Cargo Champion – Essa Al-Saleh

IN THE corridors of power, humility is often in short supply. This is primarily because of the misconceptions many people harbour about how to succeed in life, and what it takes to maintain this favourable outcome.
Unfortunately, history shows humbleness is routinely sacrificed in favour of aggression, dehumanisation and superciliousness.
Essa Al-Saleh’s healthy disposition towards his role as chief executive of logistics giant Agility demonstrates that those who are able to maintain a level of modesty – despite their notable achievements – are not only all the more richer but also contribute to the world in a way others (held back by their lack of self-awareness) cannot.
“I wouldn’t describe myself as successful, I do not define myself as a successful person,” he reveals. “The way I think about it is I have reached milestones on a journey that will last a lifetime. My values centre on being humble, learning and commitment and my experiences over the years have taught me that at the end of the day we are all still learning. We do not know everything, so there is always room for improvement.”
He also acknowledges that his wife, their four children and extended family members assist in keeping his feet firmly on the ground. “They are a joy. I learn from my kids and they, in turn, learn from me. I also believe one has to be humble, because there is so much out there [in the universe] and we [as human beings] are such a small part of this very big world.”
Al-Saleh, 43, represents the changing face of the air cargo and logistic industries: a relatively young buck (for the air cargo industry) brimming over with talent, confidence, enthusiasm and a plethora of ideas and perspective. “I don’t want to use a cliché, but life is a journey, so I am always trying to identify new opportunities, new skills, meet new people to connect with along the way. That is what makes me tick – sometimes we tend to complicate things unnecessarily.”
It comes as no surprise that he was snapped up by Tarek Sultan, the chairman and managing director of Agility. “I was on a trip back home from the States with some American friends who wanted to visit different companies based there and that’s when I met Tarek, our chairman. He invited me to join the company and I have never looked back.”
Al-Saleh admits that he first had to look in the dictionary to discover what logistics actually means, having little previous background knowledge about supply chains.
“I also discovered that this [Agility] is a learning organisation, in the sense that we try to give our people opportunities to grow within the organisation. I do the best that I can to make sure the people around me are just as successful because, if they are successful, I’m going to be successful. This is something I value quite a bit. I work for a fantastic company and I love the people in it.”
Al-Saleh’s American-born mother, an avid reader – “who is always providing us with books and asking us [he and his siblings] questions” – heavily influenced the Kuwaiti engineer’s life.
The apple did not fall far from the tree, because the graduate, who managed the oil production process at Kuwait Oil Company for four years and also has an MBA in finance, is never without a book.
His perspicaciousness gives credence to the American author Jesse Lee Bennett’s musing: ‘Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life.’
A generous measure of insightfulness always comes in handy when one is steering a major global business. However, Al-Saleh asserts positivity as an all-important ingredient for ingesting the heady cocktail of surprises (some of them quite nasty) which life throws at us when we least expect them.
“During my college years, I was diagnosed with a tumour in my leg, which had to be operated on,” he recalls. “In my last year of school I went through this experience not thinking of it as a difficult thing – I just went through the treatment. My philosophy is: do the best you can with the things you have – that’s my mindset.”
Determined to make the most of his good health and good fortune, Al-Saleh also skis and has recently joined the ranks of long-distance runners. In 2012, he successfully completed his first marathon at his home in Basel, Switzerland.
It is not surprising that the book he is currently reading is Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.

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