The shipping and cruise industry has significantly enhanced the accessibility, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and overall experience of transportation for both the movement of goods and passenger travel. These sectors play a pivotal role in fostering global interconnectedness and have been instrumental in driving the expansion of trade, tourism, and economies worldwide. With nearly 90 percent of the world commodity trade using sea transport, the industry holds a vital position in the realm of supply chain management, ensuring the efficient, timely, and cost-effective transportation of goods. This encompasses the coordination of transportation, warehousing, inventory management, and order fulfillment processes.
Cruise businesses have opened up new tourism routes and destinations, promoting tourism in various regions. The Arab region is no exception to this. With ongoing developments and investments, the Arab world is poised to continue growing as a significant player in the global cruise industry, attracting tourists from around the world to experience the unique charm and allure of the Middle East.
The Cruise Division of RAIS Hassan Saadi Group, a prominent and diversified conglomerate in the United Arab Emirates, led by Shoba Rao, the General Manager of a division, is playing a vital role in this transformation. Her journey within the shipping and cruise industry has spanned an impressive 24 years. It embodies resilience, dedication, and the vision to continually make a meaningful impact in the dynamic business landscape of the Arab region.
While discovering the influential General Managers in the Arab, we had the opportunity to discuss with Shoba and learn more about her crucial role in the success of the Cruise Division of RAIS Hassan Saadi Group!
Below are the highlights from the interview:
Can you please provide a brief overview of your professional background and experience as a General Manager?
I started my shipping career as a customer service coordinator in a leading shipping company almost 24 years back. The challenges of the job promoted me to do a shipping course conducted by the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers London (ICS), the leading professional body in commercial shipping. I was later promoted as a Fellow of the Institute. This gave me the knowledge and professional color to my profile.
I then worked as Logistics Coordinator in a IT company based in Dubai. This gave me insights to understand the challenges faced by customers in logistics. It also gave me opportunity to acquire another international qualification – Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. It was then that the RAIS Hassan Saadi Group offered me a position in the business development unit of the group. This opened up a new path in my career starting with developing project cargo shipments, getting the regional agency of a prominent container Line and finally being part of the Cruise Division which was in its infancy stage. It was a time when Cruise business was developing in the region. Interaction with authorities, understanding the cruise business and its specific requirements and supporting development of newer ports of call for cruise ships were some of the challenges which I faced in the new role. Very soon our division became a leading player in the cruise agency sector in the region. Cruise agency is much more demanding than other segments of ship agency business. Being promoted as General Manager to lead the division gave me opportunity to prove my mettle in a male dominated stream of business. I was also able to develop a new agency business from a leading RoRo Line.
Developing a new business as demanding as Cruise agency was no mean task. I had to work closely with the authorities be it the ports, Customs, Security, Immigration and the Tourism Department. The changing security perception was bringing in newer systems and regulations. This gave me an unique opportunity to work closely with the authorities in the development of the Advanced Passenger Information System (API) for which I was awarded a Certificate of commendation by the Supreme Council for National Security of the United Arab Emirates in an impressive event.
The changing security perception was bringing in newer systems and regulations. This gave me an unique opportunity to work closely with the authorities in the development of the Advanced Passenger Information System(API) for which I was awarded a Certificate of commendation by the Supreme Council for National Security of the United Arab Emirates in an impressive event.
What are the key principles or values that guide your management approach?
- Team Building
- Ensure exemplary service
- Build a positive approach in the team
- Build a problem-solving culture
- Reward team for its performance
Could you highlight some of the significant achievements or milestones in your career as a General Manager?
Being able to successfully win and develop the Regional Agency of a prominent Container Line and being an integral part in the development cruise business not only for the company but for the region are events which I can look back with satisfaction. Close interaction with the team that developed the API system and being recognized specially for my contribution by the Supreme Council for National Security was something very special. I must also say that I was closely associated with the launch of the cruise ship ‘Costa Delziosa’, the first cruise ship launch in the region.
How do you view the current trends and challenges within your industry in the Arab world?
The Ship Agency sector, be it container / roro or bulk, is highly competitive, especially the Cruise Agency. Being in a male-driven sector, as a lady, I have to face a lot of challenges to prove my mettle.
What strategies do you employ for talent development and succession planning?
Developing an effective team is one of the crucial aspects of Ocean Carriage.
The first step is to ensure the recruitment of compatible and dedicated staff who have the passion to work. Thereafter, give training in all aspects to ensure they gain the required skills. Staff are encouraged to take up professional examinations and attend personality development training. They are encouraged to attend industry events and network with seniors and industry leaders.
How do you approach problem-solving in high-pressure situations?
Keeping abreast with the developments in the industry and the region and to constantly update the working systems to bring them in line with changes.
How do you encourage innovation and adaptability within your organization to stay ahead in a rapidly changing business environment?
By keeping oneself updated with all the happenings in the region and having group discussions.
The understanding, guidance and support of the RHS Group management have a vital factor in tackling the changing business environment.
How do you stay updated with industry trends and continue to grow professionally?
I am an active member of the ICS and attend industry events regularly. The inherent passion for teaching led me to take the role of a Tutor in the ICS Middle East Branch, a voluntary position. This gives me an opportunity to interact with the younger generation joining the industry and be part of their professional growth.
What advice would you give to emerging General Managers aspiring to make a significant impact in the business world, particularly in the Arab region?
I believe in dedication to learning and gaining knowledge and continuous improvement in whichever industry the person is working in. It is essential to be focused and have a humane approach, and, at the same time, be a go-getter and not give up even during adverse situations. It is important to always have plans A, B, and C ready to face God-forbidding situations like COVID-19.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your journey or experiences as a General Manager?
The disruptions we face, whether technological, industry changes, regulatory aspects, or changes induced by various other factors, are a big challenge. Timely and adequate knowledge of these is a crucial component in dealing with them effectively.