A fter 35 years in business, the one thing I can say with some certainty is that although no two days are the same, they are always interesting. I’ll wake at 6am and spend 20 minutes doing some yoga, to set me up for the challenges ahead, before reviewing my emails and leaving home.
Having relocated from India to help launch Essar’s retail offering in the UK, I have based myself in Chester a lovely heritage city, which is 15-to-20 minutes away from the company’s Stanlow Refinery in Ellesmere Port.
I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged when I saw our refinery at Stanlow for the first time last year. It is so well maintained and didn’t look like a more than 40-year old asset. Stanlow has seamlessly supplied high-quality products to most of the major high street brands for many decades and supplies 16% of all the transport fuel demand in the UK each year. Essar, which acquired the site five years ago from Shell, has major experience in the Indian retail market and ambitious plans for 400 sites in the UK over the next three years.
In a typical week, I will spend three days in the office and two on the road, meeting with prospective dealers and spending time with our local territory manager to discuss potential leads and get the feedback from our existing sites.
Throughout my career, the greatest pleasure has been creating new brands and, having been involved in four previous start-ups in both India and Africa, I have been very encouraged by the progress we have already made in the UK. Every market is different and the UK is clearly a mature environment with long-established and iconic brands in place. That’s why it is vital that we are out meeting with potential partners and working hard to sell the Essar brand into the marketplace.
The best part of my career was actually my early formative years working out in the field for 12-to-14 hours every day and interacting directly with the customers and that still guides the way I approach any business today. I make it a priority to meet the dealers themselves. That’s what I would say is part of the charm of the job, meeting new people and listening to their thoughts on the business we are involved in. What has impressed me time and again is the entrepreneurial drive and dynamism of the independent dealers and dealer groups.
The decline in the number of UK petrol stations in recent years has been well documented, but I believe the market is now stabilising with fewer independent sites closing. Going forward, a much larger percentage of sales are going to be driven by the large dealer groups, rather than the oil majors. What is interesting in many of the conversations I have is the strong appeal of a company like Essar, which actually manufactures the quality fuels and is able to supply them directly to its sites.
It’s important there is absolutely no barrier to communication within our retail team and so each week we have a very structured meeting involving our Stanlow-based people and our operatives out in the field. Although we have put together a dedicated development team, we have full back-office support across the different business functions and a vital part of my time in the office is ensuring this link is working as effectively as possible so we can offer full support to our dealers.
The move into downstream integration is an important part of the future development of the Essar business in the UK and I sit down with colleagues each week to discuss strategic opportunities and update them fully on developments.
With two grown-up boys based in India, I can decide how to best use any time away from the office and always fit a badminton game and the gym in every week. But, whenever I can, I am out visiting competitors’ retail sites to better understand what the UK customer wants and now expects when they visit a service station. This has also given me an opportunity to travel all over the country and develop a love for the UK countryside.
Name: SB Prasad
Job title: Chief commercial officer, retail, Essar Oil UK
Career history: 35 years in downstream petroleum with companies like BPCL, Reliance, Chevron, Essar in India and Conoil and MRS in West Africa
Greatest achievement: Development of Essar as a retail brand in India in 2005/06
Tips for business success: Hard and smart work always delivers
Most likely to say: Go and get it
Least likely to say: Impossible
Other interests: Sports I enjoy playing cricket and badminton, and regularly go to the gym. I like to follow politics all over the world, and have a particular interest in economic development