A change of leadership in any company can be an unsettling time. But at Phillips 66 care was taken to facilitate a smooth transition as Pete George, the well-respected and long-serving managing director, UK and Ireland, retired and made way for the incoming Mary Wolf.
Taking the lead at Phillips 66 is Wolf’s first job outside America and her first job directly focused on the retail sector, so she moved to the UK with her family in July last year to give her time to prepare for taking up the role on October 2.
She spent the first three months travelling around the UK as Pete George’s deputy, meeting customers and trying to get out and about so retailers knew who she was before the changeover.
Since then she has been more internally focused as she gets up to speed on the business, but she says she’ll soon be back out on the road to continue meeting retailers, reassuring them that the Jet brand in the UK is in a safe pair of hands.
"The business has a very good foundation," she stresses. "It was on a path of growth when I got here, and we’re going to continue that growth. I’m not Pete George I have a different style, so that will be a natural difference but our focus and our attention is the same. We like this business, we like where we are, and we like our customers. We want to get better, but we have a good foundation to build on. It’s about leveraging all of our strengths; getting better at all the things we do really well; and using that to grow."
Wolf’s background is in engineering she first joined Conoco in 2001 when she joined as a pilot plant engineer in Oklahoma. She moved from technology to the Ponca City refinery before relocating to Houston in 2006, where she joined major capital projects as a lead process design engineer. Her roles have encompassed working in research and development, refinery, strategy and business development, commercial and midstream business development. But she’s now clearly looking forward to the challenges of the UK fuel retailing market.
"I’m really excited to do a direct marketing role. The customer focus is very different from commercial, which is a bit more day-to-day and short term. Marketing really depends on relationships. I’ve had several external-facing roles, but never one that had such direct contact with the customers."
She says she had a lot of fun visiting retailers: "What I really enjoyed the most was seeing them at their sites, in their element, with the businesses they had grown. They’re very proud of their businesses and deservedly so.
"It was a unique opportunity to see people who have worked so hard independently to build their businesses, and then to realise that Jet had been a part of helping them to do that as well. When I first stepped into Phillips 66 head office in Warwick I immediately felt that the organisation was a family; and when I visited the customers I felt that even more."
Wolf says the market dynamics for the petrol retailing sector are similar to those in the US, but concentrated into a smaller area.
"The challenges are very similar: the shrinking fuel demand; the supermarkets there are lots of similarities and parallels. But it’s more heightened here."
However she’s impressed at the way retailers have innovated and developed their businesses to adjust to market demands.
"Whether it’s rural, motorway, main route or A-road sites, they’re all different, and it’s interesting to see how they’ve tailored themselves to suit the needs of the community or the space they’re in," she says. "It’s much more clearly defined here than in America. As the market changes and the demographics of your consumers change, it feels like there’s constant evolution. It’s neat to see how the retailers are reacting to all of those changes."
Wolf believes that’s where brand partnership initiatives, such as those Jet has with the Spar symbol brand, and Amazon lockers, can make a difference to retailers, helping to drive footfall and distinguish themselves in the community.
But above all, she believes the Jet brand and all the heritage that comes with it, also helps retailers to compete strongly in the marketplace.
"People have grown up with the Jet brand they knew it as being cheap and cheerful. But now hopefully customers see that Jet is moving with the times. The image has been refreshed, it’s modern, fresh and bright. Nowadays it’s the modern, well-lit station that you want to pull up on. It’s your first choice, it’s the place you want to stop at."
Wolf talks a lot about the company’s strong promotional activity, including its role as official fuel partner of the Silverstone Classic; and last year’s tie-up with Nicolas Hamilton brother of F1 World Champion Lewis as Jet’s brand ambassador. On top of that site standards are being raised through the ’Proud to be Jet’ initiative. But she is clear about the most important thing the company can do for dealers: "Our first and primary role is to give them an honest and transparent deal. Two months down the road when they reflect on the deal, it should be exactly what we said it was going to be. Nothing’s hidden no nasty surprises. We’re there to do nothing but deliver and be functionally excellent.
"We have a proven track record, we are transparent in our dealer offers, we try to work with our customers to help make their businesses better.
"I think there is opportunity in showing the dealers and group dealers the value of Jet and the business it can create so they can look beyond the majors.
"We feel that one of our strengths is to offer customised or bespoke-type offers to any dealer. We feel we can be competitive anywhere. Give us a try and let us show you what we can do."
Wolf says the company will continue on the growth target that Pete George announced in 2013 when he set a target of 400 dealer sites by 2018. At the end of last year the figure was 331 a 10% increase. But she also hints at greater growth.
"It’s all about leveraging our strengths, just getting better and pushing ourselves to do better and achieve more. We have a great position we have a great refinery; a great marketing organisation; a great commercial organisation. We are connected to global markets; we can trade anywhere in the world; we have marketing expertise in the US; in Germany, Austria, Switzerland; we share best practices, we share talent; we share market trends.
"I believe our people are the best strength we have. If you take our Phillips 66 core values safety, honour and commitment it’s more than a strapline. It’s the way we live and the way we do our work.
"In short you can count on us to do the right thing, always."
Phillips 66: in 2015 earnings of $4.2 billion; operating cash flow of $5.7 billion.
Worldwide refining generated $2.6 billion of earnings.
Humber Refinery processes 221,000 barrels of crude oil a day, producing over 13 billion litres of fuel annually. 70% of light oils stays in the UK.
It also produces 14 million litres of petrol every day enough for an average family car to make 195 round trips to the moon, which equates to five billion litres of petrol a year.
Phillips 66 has three core distribution terminals and 23 regional terminals serving the UK.
It has seen a 20% improvement in terminal road loading efficiency in 2015 at its IPC terminal.
Smartphone and tablet ’app’ for Apple and Android devices, giving Phillips 66 customers instant access to pricing information on the road. (2015)
Drivers from its tanker fleet have won Wincanton’s ’Driver of the Year’ award five times in the past seven years.