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Sandra Ayres

PORTUGAL - Transport

Sandra Ayres

CEO, Euroatla and Euronave, Cosco Shipping Lines agency


Sandra is a mother of two boys and lives in Lisbon, Portugal. She graduated in law and started working as an university teacher and legal adviser for Maritime Affairs in the Portuguese Government. She later worked as board member at Lisbon Port Authority. She worked in AICEP, an independent public entity, with the goal of attracting foreign investment to Portugal, as a senior consultant, and later as a member of the board of Aicep Global Parques a company dedicated to business parks management and site selection. Since 2015 she is the CEO of shipping and freight forwarding company, Euroatla, located in Lisbon,  in 2020 she assumed the presidency of another company belonging to the same shareholders located in Matosinhos, Agência Maritima Euronave. Both companies are specialists in transport and logistics solutions and represent COSCO SHIPPING an SOE headquartered in Shanghai.

TBY talks to Sandra Ayres, CEO of Euroatla and Euronave, Cosco Shipping Lines agency, about the pandemic, diversifying the portfolio, and ambitions for the coming year.

How is the ongoing pandemic re-shaping your approach to the market?

The supply shock that started in 2020 and the demand shock that followed exposed vulnerabilities in the production strategies and supply chains just about everywhere. As demand soared, the network of ships, containers, etc., had little time to catch up, and as a result, containers became scarce and rather expensive. Our challenge was to sustain the supply chains of our customers without weakening their competitiveness. In the last two years our main focus has been assuring our customers’ cargo keeps on moving as we worked through bottlenecks with them. We have been maintaining our customer-centric approach. Seven years ago, we looked internally to reevaluate our business strategy, including goals, growth, and sustainability. Being a family-owned business, with more than 40 years in the market, we chose to maintain as top priority the quality of our service. It was important for us to have more flexibility, review workflows, grow and diversify our base of clients, review procurement procedures, invest in TIs, (data storage, bandwidth, and cybersecurity) review marketing and communications strategy, attract young talent, hire and retain team leaders that are experienced, but above all we aimed to maintain the outstanding relationship with the existing clients and suppliers that have been our partners for decades. That is how we distinguish ourselves from competing multinational companies:The proximity of our service. A consequence of the pandemic was that it encouraged stakeholders to trust us even more, as we helped them navigate the challenges and constraints presented by the supply chain, providing the best possible service in the worst circumstances. We were successful. 2021 was, financially speaking, a good year. 

How have you been working on diversifying your portfolio?

Our traditional sector has been exports of food and beverages. We also have a very distinct characteristic in the market in Portugal in that we have a significant customer base outside Portugal mainly importers. They are distributors or retailers at end destinations who need a reliable partner to coordinate supplier management and logistics from the point the origin. Lately, we managed to expand into construction—a very strong sector in Portugal—and other Portuguese products like cork and textiles. We also diversified services across trades, expanding from our traditional trade which has been and still is with the US and the UK. 

Here in Portugal, you represent COSCO SHIPPING, one of the largest shipping lines in the globe: what is the importance of this partnership?

COSCO SHIPPING Lines is a multinational company, based in Shanghai, mainly engaged in domestic and international maritime container transport services and related businesses. It has 9 overseas branches in Europe, North America, Southeast Asia, West Asia, South America, Australia, Japan, Korea, and Africa. By the end of last April, it owned and operated 403 container vessels in and out of 558 ports with a total capacity of 2.2 million TEUs, ranking 4th place in the world in terms of shipping capacity. The collaboration between our companies and COSCO began in the 90s. Despite being an independent agency we are deeply interconnected. Recently COSCO transferred the intra-Europe Services to Diamond Line (a wholly-owned subsidiary) to be in a better position to improve overall customer service in Europe. We identify with their mission, customer focus, digitization, and End-to-End, to enhance customers’ experience, and continuously create greater value for customers and partners. Again what we think is that the secret ingredient to this long partnership is trust. That, and some hard work, has made us obtain improving conditions to develop the market in Portugal. As a result, our market share grew, we had less than one percent 5 years ago and now in the Asia trade, we surpassed 8% of the market share.

What does innovation means at Euroatla, and how much are you investing in it to make your operations more agile?

It is fundamental to invest in digital technology. This industry is moving away from paper and adopting digital. Seven years ago, when we rethought our strategy as a company, we decided it was strategic to be on top of every technological development in the sector. The way we adapted to the pandemic confirmed that we made the right investment. Thanks to online communication tools, technology enables us to work remotely without any loss of productivity. We live in an era of hyper-connectivity. Connectivity is better now than it has ever been. We believe technology will divide the industry between the companies with a vision, and those not willing to invest. There is also the challenge of cyber risk management that we have been addressing. The supply chain is a very fragmented market with participants who largely rely on paper, the biggest issue now is how do we share the data? Probably blockchain will have a long-term role to play.

What are your main targets and ambitions set for this year?

We’ve seen, over the past years, that demand has picked up heavily and scarcity of supply is a big issue. Our budget and activities plan for 2022 were initially conceived with the optimistic expectation of getting back to a situation more similar to the pre-pandemic. Things have changed dramatically, we must be very attentive to the developments and adapt quickly. We are monitoring the impact of the inflation and interest rates, the price of commodities such as wheat, the chaos in global food markets brought on by the war in Ukraine, and the long-term disruption to Russian energy flows and its impact on what was already a tight global oil market. The US dollar rallied to its highest level since March 2020, which also has a direct impact on our activity.
Volatility and uncertainty have become a way of life, We might continue to experience for a while longer voyages and lead times, and problems of availability and cost, but we think it is feasible that customers will remain well served.  Having said that, I’m hopeful and positive about the future because globalization will not stop here, this is just a temporary circumstance to be overcome. Even if some companies opt to manufacture and source domestically and regionally rather than globally we must remember that the last several decades of globalization created unprecedented prosperity at a global level. We expect to maintain good results driven by a higher level of freight rates resulting from solid demand, despite some persistent Covid-related port congestion. Cargo volume will rise once the Chinese lockdowns are lifted. We will keep aiming to create agile and creative solutions to our evolving customer’s needs. Speaking of which Cosco Shipping is working on new offers of services for Portugal to be announced this year. We keep listening to our customers and developing solutions that provide them with a trustworthy service. We are also very excited about the compromise assumed by COSCO Shipping Holdings, to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. Other targets include a 12% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of the container shipping business by 2030 compared with 2019. I has become clear that sustainability must be at the very core of business models from now on. The EU taxonomy is a groundbreaking initiative, SMEs should take note and get ready for the taxonomy “checklist”.



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