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Wednesday, January 26, 2022
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Interview: The long walk to success

Peshawar Sky General Transportation’s Naseem Ullah on the company’s extraordinary story

We’re sat on the side-lines of the Volvo Trucks Driver Challenge 2018. Nasim Ullah is chatting to his star driver Younis Khan who has been competing during the event with some of the world’s best truck drivers. Later that day Khan, already crowned the winner of the UAE version of the event which earned him in his place at the finals, would learn he is the second-best driver in the Middle East and North Africa region, for now we discuss how he has risen through the ranks of his own family.

“He has a huge family of brothers and cousins, in total they have 28 drivers in their family,” explains Ullah, who has been doubling as Khan’s translator in Sweden. “Well he feels, because he has been working hard in every capacity and not taking (his profession) for granted, he might be the best.”

Khan has been a driver for over 17 years. Starting in Pakistan, he was recruited from Peshawar Sky General Transportation’s sister company and brought over to Abu Dhabi in 2011 and has been diligently driving in the company fleet of material transportation trucks ever since, while continuing to focus on learning his craft.

“He has no match – but he is definitely he’s improving. And you know in our company he is the number one,” affirms Ullah.

Despite finishing his two runs in the competition Khan is continuing to analyse his performance, particularly on the off-road course.

“I have put in 100%,” Khan’s says from Ullah. “But I’m not sure I had the right tactics for that one. It was more difficult because of the mud and it was a bit of a challenge because the environment is difficult compared to what I’m used to, however I put everything into it.”

It is an attitude that fits perfectly with the philosophy of Peshawar Sky General Transportation. It’s a moderately-size company of just 18 trucks but it is growing with Ullah working alongside his father. He tells T&FME that the company’s roots were first planted in northern Pakistan when his father, determined to make a success of his life, embarked on an extraordinary and life-changing journey to the UAE.

“My father came to the UAE 1978,” says Ullah before pausing to currect himself. “Actually, he walked to the UAE – he didn’t come by train or by aeroplane or anything. He walked from Karachi to Gwada and from Gwada to Iran. And then from Iran he came to the UAE.”

He adds that he arrived with very little possessions and not even a passport.

“At that time Pakistan authorities had no passports for their citizens,” he explains. “My father actually got his first passport in the UAE. So, he worked and got himself educated at that time. He could speak Arabic, a little bit of English, Urdu, and Pashto, his maternal language.

“He was working with an English family first at home and then he went to another company working as an ordinary worker. And then he applied for a driving license and was working as a driver for an English family as a home.”

He continued working as a driver after they left for the UK, eventually finding a role as a supervisor for a firm in the construction industry before returning to Pakistan in 1990.

“When he came back to Pakistan, whatever he had saved he bought back used it to start his business there in a partnership with other contractors,” continues Ullah. “Again, related to construction, he got contracts from the government to construct roads, hospitals and buildings. He finally set up his own business with two tractors and the small equipment that was needed for construction. Other equipment he would rent.”

“He finally set up his own business with two tractors and the small equipment that was needed for construction and other equipment he would rent from somewhere.”

Following the trail of government contracts to Islamabad, the business thrived and opportunities began to open up in the private sector with the company scoring a lucrative tie-in with Pakistan developer giant Bharia Town.

“Many contractors had started to come to the surface, so he moved into heavy equipment and excavators. He earned good money.” Ullah recalls. Eventually in 2008 his father returned to his dream of opening a transportation business in the UAE leaving the Pakistan firm to be managed Ullah’s oldest brother. He adds that his father had recognised that to be competitive his new company would not be able to rely on the Hino fleet that had served him so well in Pakistan.

“He started with two Actros trucks because his friends were suggesting Mercedes for him. And then he was slowly and gradually building his business up and then he bought two more Actros trucks. With the passage of time he got some more and by 2015 he had 16 trucks.”

As before, his knowledge of the government sector served him well, but it has been the establishment of a strong relationship with Cemex, among others, that means the company’s trucks are now in constant use serving giant cement plants in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“Cemex is a very big construction company in the UAE. They buy materials from different crushers in Fujairah and RAK and we give them transportation services,” he says. “We take their materials and supply them at their plants and they provide concrete materials for the construction of buildings. I think they had 95% of the works at Dubai Airport and they are getting big projects in Dubai all the time.”

Ullah joined three years ago after being educated and working in the UK. Together they are now fixed on expanding the company’s fleet operation. He tells T&FME that he has already helped shift the company’s buying habits.

“In 2016, we bought three Volvo FH16s following some advice from one of my friends. He told me ‘if you’re not happy to with Volvo then I will give you the money that you spent and I’ll take the trucks’. He was that confident because he said that he had been running the same trucks for two and a half years and was happy with the fuel consumption.”

He adds that fuel economy is the main issue for a company of Peshawar’s size as it is often competing on price.

“This is the main issue here. The main saving comes from the fuel because these heavy trucks consume a lot,” he explains. “For smaller transporters like us fuel consumption was and is a huge a matter of concern because the rates that we are provided to small companies are much lower. The bigger companies, because they’re big companies, that are have everything, their own fleet, their own company production houses, so they are getting higher rates but we are working on very low prices.

“We tell the drivers that they have to be careful, the prices are going up. As we are family business, we don’t just call them and say you have to go there and come back again for the next trip. We are backing them and advising them like our own family members because this is good for us and for our drivers as well.”

While we talk, he says he feels that regulation of prices – with the setting of a minimum – could ease pricing worries for transporters in the market.

“Cemex as compared to other companies is good when it comes to its prices. Still they’re pressing us to lower their prices from time to time. Five or six years back it was 32 dirham per ton now it has dropped down to 18 dirham per ton. This is a big matter of concern for every transporter. This is the reason that you have to cut costs by saving more fuel the divers are using. And the only solution is to replace the vehicles slowly and gradually with trucks that have less fuel consumption. And as far as I have studied the market, everybody’s recommending Volvo. If I’m not able to purchase all the other 18 vehicles with brand new, definitely I’ll try my best to replace with used Volvos because they can give me fuel savings.”

He continues: “The issue in the UAE is that the transporters are not getting equal prices. If I’m working with one company and they’re giving us 12 dirhams per ton rate from RAK to Dubai then another transporter room will say they can offer them 10 dirhams. This thinking could destroy the market in the UAE.”

As our conversation draws to a close, he reveals that he is in constant contact with other transporters to understand what is happening in the market; where the opportunities lie and what the costs of running and buying the fleet should be. However, there is one person that remains pivotal to Peshawar’s success.

“I’m in touch with my father around the clock. I take a decision only after he has given his final yes because every time I get his view, his decision comes up 100% correct because of his experience. I’m very lucky that I have a father like him. He knows about every single nut on the truck.”

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Stephen Whitehttps://truckandfleetme.com/
Stephen White was formerly editor of Big Project ME.
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