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OF OIL COMPANIES, ETHICS AND IMAGE
by Raja Ahmad Shahrir


There are many players in the retail fuel market in Malaysia, from the US based ExxonMobil, Caltex, Conoco or Jet, british base BP, Anglo Dutch Shell, and last but not least our very own Petronas. What's the difference between these oil giants you might say? Perhaps as my friend says, a brand name that impresses, a company which employs a sucessful marketing strategy that wins the heart of the consumer, a name that can be trusted to provide consistent and superior fuel quality. Then again, perhaps it's just the colour scheme of the retails stations. Yes, I actually think Jet stations have a very appealing colour scheme.

Some people take a look at the stations and choose one which is most eye pleasing. After all, aren't all base fuels the same? Does it matter if you fill in Vortex or Primax or Formula Shell? They're all unleaded 97 RON.
Brand is part of the reason why we choose one choice over another. But there is much more to it. Brand is but a marketing plan that influences consumers perception towards a product. A company is built on the strength of its marketing and sales arm, manufacturing, supply & distribution, support services (Human resource, IT,) and countless other businees units. A multitude of units working together to supply the best and cheapest possible solution to the customer.

A comparison : There are less than 1000 Shell employess at its HQ in KL. In the twin towers, there are over 13000 Petronas workers. A somewhat unfair comparison of course and only vaguely reflective of the level of efficiencies
So what makes a company more efficient than its competitor? Personally, I think it's all down to culture. A company which has good work ethics. A good work ethic is pro-action or pro-active. A proactive culture is one where you are constantly trying to improve or provide innovative solutions. For instance, oil companies need to plan the fuel delivery schedule via lorries, to the retail stations for up to 3 months in advance. If suddenly one of your lorries break down, your retail station might face a fuel stock out.

However, if you're determined, and work for a good company, in a short time you'll reschedule your lorries to 'borrow' or lift the fuel from other stations/depots, hence no stockout for primax/formula shell etc, now this involves a lot of work and hassle. If you're not proactive, you'll just ask the station manager to ration their primax/formula Shell till the next lorry delivery comes in. The easy way out, problem is the end customer might suffer.
It is imperative too that good teamwork, dedication, good communication among employees, is fostered. If shortage occurs at retail station A, the lorry is diverted to station B nearby for emergency supply to station A, station manager B would obviously not be too happy with the arrangement as he has to sacrifice his quota of the fuel to another station and be open to risk. Station manager B's interest is only his own station and not others.
This selfish attitude can be subdued if we understand the bigger picture and think good of others. We are working for the same company, probably the scheduler who diverted the lorries know best or we wouldn't want one of our stations to stock out cause it'll affect our customers.

It can be extremely demotivating if we were in a company where bitterness among employees and bosses is rampant. A little give and take is to be expected in any organisation. Thinking along these lines, then we can work together effectively to circumvent the problem. Ok, the lorries are coming to our station B to cover for station A, there's no way to change that so we shall forget about being bitter with station manager A and concentrate on a solution instead…I think we could downgrade our 97 RON to 92 RON to make up for the loss 92 RON volume. We shall communicate this to HQ to see if this is acceptable practice. If not, we shall be open and brave the risk.
It is easier said than done, especially difficult in large companies where a rainbow of personalities reside. Once a good working culture is in place, then all our actions become transparent, accountable, and hopefully, honest.
This working environment will manifest itself through the company's image to the rest of the world. Image of a company is central to its success. A company which is seen to be reputable, dependable, caring is held in high regard by consumers and businesses alike. I or you would would not be able to tell the difference in fuel, but if we are impressed by it's professional and social image, the balance might slightly tilt to it's favour.

Still, not many consumers are aware of a company's virtue, and thus not very choosy of their fuel. It helps though if the company is seen as a recognised global player. Consumers, in general would like to be associated with winners, as can be attested by the 'quite' recent phenomenon of fervent Asian Man U fans. Shell, the leading market share brand globally, is generally seen as such. Petronas, in the local scene at least, is perceived as a strong or equal contender as demonstrated in its local market capture.

Of course, Petronas has the upper hand being a government owned company. All other companies will have to work round government regulations to operate. Ever wondered why there aren't any highway retail petrol stations besides Petronas? Surely, with government backing, it would be quite straightforward to get a larger slice of the cake.
What has this article to do with anything? I think there are many lessons we can draw from the corporate world. A positive working ethos in a company leads to higher efficiency, and is mirrored to the company's image. Constant and effective marketing of the company's assuring image leads to product acceptability.

A political party is very much similar to a corporation. It must indoctrinate good working ethos. That extra bit of effort to help the party goes a long way. Differences of opinions is acceptable, but bitterness is not. Sacrificing a little for others sake is not such a bad thing. Hopefully, this will be translated to the party's image as a hard working, approachable and honest entity. Constant reminder of the party's altruistic stuggle leads to mass acceptability.