Petronas Lubricants International (PLI), the lubricants arm of Malaysia’s national oil corporation, came into being in 2008. In little more than 10 years, it has become a player in more than 90 global markets, with a presence in 27 countries.
The company has an enviable partnership in the world of auto racing, serving as a technical resource for the Mercedes–AMG Petronas Motorsport in Formula One. Clearly, there’s already an impressive level of prestige and accomplishment attached to the brand – and this is just the beginning.
“I’ve been working all my life in the oil and gas business,” Giuseppe D’Arrigo, Managing Director and Group CEO of PLI, tells The CEO Magazine.
His previous experience includes a stint at Shell for more than 15 years, where he came to consider himself “a one-company person” – used to working in a certain culture.
This all changed when he left Shell for General Electric’s gas division in Italy, and he realised that the kind of culture he’d come from wasn’t for him.
Before joining PLI in March 2014, Giuseppe was struck by the fact that the company was very young – “in terms of story and background, but not in terms of ambition”.
Although this arm of the business is relatively new, he says, “we come from a long legacy: 100 years in terms of technology”.
The global brand, too, has been developing rapidly since 1995, when Petronas itself started making waves on the Formula One scene.
And, for Giuseppe, there’s a lot to love about the culture, which blends the most favourable elements of Asian and Western approaches.
The combination of the Asian traits of respect and the importance of relationships, with the Western way of creating value for the shareholder and taking a reasonable approach to KPIs and people management, works for him.
“If you can demonstrate your company’s values day in, day out, you enact a credibility, and with that comes trust,” he says. “And trust is a key component of success, because it goes from the top all the way down through the organisation.”
This particular quality forms the bedrock for the company’s ability, going forward, to prove itself in a crowded and competitive marketplace. “Our competitors are highly qualified,” Giuseppe concedes. The fight for space in the market, a relatively hostile environment, is intense and ongoing. “But we believe, 100%, that we can be different, and that we can add more value.
We have to make sure that our technology is delivering the promises we set: we have to make sure that we are delivering on our plans”, which involves “sustaining our momentum and investing in all that we can”.
For Giuseppe, “innovation only occurs when you allow people to take risks, and to operate in a culture that doesn’t punish mistakes but encourages learning”. The culture is also one that puts the customer first: “In the end,” Giuseppe says, “we work for our customers.” One area that the company has identified for improvement is the way in which it delivers its services to its customers.
Whether it takes place in Malaysia or China, India, Argentina, the United States, Spain, or the African continent, “in every single transaction, our customers should be receiving the best possible service and the best possible support”.
Giuseppe admits that this is a work in progress; given the scope of PLI, global standards need to be put in place – and consistently met.
In contrast to companies like BP and Castrol, that have been around for more than 100 years, PLI is the “new kid on the block”. “We have strong and robust technology. We are investing, first of all, in the front end, and creating a different route to entering the market.
We believe that by investing in our brand and also in our points of contact with our customers, we can take advantage of opportunities for growth despite our novelty.”
For Giuseppe, it is this technologically driven desire to do things differently that sets PLI apart from the rest. “Technology allows us to meet our customers’ needs in the best possible way,” he explains. He predicts that within five years, “technological products will be occupying a much more prominent position in the industry”.
In a future like this, intellectual property assumes vital importance. “You need to have a superior formulation,” Giuseppe says. “You need to be able to deliver value well beyond the pricing, going beyond the total economics of the automotive or industrial application.”
Giuseppe says PLI has laid out “a clear strategy defining what we want to do and what we don’t want to do”, in line with the company’s desire to be in the top five global lubricant companies. “Clarity is a good starting point; in our vision, we aim to be the leading fuel technology partner of choice for our customers.”
Technology is one instrument through which the company aims to reach new heights, but it is imperative that the role of culture is not overlooked.
“PLI is a company that thrives on a strong, collaborative culture,” Giuseppe says. “We like to be innovators, with our innovation defined not by our budget but by our culture and behaviour. I like to think that this is a company with the best talent, the best culture, and the highest ambition.”