Logistics – The next frontier -Sanjeeva Abeygoonewardena, Director of Mountain Hawk Express (Pvt) Ltd

He considers himself a ‘logistician by accident’ who was at one time pursuing a career in architecture. Sanjeeva Abeygoonewardena is the Director of Mountain Hawk Express (Pvt) Ltd, Head of Strategy & Growth for e-commerce, B2C & omni channel supply chain solutions cluster of Hayleys Advantis Group. He is an avid proponent and a student of ‘change’ management, driven by passion for human psychology, leadership, New Zealand All Blacks and architecture. His core strengths are in organizational behavior and focus on continuous improvement techniques to achieve excellence and high performing teams.

“I joined the Hayleys groups’ logistics cluster which is now Hayleys Advantis Ltd in October 1995 and moved up the ranks at one of the shipping units as its General Manager before taking on the group’s Maldives operation as Country Manager/ Chief Executive Officer from 2006 to 2013. Completing almost eight years of growing our business in the Maldives archipelago, I was entrusted the task to give leadership to Mountain Hawk Express which represents FedEx Express and FedEx Freight in Sri Lanka as Director and CEO from July 2013 to 2018. I was invited to the Group Management Committee in 2015, to further expand our expertise and group synergies in driving integrated solutions with the emergence of e-commerce and the need for digital transformation.”

Narrating how the Logistics industry has evolved over time, Sanjeeva stated that it is one of the oldest yet one of the most underrated industries, emphasizing that some of the greatest battles & case studies from history were won or lost due to the efficiency of logistics planning.

“Although seen as a blue collar industry, I fervently believe Logistics is the backbone that keeps the world on its tiptoes and moving forward. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of logistics and supply chain especially when migrating to digital commerce.”

Speaking furthermore, he stated that the Logistics industry is the next frontier. “This industry is largely driven by consumer behavior and consumerism trends. It serves as the linchpin between buyers and sellers hence the traditional logistics models are already challenged. Moreover, the fourth industrial revolution which will bring about greater visibility and transparency will require a mindset to embrace more digital solutions which is to create a connection between the manufacturer/source to the end consumer.

“However, one thing remains fundamental in the Logistics industry, which is the fact that the world of supply chain, is largely asset heavy and requires large investments in infrastructure and capital expenses into terminals, warehouses, ships, aircraft and vehicles.  These are necessities in building capacity for volume growth as consumer demand evolves at a rapid pace. What will shape logistics companies in time will be three elements, which is affordable shipping prices, giving voice to cargo and improving seamless mobility on a single platform.”

Citing an example, the industry expert explained how technology is shaping transportation and logistics and added that technology will differentiate the industry leaders in time to come.

“What’s going to enable logistics services will be technology that aggregates large, medium and small logistics facilities and infrastructure to enable logistics solutions, like in the case of how “Uber” aggregated the passenger taxi service sector without owning any assets. Although it may be an opaque world view, we estimate logistics and supply chain as the third largest disruptor where we are witnessing nearly 40,000 startups working independently and collaboratively with an estimated value of US$ 1.7 trillion being invested in logistics and supply chain by the year 2025.”

“Apart from being an enabler, leveraging technology gives rise and greater emphasis to automation and transparency supported by block chain. Autonomous fulfillment centers using AR and VR, drone technology and 3D printing with predictive demand, will surely change the way merchandise is stored and shipped from product source to ultimate delivery.”

Positioned on the East-West trade route and adjacent to India, Sri Lanka has the geopolitical advantage of becoming a key logistics hub in South Asia by establishing robust maritime networks with regional actors and having a greater commitment to an enhanced infrastructure development framework.

According to Sanjeeva, 80% of Sri Lanka’s throughput is transshipment and of that throughput, 60% is Indian traffic, which is purely from a sea port hub, whilst we are yet to see this position being leveraged from an air cargo perspective.

“What we have is our strategic location coupled with our human competence to play a pivotal part in Asia & South East Asia where emerging shifts in consumer demand will account for 43% from a global standpoint while the largest middle income segment is also predicted to be in Asia which represents 54% of global population. These are vital indicators for us to plan ahead and take advantage of. In addition to being located at the heart of Asia and Africa, two emerging continents, we have the capacity to leverage on our strategic location. Supply chains are seeing transference with speed to market models which are being recalibrated. However, we remain optimistic to gain, if we put our minds together, see beyond this generation and support the next. We can surely work towards a more cohesive approach as a logistics hub if we can look beyond differences and prioritize this as a national precedence and an all-encompassing visionary strategy.”

When asked what opportunities the Port City (Colombo International Financial City) will bring to the logistics industry, Sanjeeva affirmed that it is a step in the right direction, although it may not have a direct impact on the logistics industry in the short term.

“It surely does start as a financial city which can usher in a multiplier effect of supporting and growing other industry sectors that can, as a result give opportunity to logistics over time. The port city project can complement yachts and marina’s which will cater to new skill sets and competencies in managing supplies to the boating industry and its affiliated industries. Provided we are governed by prudent fundamentals, we will see more opportunity for other industries, following the seeds of a financial city concept.”

In conclusion, Sanjeeva asserted that the main challenge he foresees is to overcome a tunnel-vision mindset and embrace a broader role as a global/Asian trendsetter.

“This trajectory shift will require more courage and vision to invest in the right facilitation of automated platforms backed by solid policy decisions to be in line with WTO, WCO, and UNCTAD etc. to enable a more conducive environment to conduct businesses professionally and progressively. Essentially this will improve the ‘ease of doing business” with a nationalistic vision along with national policies that complement consistent strategies over the next decade or two. Such policies can be revisited from time to time to ensure it remains predictable and relevant over time, irrespective of who is in office. If we remain committed to do what’s right by the industry and our nation, we must be prudent in how we communicate these aspirations. One must have the courage to do what’s in the best interest for Sri Lanka. In doing so, one ought to be mindful that what’s popular may not always be right, and what’s right may not always be popular.”

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