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Published on: Feb. 18, 2022, 12:40 p.m.
How the Skyways group leads the logistics space
  • Yash Sharma: we want to be a strong player across the logistics value chain

By Arbind Gupta. Assistant Editor, Business India

Founded in 1983, the Delhi-headquartered Skyways group has emerged as a trusted logistics service provider. The Rs1,500-crore group, led by its flagship entity Skyways Air Services (P) Ltd, has left a mark in the air freight-forwarding space, handling both B2B and B2C cargo through its global network. Its innovative supply chain management solutions and services have made the IATA-accredited freight-forwarding entity earn the title of no 1 air freight forwarder of India for three consecutive years, in 2017, 2018 and 2019 as per the World ACD. In 2017, when it was conferred this title, it was the first Indian company to achieve this feat in 13 years. As per IATA, the company has been ranked 29th globally for the last eight months.

Though freight forwarding continues to be its main business, contributing over 90 per cent to its revenue, the Skyways Group, primarily dealing in international cargo (exim) logistics, has consciously tried to diversify its offering into ocean freight, road transportation, express services and warehousing. The group has also diversified into fair & exhibition logistics to serve the growing needs of that fast-growing segment.

The group, backed by 850-odd employees and 27 offices in India as also in Dubai, Bangladesh, Germany and Vietnam, has also got into the logistics technology space by acquiring a majority stake in a technology company in 2020. This technology entity, with a team of 20-odd people, offers tech solutions, including ERP solutions. The group covers all major economies including the US, Latin America, Europe and Australia, through its own network.

The group has also put up a logistic academy, MyLogistics Gurukul. It has been offering skilling and upskilling programmes in the logistics space since 2019. This not only helps the company meet its own skilled manpower requirements but also bridges the skill gap existing in the rapidly-growing logistics space.

Besides, the group which has grown over 30 per cent in the last five years, has also forayed into the domestic market in the last few years to explore opportunities. In the last four to five years, the company has taken its revenue contribution from the domestic market from a mere 1 per cent to around 3-4 per cent currently, and in the next five years, it is looking to increase that to 10-15 per cent.

It caters to a wide range of customers: Parle, Britannia, Paras, Organic India and others in FMCG; Morepen, IPCA, Herbochem India, Micro Labs and Alchem in pharmaceuticals; Tata Motors, Shriram, Eicher, Motherson Sumi and Rico Auto in automotive; Wardhman, Arvind, Orient Craft, D’décor and Sainsbury’s in textiles; and Honeywell, JCB Power Systems and IDEMIA in engineering goods.       

One-stop solution provider

“There is immense opportunity and we, as a logistics service provider, would like to explore the market in a more comprehensive manner. In our quest to position ourselves strongly in the market, we are now consciously trying to enlarge our offering and are in the process of building up a strong portfolio of offerings which can encompass a much wider range of services and solutions across the logistics value chain. The aim is to be a ‘one-stop’ solution provider for our customers and serve them in a more holistic manner. We have made rapid strides in the last few years. Like air freight forwarding, we want to be a strong player across the logistics value chain,” says Yash Sharma, 46, managing director, Skyways group.

 “We would like to thank Skyways for their services and extended support. We have been working with Skyways for over six months now and it’s been a good experience so far. Any organisation would like to work with them due to their willingness to adapt to changes and openness to incorporate suggestions. Their intent and flexibility to go the extra mile for their clients, makes them a great partner,” says Satnam Singh Grover, General Manager, logistics, Motherson Sumi Systems.

 “Davies Turner Air Cargo regards Skyways Group as an extension of our own operations. Their understanding and commitment to our business ensures all our business activities are managed in a timely and professional manner with excellent on-time performance. With a great range of services, they have a good degree of flexibility to provide varied solutions for our clients worldwide,” states Adam Woodhams, Business Development Manager of Davies Turner Air Cargo, a part of the UK-based multimodal transport, logistics and warehousing organisation, Davies Turner Plc. It has been one of the global partners of Skyways for the last six years.  

“What differentiates Skyways from others is their quality of service and consistency. Particularly during the challenging period of the pandemic, they have done a remarkable job for us in keep our supply chain up and running. We sincerely appreciate their efficient, gracious customer service, the level of detail and accountability they have demonstrated with each project, and the way they conduct business as a whole,” says Purshotam Dobhal, Cluster Manager - South India - Britannia Industries, which has been using the services of Skyways for the last couple of years.     

During the recent pandemic when the supply chain management was severely challenged, like any other logistics player, Skyways was also put to the test. However, the company, through its customer-centric approach and pre-emptive response to market changes, has proved its mettle and quite successfully lived up to its customers’ expectations. Responding to market needs, it proactively tweaked its strategy and this not only helped it tide over the difficult period but also enabled it to tap emerging avenues in the market. It curtailed its exposure to textiles to 22 per cent from over 48 per cent two years ago, while it significantly increased exposure to pharmaceuticals as also food and vegetables.

“The recent pandemic period was indeed a major learning curve for us. As an organisation, we have shown a great degree of agility in re-aligning our systems, processes and people as per the changing market conditions. While we ramped up our capabilities and added over 40 per cent to our manpower pool, our customers reposed full faith in our ability. From being run as a family business until a few years ago, today we are run as a truly professional organisation. We have built a core management team, hiring talent from across the industry. We have emerged as a more confident and robust organisation and are all set to start our next growth phase,” avers Sharma who joined his father’s business in 1995 and played a crucial role in transforming the company into what it is today. Started as a customs brokerage firm, the business turned into the number one Indian air freight forwarding company and is now looking to expand its portfolio into other segments of logistics in a big way.  

Having graduated in commerce from University of Delhi, Sharma has over 27 years of experience. He has held prestigious leadership positions in businesses ranging from logistics to supply chain management. He was one of the early proponents of supply chain management and has made worthwhile contributions in the domain. He also successfully completed an executive course in Strategic IQ from Harvard Business School, Boston, USA in 2014.

Constantly innovating 

“Logistics is all about connecting people, technology, equipment and transportation modes to move goods. Providing visibility to all stakeholders today is the key. The industry has transformed itself big time from the time we started Skyways in 1983. I am delighted that we at Skyways have not just kept up with the need but always tried to be ahead of the game by constantly innovating and being future-ready. As we talk there is a solid think-tank and execution team working to bring some very interesting additions to our product portfolio which will enhance value for our customers in the years ahead,” says SL Sharma, 76, chairman, Skyways Group and father of Sharma, who started the business in 1983 in a humble way, only to see his son making it big in the last couple of decades. He continues to play the role of a mentor and helps the existing think tank with his invaluable inputs.

Experts are of the view that the recent pandemic has once again demonstrated the significance of having a strong supply chain management ecosystem where the role of logistics is paramount. In fact, efficient logistics is considered to be a catalyst in enhancing the competitiveness of all sectors of the economy. Thus, improving supply chain efficiencies and reducing logistics costs are imperative to improving the efficiency of the whole economy. Going forward, the logistics sector will undergo a major transition with technology playing a crucial role in keeping businesses more robust and resilient.

Covid-19 disrupted the supply chain and forced logistics professionals to adapt to new realities. Besides, customers prefer those providers who can seamlessly take care of their entire logistics requirements not just a particular segment. The third-party logistics or 3PL market will receive further boost as more and more manufacturers and retailers focus on core competencies and choose outsourcing elements that offer warehousing, distribution and fulfilment services.

“Rapidly improving global economy along with the changing market conditions is leading to globalisation. This is also increasing trading activities, which makes it difficult for various organisations to control their activities as well as track them. Hence, various organisations partner with other companies for outsourcing their logistics activities. Hence, growing trading activities for globalisation are expected to boost 3PL market growth,” says  the ‘Global Third-Party Logistics Market, By Mode of Transport, By Service, By End User, Estimation & Forecast, 2017-2027’ report by ResearchAndMarkets.com, which has estimated the global third party logistics market will reach $1,656.7 billion by 2027 from $1,032 billion in 2021, at a  CAGR of 8.2 per cent.     

Following global trends, the 3PL market is well poised for growth in India. As per another report, ‘Third-party Logistics Market in India 2021-2025’  by ResearchAndMarkets.com, in India the market is expected to grow by $10.74 billion during 2021-2025, progressing at a CAGR of almost 8 per cent.

The transition 

Realising this potential, Skyways is also looking to tap these opportunities in a big way. Having left its mark in the air freight forwarding space, the group has been building up its presence across the entire logistics value chain for the last few years. The process of this transition began in 2004 when the group forayed into ocean freight with a separate entity named Forin Container Line, providing turnkey and full services in ocean logistics.

As a booking agent, it offers end to end project management for its customers, partnering with global shipping lines like Maersk Line, Hapag Lloyd, Evergreen, ZIM, Cosco Shipping, CMA CGM and others. The company also offers LCL services for shipments that are small in volume and weight and cannot utilise the capacity of a Full Container Load (FCL). The cargo is packed separately and similar packages are grouped together in accordance with their destinations.

This was followed by fair and exhibition logistics which the group ventured into in 2010. The fair and exhibition logistics vertical has handled several major exhibitions including Heimtextil, Germany; Messe Frankfurt Ambiente, ISPO Munich; Techtextil, Germany; Ligna Hannover; Automechanika Frankfurt, PCIM Europe and others.

Over the past five years, Skyways has aggressively diversified its offerings.  In 2018, it got into the domestic trucking business (it also owns a fleet of 80 trucks) under another entity, Phantom Express. In a short span of time, the company has built up the capacity to handle the technology-driven transportation of a wide range of goods and cargoes. It also carries out specialised movements of large and high-value cargoes for its clients across industry segments.

In another significant move, in 2019, the group ventured into domestic and international express services under the brand name sKart Global Services. Their services include air cargo, door to door courier services as also international door to door delivery of commercial cargo. sKart is betting big on the domestic market where it is exploring opportunities in the rapidly growing e-commerce market, offering first and last mile logistics operations.

Besides, it is also engaged in door to door express (courier) services. The company has expanded its presence across 15,000 pin codes of which 5,000 pin codes have been added in the last 12-18 months alone during the recent pandemic period. It has been betting big on the domestic logistics market which has lately witnessed massive traction following the government’s policy initiatives as also the growing e-commerce ecosystem.

Under contract logistics, Skyways is also into warehousing. It has independent and shared warehouses across India, in Delhi, Mumbai, Gujarat, Hyderabad, Kochi and Chennai. Its Delhi warehouse facility is GDP certified for storage and transportation of temperature controlled pharmaceutical products. The company is also getting into the warehousing segment in a big way, even as it is almost ready to launch its own warehouse.   

While the group has started diversifying, Skyways Air Services has continued to be its primary business. Over the years, it has made big strides and established itself as a formidable player in the air freight forwarding space. Air freight covers cargo in the B2B and B2C segments. In order to cater efficiently, the company also has subsidiaries in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Germany. The company, covering all major North American, South American and European points, has partnership with major global airlines (contracts partners) like Emirates, Etihad, British Airways, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airlines and Air India.               

In order to back these activities with right kind of resources, the group’s separate entity MyLogisitics Gurukul plays its role in skilling and upskilling of manpower through well designed programmes. In the last three years of its existence, the academy has already trained around 3,000 people. Besides, the company has also tried to empower itself through its technology venture, sGate Solutions, where it holds a majority stake. Apart from taking care of the group’s technology requirements, the firm also caters to the industry, where last year it got around 15-odd companies as its clients.

Newer businesses

“Technology is going to play a very crucial role across the entire logistics value chain going ahead and at Skyways we are putting in lot of resources to create the much-needed technology capability to make our systems and processes tech-enabled and future-ready. Our dynamic ERP can be seamlessly integrated with any other system for providing contractual rates and other relevant information. Integration with shipping lines, airlines and other integrators provides complete visibility of cargo. We will continue to ramp up our technology capabilities for making our solutions smarter and more efficient,” says Sharma who sees the company’s newer businesses growing much faster, going ahead. He hopes the express business will grow to around Rs500 crore in the next five years. Healthcare, food & vegetables and electronics will be the key expansion sectors. In the next 10 years or so, the group is looking to grow at a CAGR of over 30 per cent.   

With all these developments in place Skyways as a group is all set to position itself quite strongly in the market. Over the last few years, the promoters, led by Sharma and his team, have consciously tried to transform the group into a full-fledged logistics player from being an air freight forwarding agent where the company has proved its mettle in the exim trade with its well carved out plan and strategy. While the process of transition started a few years ago, the recent pandemic-related headwinds and the successful manoeuvring of the same provided the group some much-needed confidence to expedite the whole process.

The group, led by its flagship air freight forwarding business, has ramped up its capabilities in a big way and put up an efficient structure where newer activities are now being carried out as separate entities led by CEOs.

It now looks to replicate the success of air freight forwarding to other segments of the value chain and aims to be a one-stop solution provider for the industry which is undergoing a major transition. No doubt, the industry holds tremendous potential and the pie is quite big enough to accommodate multiple players. However, it remains to be seen how various players position themselves and come up with differentiated products and solutions in the medium to long term.

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