Khan combines Swiss business skills with Asian acumen

Khan combines Swiss business skills with Asian acumen

October 13th, 1994 23:00 GMT

by Stories by Geoff Garfield

Published in WEEKLY


Switzerland-based broker Riaz Khan talks enthusiastically about the reasons why he enjoys working largely alone, when most of his peers group together in team brokerages.

What he is less keen to discuss is the fascinating history of his family: “I don’t want to draw attention to myself,” insists Khan, whose Marinav Shipping & Trading SA is widely known for its knowledge and involvement in crude oil lifting’s out of the Middle East Gulf.

Immaculately dressed, sporting a well-groomed beard, and rarely seen away from his Chemin de Passoret, Geneva office without a mobile phone, Khan is the son of a former High Commissioner for Pakistan.

His roots are actually in India, where his predecessors founded a state called Jaora. The family moved to Pakistan at the time of the Indian partition, although much of Khan’s eventful youth was spent following his father’s ambassadorial footsteps. He attended 10 or 12 different schools in seven or eight countries, providing a good grounding for an international shipbroker. In fact, despite his Asian origins, Khan holds a Canadian passport which bears his full name, Sultan Riaz Khan. Today, Sultan is no more than a name, he stresses.

Canada was where he spent most of his formative years as a teenager. He later emigrated there and still retains strong links with the country. It was in Canada that Khan entered the world of shipping. A brief stint as a computer trainee at a bank in Pakistan was followed by employment as a shipping clerk with Norwegian-owned, but Montreal-based, Keel Shipping & Trading.

A subsequent shipping employer transferred Khan to Egypt, after which his career led him to London and finally Geneva, where he has been for 15 years.

Marinav was established in 1990, focusing on tanker chartering and sale and purchase. There have been milestone deals, but Khan is reluctant to see his name linked to them in print. Client confidentiality is paramount.

Otherwise, Khan is relatively outspoken, not least on the feasibility of one-man brokerages. In a world where quality is sometimes confused with the size of a broking house, Khan subscribes to the belief that modern technology has armed the small player with the ability to compete effectively.

Asked how he can serve clients when much of his time is spent travelling overseas, Khan replies: “These days, there are portable phones everywhere!”He adds: “As far as information is concerned, apart from what the big brokers do themselves, where else do they get information? From other brokers, owners and charterers, just as I do.”

Khan is supported by a database stretching back several years. It concentrates on the Middle East Gulf, but also logs fixtures worldwide. He is prepared to acknowledge the huge database advantage of his larger competitors, but points out that even these remain incomplete, given that around 15 per cent of business is off-market.

Khan frowns on the tactics used by some big houses to coerce shipowners away from using the small brokerages, and has fairly forthright views on the need for brokers to have a broad education about the shipping industry.

Previously, the multi-faceted Khan managed a fleet of up to 26 ships – a mixture of tankers and multipurpose vessels – for the now-collapsed Gokal shipping group. This stint gave him direct experience in both the dry and wet trades. He says that too often ship brokers specialize and lack broad enough knowledge of other trades, portside operations and agency work.

“Knowing all sides of the industry makes a good shipping man,” insists Khan.”How can you understand the implications of a clause if you haven’t been on the receiving end of it?”

Stories by Geoff Garfield