The Business Times
BRAINS and connections are Overseas Port Management’s (OPM) sharpest tools in the tough world of the ports business. The company was set up in early 2003 by a group of former senior PSA executives led by MMJ Subramaniam, who was senior vice-president of PSA’s international business development division.
In its first big break, it was asked to tender for a contract to manage the Aden Container Terminal in Yemen after PSA withdrew. ‘I had previously been the managing director of PSA Aden and I knew the Yemenis well and the local market. This was fortuitous as the Yemeni government appointed OPM as terminal managers in 2003 and OPM has held the contract ever since,’ recalled Mr Subramaniam.
OPM’s core activities are port management, consultancy and related services, while a new business being developed is the evaluation of ports for investment.
OPM is diversifying into port and logistics IT, engineering services for port equipment, logistics training in cooperation with an Australian partner, as well as investments in ports and related businesses.
‘Most of our revenues have traditionally come from port management contracts, but we are diversifying into quite a lot of other areas such as consultancy, training and education and other value-added services,’ explained Mr Subramaniam.
Now into its fourth year of operating the Aden Container Terminal, OPM has 450 staff and hopes to achieve throughput of 500,000 TEUs this year. The company’s next major project is to increase throughput at Iran’s Bandar Abbas Terminal, which it is into its second year of managing, to 1.8 million TEUs.
Other irons in the fire include a bid to manage Brunei’s Muara Container Terminal, as well as interest in ports in India and the Philippines, feeder ports in China and the CIS countries. ‘These areas will be the focus next year and onwards and distriparks and break bulk ports are new areas of focus for OPM,’ Mr Subramaniam elaborated.
OPM’s strategy of going into the Middle East has helped it do well so far. ‘We work in the Middle East because of past connections; it tends to be a tough area and we don’t pretend there are no problems, but these areas tend to be where the money is and also where our skills are required and valued,’ Mr Subramaniam said.
And the company has been reaping the dividends. ‘With regard to our terminal management contracts, the flow of funds has been smooth as we structured our contracts to ensure this,’ he added.
Mr Subramaniam identified OPM’s challenges for the future as entering new territories and contending with the bigger and more established names like Hutchison, PSA and DP World. ‘There are always different problems, different people and cultures but experience from the past helps us to be nimble and overcome the difficulties we face,’ he said.