As a long-time reader of Forecourt Trader, I have read many descriptions of ’A day in the Life’ of various oil industry executives. Most rise with the sun and endure a gruelling day before ’replacing the nozzle’ late in the evening! I am not going to try and persuade you that my typical day is like that because, apart from anything else over the years, you master the art of knowing when to cut corners, when to let things go and when to delegate to younger and usually more skilful players.
My typical day really does not exist. The work varies so much that it is a constant source of excitement even after a lifetime working in the industry.
Having spent over 10 years working for Esso in Ireland and the UK, then being a downtrodden dealer for another 10 years and then finally spending the last 10-plus years building a network of own-brand co-co stations, there is nothing in this business that I haven’t seen before.
And yet it’s the feeling that the industry is now going through such a period of profound change with the vertically integrated oil majors in retreat all across the world that makes this such an exciting time in the forecourt industry. Their retreat is leaving big opportunities for ambitious independents like Applegreen to fill the voids they leave behind.
Much of my working day is spent in our Dublin Head Office dealing with a full range of issues and individuals. I usually deal with emails first thing and avoid the rush hour traffic arriving at the office around 10am. As the day progresses the meetings can seem unending, especially since we entered plc land last year. Dealing with our board or handling investor relations are new aspects of the job that take up a lot of my time, particularly during results season in March and September.
But there is always a need to deal with smaller matters in between meetings or have a quiet word in a young and ambitious ear to guide him (or increasingly her) towards a better outcome and avoid the mistakes that I frequently have made in times gone by.
During the afternoon, if time permits, I like nothing better than stealing away and descending on one of our sites, unannounced! With over 200 sites in three countries, I am usually not recognised and this gives me a real customer perspective on our retail offers. Delivering food-to-go, consistently day in, day out, is a tough task but one that the modern PFS operator needs to master if they are going to have a viable long-term future in the business.
I rarely leave a site without sampling our coffee offer as this is increasingly becoming the backbone of this sector’s earnings. Pretty soon in Ireland more than 50% of our gross margin will come from food and beverage sales with fuel only contributing half that. I believe this trend will be repeated across the world over the next 10 years.
Going home time is usually about 7pm. Aside from missing the worst of rush hour, it allows some quieter moments to chat with the senior team and get input on anything and everything. It also gives one a chance to wander about the office and test the temperature among the folk who do the heavy lifting, day in and day out. This is an incredibly valuable exercise and one that most of us don’t do enough of. While the job of a CEO is to make a small number of big decisions, much of the input for those decisions comes informally and by chance.
And so the day ends... but really in the age of the iPhone and iPad it never really does.
When you love the pace and excitement of this industry you never turn the devices off only switching to silent to get the necessary shut eye, to sustain you for the next challenging day.
Name: Bob Etchingham
Job title: Chief executive officer
Company: Applegreen plc
Career history: Started in Esso in the ’80s. Then was a ’downtrodden’ dealer. Then went onto develop the Applegreen brand now it’s a listed plc
Greatest achievement: Developing a radically different business model that is very successful
Tips for business success: Be a good listener
Most likely to say: Test, measure, improve!
Least likely to say: I don’t care what the customer thinks
Other interests: Reading biographies, design, playing bad golf and kayaking