawks?

You see, in the capital, you have a lot of opportunities and activities, but these faraway islands, there isn’t as much. So, we’re always keen to find out if there is a futsal tournament, a Quran challenge, or any such activities that we can support in local islands. We actively take part in the initiatives taken by NGO’s.

CSR activities are something that we at The Hawks carry out with our hearts. Many times, it is very personal and not done for publicity. Of course, we display our logo when sponsoring certain events or supporting certain causes, but there are many activities and causes we have supported that I do not wish to list out. You may call it CSR, but for us, it has a deeper meaning. If it’s something that will improve the standards of the living, give opportunities for youth, and improve the country’s economy, we’ll be part of it. And we always welcome organizations or events to approach us whenever they are trying for a good cause, our team will always welcome such proposals. 

What strategies have been put in place with regards to environmental sustainability?

At the end of the day, everyone knows that fuel has its effects on the environment. But it is also a product that we humans cannot live without. Most of the world is run by various types of oil and gas. So, one of the initiatives we have taken is to make sure our products are lower in sulphur. The IMO 2020 regulation states that bunker fuel must not contain higher than 0.5 sulphur (5000ppm), but the products we import have always had 0.05 sulphur (500ppm). If the sulphur content is too high, it will end up damaging the ozone layer significantly. Since 2019, we have also started importing an even lower 0.001 sulphur (10ppm), which is the lowest sulphur content you can find. It is called AGO – Automobile Gas Oil. For most countries in Europe, it is a requirement to use AGO in vehicles due to its super-low sulphur content - they tend to have very high standards when it comes to minimising the effects on the environment, and it’s something that we wanted to start over here as well. It is an expensive oil, but we are thrilled that many of the resorts are keen on purchasing it. 

Another thing is, we carry oil across the ocean. Any amount of oil spillage will be harmful to marine life. So, in order to really ensure that our team knows how to avoid oil spillages and what to do in case of any such incidents, we have regular trainings every 3 months. We take utmost precaution to ensure that such spillages are avoided, and in case it happens, we have all the necessary tools and skills onboard every single barge to sort it out immediately. So far, we have not faced such incidences and our team is fully geared for the worst case.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the people that are inspired to join this industry?

For business owners, you have to give your 200% to every single aspect of your business. Commitment is one of the keys to success. Commitment and knowledge of the operations at all times is very important. You need to know every tiny aspect of your business so that you are able to guide your employees. Commitment ensures you’re in full control of aspects of your business it ensures your visions and missions are in check. It ensures despite the difficulties and challenges which may come along you are prepared to face them and overcome them.

Always be truthful, to the people and to yourself. Honesty in business is very crucial. The minute you start to lie to yourself is the minute your foundation will start to rust, crack and eventually, burst. When doing business your word has to be your first contract. It’s not just the paper you sign. If you give someone a commitment, you have to make sure to honour it. Be prepared to show managerial excellence and to invest a lot of time into your business. 

The oil and gas industry is tough; you need to have a lot of strength to overcome basic small challenges and you must have absolute control over your businesses. Otherwise, you will not be able to sustain it. If you fail, identify the problem and try again. Never forget your roots no matter how successful you become, always remember who you are and where you come from.

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