Special feature: JORDAN

Interview with Mr. Jeppe Nymann Jensen, CEO of Aqaba Container Terminal, Jordan

May, 2017

QCould you give an insight into your background and your relationship with ACT and APM?

J.N.J.: I’m the CEO of ACT. ACT is a partnership between APM terminals and the Jordanian government. I’ve been working for AP Moller-Maersk for 28 years, in various tasks: management, leadership, precision. And I’ve been in Jordan since 2013. My educational background is in finance, I have an MBA from New York.

QYou mentioned earlier that you’ve invested 300 million dollars, and that you’re looking to invest several hundred million dollars more, that shows a lot of long-term faith in the country.

J.N.J.: It does indeed. Yes, we have invested around 300 million US dollars, since 2006. Almost half of it was invested in 2013, when we expanded the terminal from a quay length of 500 meters to a kilometer. As for further investments, we haven’t promised anything but we have suggested to the Jordanian government that if they do some infrastructure investments we are then ready to invest several hundred million dollars if the circumstances are right.

QWhat are you talking about when you say infrastructure investment?

J.N.J.: This is a very specific investment, where we see a benefit to the country, and where we can increase the competitiveness of Jordan by building a dry port, a fully-fledged logistical setup in the Amman area, and incorporated with customs and inspections. It’s a one-stop-shop for traders, and where all the cargo eventually ends up at a distance of 50 kilometers from wherever it has to be delivered. Very efficient, we actually made a calculation that we would cut half the time in the supply chain, from the port to the final destination.

Q2016 has been another successful year for ACT. Container throughput increased by 4.6%, you’ve had a record year in terms of full exports, an increase of 6.9%, could you give a reason?

J.N.J.: You talked about the throughput in the terminal. We are the only facility in Jordan, so the volumes are what the volumes are. The real effort that has been made here, is that our productivity and efficiency has increased tremendously. Compared to previous years, we have also removed some of the obstacles that were within our operations. Customs and inspections have moved outside of our facility, which means we get more speed within the terminal.

QLooking towards 2017, could you give us some insight into any more of your ambitions and what you hope to achieve?

J.N.J.: I think one of the biggest targets that we would like to achieve is reducing time standing in the terminal before it can be released to the customer. If it’s compared to previous years, we were all the way up to 11 or 12 days; last year it was around 9 days. The thing is that we are offering 7 free days in the terminal. That means that if we really want to create more efficiency in the supply chains, we can get it done in 1 or 2 days, we can do that. It’s a behavioral thing. Of course, we would like to reduce the free days; if the supply chain wants to match that, it would be tremendous. It is more than you see in any place.

QLooking at the operations of ACT on a global scale, you mentioned earlier that you are up there with the world’s best. Could you give us an insight into how you compare?

J.N.J.: This is a regional benchmark. Middle East and Africa are different from any of the other regions, and there will be a difference in the top-notch. Of course you can go to other terminals around the world, you could go to Japan and find three times the productivity. But, what I mean is, if you’re trading in the region, we are definitely in the top rank.

QLooking towards the crisis that is going on in Syria and Iraq, it is clear that, hopefully soon, this is going to be resolved. How do you see the opening of the Syrian border and also access to Iraq influencing your operations?

J.N.J.: They would offer huge opportunities for Jordan, and for our business as well. I think Syria will take a little more time, and even if it opened up, there is so much to rebuild. On the other hand, Iraq, you still have infrastructure. Infrastructure that probably needs to be built up and improved, but you still have access to a country of 33 million people. It’s a huge consumer base, more than 10 times larger than Jordan. And if you can make Aqaba work, at least for the southern part of Iraq, which is the richest part, that would be huge, that would benefit private businesses and the country.

QWhat kind of services can you offer to the global investment community?

J.N.J.: It’s probably more about what we can sell, and how we help the entire supply chain to be efficient. Every business that starts up in Jordan, will somehow need logistics. And definitely, we are one of the parameters in the supply chain that delivers that. So we can deliver efficiency and that is a competitive factor for the country.

QThere have been some very ambitious strategies in terms of where the Government wants to take Aqaba. In your opinion, what else needs to be done to fulfill these targets?

J.N.J.: There is probably a number of things. It all started up with His Majesty’s vision, back in 2002. At that time the Aqaba Special Economic Zone was being built up. I think the thinking behind this is extremely good. Sometimes when things grow and become big, they also become more complex. I would like to see it go a bit backwards in some points. Reduce complexity, increase simplicity, which would be welcomed by investors. On the other hand, what has happened in the Aqaba region is amazing. It is really tremendous to see what has been built up.

QIn terms of the perception of Jordan by the rest of the world, what do you think could be done to showcase the opportunities in Jordan?

J.N.J.: The bad news is not coming from Jordan. The people sitting overseas don’t see Jordan as Jordan, they perceive the Middle East as the Middle East. And that is exactly what’s going wrong, because you have a safe haven here. If you talk about investments, in relative terms for the Middle East, then you have a really good base to start off in Jordan. You probably only have the Emirates that can provide better opportunities for the investors, but if you’re looking for growth potential, I even think Jordan is better than the Emirates, as we look at it now.

QHow much local human capital do you employ here?

Only Jordanians, there are more than 1000 people, and we are 4 expatriates.

QIn 2015 you also invested in CSR activities. Could you give an insight in how you give back to society and Jordanian people?

J.N.J.: Our CSR program is based on three pillars: environmental, education and the close community. What we mean by that, it’s a little wider than just Aqaba, but, if we can contribute to where we are, we have a responsibility to do so.

QWhen people finish reading this article, what is the lasting impression you want them to have about Jordan and Aqaba?

J.N.J.: The impression I want to pass on is about the attention when you talk about the Middle East. The Middle East is a very fragmented area, and, when you think about Jordan, it’s not a part of all the bad news that you hear, it’s very different.