In AM’s latest ‘5 Minutes with…’ supplier interview Petronas Lubricants International UK market manager, Carl Sault, reflects on the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the switch to electric vehicles (EV).
How would you describe the past year in your role?
Eventful and successful. Eventful, due to a remodelled supply chain as well as, of course, Brexit and COVID-19. However, the silver-lining to those circumstantial clouds has been the success of a refocused, customer-centric team that’s clear on where and who Petronas Lubricants International (PLI) wants to target. We have a legacy customer base with OEM partners, but also a great opportunity in wider marketing, including commercial vehicle lubricants and passenger car oils. We are emphasising our catering to these markets through workshops with distributors.
What have been your key achievements over the past year at PLI?
I’ve led on a number of projects that have given me a broader understanding of business in general. Although I am a commercial individual at heart, I can view the business from different aspects. For example, marketing, supply-chain and so on – I now have a more balanced view.
Which of these achievements are you most proud of?
The development of my leadership skills and bringing change are the achievements I am most proud of. PLI UK has had the best year in its history in 2021, when the opposite could have been the case. The team members are now focused on the customer and their role. Of course, there is still plenty of work to do and the expectation is to continue this journey over the next three years. Changing the mindset of our team and inspiring them to focus on rewarding growth with customers has meant PLI is having the right conversations with the right people. This approach has led to results such as our sales in a leading UK retailer increasing by 30% since last year. I’m incredibly proud of our team for that.
Can you outline any differences to PLI as a company from when you first joined to now?
One major shift for PLI has been our focus on building good customer relationships and making tough decisions. We’ve still managed to negotiate deals at the height of COVID-19, retaining customers, the key to PLI’s success. By adapting to the situations we’ve all faced, as well as meeting challenges head on, the customer is now positioned centrally to everything we do. We strongly believe this is the fundamental difference that will generate great results.
Can you describe some of the main challenges during the first 12 months of your tenure? How did you overcome these?
By using platforms such as Teams to build relationships and close deals, we were able to overcome some of the challenges. As a management group, we set up a strong team that gathers, virtually, weekly to discuss issues and how we will resolve them. The supply chain issues of 2021 have put logistical pressure on Petronas by halting supply of the raw materials essential for our business. We’ve managed to overcome this through operational collaboration, ensuring we continue to meet customer needs.
Which life experiences or events influenced who you are, your leadership style and the skills you bring to PLI?
Leaders should lead by example, getting involved and being shoulder-to-shoulder with the team. I focus on looking at where I can help improve the team, pushing them to do things differently when necessary. We introduced a sales pipeline process in 2021 so the team is focused on growth areas and customers.
This also allows team members to thrive in their environment. How can they have an impact?
They can help to set the vision. It’s crucial for individuals to see how they can contribute to the wider picture at Petronas.
What drives you?
I will have been an employee at Petronas for five years in January and, as a company that’s constantly evolving, if you don’t embrace change, it’s a hard journey. Having said this, properly understanding why we are changing has been key to my career. In turn, articulating that to the team helps to ensure people are proactive in their role.
Looking forward, what are your goals for the future in the UK?
PLI has a built a five-year plan, setting big targets to build presence in the workshops sector, as well as working more closely with distributors. Petronas aims to grow the business, with fleet and industrial sectors as clear targets. I hope to develop the team more over the next two years, growing in head count while maintaining the core business. To do this, we need the right resources in the right places to enable growth in target market areas.
What do you think are biggest challenges this industry will face over the next 12 months?
I believe the challenges will continue to evolve. It will be critical to manage pricing and the year to come will focus mainly on defending our current position. Competition will be even stronger as things settle to a new normal. It will be less about unpredictable market conditions and more about competitor activity. So, the real challenge for the next 12 months is to differentiate PLI from those competitors.
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