From chemical logistics to ecommerce: RSA Global’s journey to becoming a global supply chain company

Dubai-based RSA Global specialises in chemical logistics, supply chain integration, cold chain supply, traditional freight logistics, and warehousing facilities. In 2022, it clocked $65 million in revenue.

From chemical logistics to ecommerce: RSA Global’s journey to becoming a global supply chain company

Wednesday January 18, 2023,

6 min Read

In the early 2000s, Abhishek Shah’s father, Ajay Shah, moved to Dubai from Kenya to establish a real estate business in the city. At 14 years old, Abhishek saw his father start his venture by building logistics warehouses and other rental units at Jebel Ali Free Zones.

“In 2001-2002, the real estate market in the Middle East was expanding, and my father decided to capitalise on this growth,” says Abhishek.

For the past 13 years, Abhishek, the co-founder and CEO of RSA Global, has been a witness to the growing supply chain logistics sector.

The Dubai-based company specialises in chemical logistics, supply chain integration, cold chain supply, traditional freight logistics, and warehousing facilities.

Today, RSA Global has over 800 employees working across its nine offices in India, two in the UAE, and one office each in Kenya and Hong Kong. In 2022, the company reported a topline revenue of $65 million. 

Recently, it also diversified into ecommerce logistics and is one of the largest logistics and fulfilment providers for Amazon.AE, the ecommerce giant’s UAE segment.

RSA Global

From real estate to warehousing 

After Abhishek graduated in civil engineering from Warwick University, followed by his Masters studies in 2005, the entrepreneur decided to take a deeper look into data integrations in the supply chain sector.

Besides rental real estate, he also helped his father build fulfilment centres, warehousing facilities, and key supply chain integrations in Dubai.

In 2009, the father-son duo realised a growing interest in the general goods and warehousing segment and decided to build storage facilities in the then-new Jebel Ali airport.

However, as the financial crisis hit Dubai, APL Logistics, with whom the company had partnered, backed out from renting the building at the airport. “Instead, I got an internship at APL Logistics in Singapore, where I learnt all that I could about the [supply chain] segment,” he says.

A year later, the company was ready to start with new plans to revive the business, and the building at the airport was its starting point.

“The Jebel Ali airport was used by the US forces as a staging site. Everything that was flown out of Iraq and Afghanistan landed here for scrapping, cleaning, and sorting. We got hired as a subcontractor, which provided us with a much-needed push,” says Abhishek. 

Getting into chemical logistics 

In 2009, RSA Global forayed into dealing with chemical logistics, which meant ensuring the buildings were abiding by the rules set up for the safe storage of hazardous chemicals and petrochemicals.

“There was a big fire at the Jebel Ali Free Zone caused by isocyanate in 2007. Since the incident, the government disallowed the storage of isocyanates without stringent rules and guidelines. But we got the permissions and right protocols to store it in our building,” he says. 

RSA Global reached out to Talke Group, a 75-year-old petrochemical company, and formed its first joint venture to create the RSA TALKE Group. The partnership brought knowledge and expertise in dealing with chemical storage and logistics.

By 2016, this vertical expanded 3X and was among the top chemical logistics companies in the UAE. Around the same time, RSA Global expanded into the frozen foods and cold chain logistics vertical. 

RSA Global

Oil crash and diversification 

“We built a cold chain facility in 2017, but I simply got the timing wrong. The 2016 oil market crash suddenly opened up the frozen food and cold chain supply space. Every food distributor now had extra space and started offering storage services,” he says.

Overnight, the storage facilities shot up from 100,000 to 250,000. At the time, RSA Global only had 10,000 storage units to offer.

Meanwhile, the crash made the company realise it had to expand to other geographies. Soon after, it decided to move to India as the domestic market was strong and the economy was well insulated. 

“We acquired a small company Meesan Logistics in 2018. It was a small warehousing and domestic trucking company, and its customer base was close to 67% similar to what we had. It felt like a good move,” Abhishek says, adding that the move was a hasty decision in retrospect.

“Usually M&As help you give time and entry into the market. We didn’t achieve any of that. Today, five years later, we have progressed, but not where we would have been if things could have been done right,” he adds.

“But it allowed us to scale our presence and respect from the customers. The fact that I had become a multi-market supplier to our customers was something the company was looking for,” he says. 

RSA Global signed another joint venture with an American airlines’ National Air Cargo, which had a strategic piece of land at the Al Maktoum airport. “We decided to develop the property jointly, but in September 2018, when there was a big launch, the company wasn’t allowed to operate due to operational challenges.” 

Bringing in a tech push 

According to Abhishek, 2019 was a year of consolidation for RSA Global. At a conference in Los Angeles, Abhishek heard Peter Diamandis from Abundance 360, who highlighted the need for technology. “It got me thinking: I have got to buy or build technology to save the current business,” says Abhishek. 

He started looking for early concepts and invested in startups, including Dubai-based AI company FERO and a London-based logistics tech company.

“These companies build the tech, and RSA licenses them to help these startups progress and make them more appealing to the customers,” says Abhishek. By 2020, the company saw further consolidation with the bigger players in the industry. 

“I started thinking, we either need to join a big brother or become a hyperlocal company,” he says, adding that the company moved towards the ecommerce sector.

In the past 18 months, it built tech and products for ecommerce companies. “While we will never be a full-time ecommerce business, we can always have 50% traditional freight and 50% ecommerce offerings,” says Abhishek. 

RSA Global now competes with giants like DP World. According to ADQ, Abu Dhabi’s holding company the UAE logistics market is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 8.4% and touch $31.4 billion by 2026.

“2023 will be a mixed year for us. The traditional segment will be challenging with the freight rates dropping. There is an oversupply of capacity in the market and consumer demand is dropping. But we see ecommerce logistics picking up, and we are looking to lock more partnerships,” he says. 

(This story was updated to reflect factual corrections.)

Edited by Suman Singh