Joe and I get to the office for about 8.45 am. Joe is my eldest son and has been working with me for about 10 years. I have never worked long hours. I finish about 5.30pm and never work at the weekends. I suppose if I had been driven in the way of, say, Gerald Ronson and worked most of the time I would have been more successful. That was never an option. I earn money to have a good family life and have enough leisure time for my interests which are Manchester United, bridge, wine, travel, good food, antiques, holidays in France and, of course, my wife, four children, and five grandchildren (that list is not necessarily in any order of priority!).
One of the great blessings of working for yourself is that you get to pick where the office is. Mine is about seven minutes from home.
After checking the emails (I don’t have a Blackberry and so escape them when out of the office), I go online to the oil companies and have a look at the overnight Platts prices. We are on daily Platts for all our sites. When the oil companies said that they were no longer prepared to accept losses on their downstream activities and therefore brought in Platt’s deals, I was naïve enough to believe that at last independent dealers had found the Holy Grail. We at last had a level playing field. As had happened umpteen times in the past, I was to be bitterly disappointed. What they meant (with the possible exception of BP) was that they no longer wished to lose money on dealer business downstream. However, some alchemist’s trick allows them to make money at retail at their own outlets selling at prices I cannot even buy at. Not for the first time I marvel at how clever they are stitched up again might be the best way of describing the policy!
We try and get out as often as we can as the money is made at the service stations, not in the office. We took on both the service stations at Manchester Airport last year. This is a new adventure for us that involved a lot of work. We have converted the busiest to BP Connect. It worked well for us so have just finished a conversion of another of our service stations to Connect. I like working with BP. The company says it is transparent in its dealings, and I think that, by and large, it is.
As many of you know I have recently given up the chairmanship of the Petrol Retailers Association after seven and a half years. This tenure was far too long. I think three to four years gives anybody enough time to bring new thinking and implementation in. The PRA is currently going through a major reorganisation to make it, effectively, self-funding. This is an admirable objective. My only concern is that there are some functions that have to be carried out if the association is to be of any use to its members. The day-to-day functions of negotiating good deals with insurance companies, banks and pump manufacturers is a necessary and useful service to many members. However most of the groups can successfully negotiate their own deals both with the service sector and the oil companies. What the industry needs and what it had so successfully with Ray Holloway was an informed public face and voice. I emphasise ’informed’, as frankly anyone in our industry can talk into a camera and spout away on fuel duty, crude prices, and increasing or decreasing fuel prices. That is not what is needed. Three things are essential for us:
1) Speaking with, meeting in committee, and informing and influencing government through the various departments of state that impinge upon our working lives.2) Meeting with all the oil companies regularly as an interested party not just to moan but to talk, to find out their long-term thinking, as well as their short term strategies.3) To speak to the media with this knowledge so that we do not get those clowns who head up other agencies talking about fuel prices in (it would appear) total ignorance.
Time will tell whether or not the new PRA, being much more bound up with the RMIF than before, will answer these needs the way Ray Holloway did so well. I wish Brian Madderson every success in his new role as new chairman.