Gulf Oil Marine operates on a very simple principle in the global shipping industry, according to CEO David Price: “Give the customer what they need”. The company also prides itself on making things happen, always honouring supplier contracts and doing its utmost to never disappoint a customer.
“If you come knocking on our door, 95 per cent of the time we will come back and say, ‘Yes, we have everything and we can deliver it exactly where you need it, when you need it’,” David says of Gulf Oil Marine’s reputation for service. To illustrate his point, he recalls a ship in Singapore placing a desperate call for lube oil, a vital product for maintaining the mechanical equipment on seafaring vessels.
“From a telephone inquiry to having a barge alongside delivering was three hours,” David says. “That’s an example of industry-leading responsiveness and agility.”
Gulf Oil Marine plays a vital role in keeping maritime transportation moving and global commerce growing as a trusted supplier of lubricants for the shipping industry, along with complementary technical services. Its reach is truly global: the company is capable of delivering marine lubricants and providing services on time and in full at more than 1,000 ports, in 80 countries across six continents.
The Hong Kong-based company operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gulf Oil International, which is a part of the Hinduja Group of companies, an Anglo-Indian conglomerate. Gulf Oil Marine is in the process of relocating its headquarters to Singapore, after which it will be renamed Gulf Marine.
David, a veteran of the global shipping industry, who has worked aboard ships and served as a shipping manager, has charted a course for growth since becoming CEO three years ago. “I’ve saved the best for last, there’s no doubt,” he says of his career and time at the helm of Gulf Oil Marine. “I think leading the team in Gulf has got to be my biggest achievement, and one that gives me most satisfaction because it has just been a great success story.”
He is quick to credit his team for any successes, however, especially COO Safiul Karim Gazi – who joined David for a joint interview with The CEO Magazine. They’re bullish on the shipping business.
“In the past four years, we’ve doubled the business once already,” reveals Safiul, who predicts robust growth beyond the projected industry growth rate of 2.5 per cent over the next five years.
Our strategy is very customer-oriented, customer-focused and customer-driven. – Safiul Karim Gazi
Another success for David and Safiul has been navigating the COVID-19-provoked complications in the shipping industry and at ports. It caused headaches for Gulf Marine Oil, too, though not delivering its value proposition wasn’t an option.
“Our strategy is very customer-oriented, customer-focused and customer-driven,” Safiul explains. “So when COVID-19 hit, our first reaction was: ‘How are we going to communicate with the customers better? And how do we let them know up-front of the issues we have and the challenges we have so that we can work together at it?’”
One of the ways Gulf Oil Marine served its customers better was to update them on a 12-hourly basis about the availability of products at every single port.
“We have an incredibly flexible team who found workarounds with everything,” Safiul notes. “I think this is why our customers trusted us and grew with us. We were very quick to let them know: ‘These are the challenges, but this is how we can help you’.”
Shortages of raw materials were rife during the worst parts of the pandemic. Jet fuel consumption was low and, as a result, base oil (which is less than one per cent of a refinery’s output) was in extreme short supply. But the company’s teams were flexible and resourceful, and its strong network of suppliers “came together with us to meet this challenge,” Safiul says.
Shipping itself is a very, very conservative business and it is hard to change as an industry. But there’s a new generation coming through that doesn’t want to do it in the old ways. – David Price
“We have the largest network in the industry. And managing a thousand ports means you have partners who can deliver at all of these ports,” Safiul continues.
Customer communications extend beyond providing tiptop customer service. Safiul cites the example of a new standard of lubricant being developed due to a mandate from an engine manufacturer. Gulf Oil Marine was first to develop it. But, he says, “We all know we couldn’t have developed it without the help of our partners.”
“There were failures along the way. There were challenges along the way,” Safiul adds. But there was also communication and information flowing. “We recalibrated the product, came back and we were the first one by miles. It was six months before our closest competitor would have a product ready for the market.”
Innovation as a priority
Another area in which Gulf Oil Marine sets itself apart from its competitors is through embracing innovation and technology. David, 61, says lightheartedly, “If not the oldest person in Gulf, I’m very close to it. But I also like to think that I’ve got an open mind about innovation.
“Shipping itself is a very, very conservative business and it is hard to change as an industry. But there’s a new generation coming through that doesn’t want to do it in the old ways. So innovation for us going forward is critical.”
Some of the technical innovation adopted by Gulf Oil Marine includes a proprietary algorithm, which runs the entire planning process, Safiul explains. When a sales team or a supply chain team sit down together, “they look at outliers, but the day-to-day running of the supply chain is done entirely by this algorithm,” Safiul says. “It helps us build forecasts. It helps us understand the market much better.”
To manage its last mile deliveries, Gulf Oil Marine also moved away from emails. The company was one of the early adopters of the platform Monday.com, or Dapulse as it was formerly known, customising the technology for use far outside its core project management functions like order execution and customer relationship management. “We were using their dashboard system to inform our customers about every single port restriction,” Safiul reveals. “These kinds of things have really helped us. It is a cornerstone of us going forward.”
Along with innovation comes agility for Gulf Oil Marine. Competitors – the big oil companies – “they’ve got set parameters for the way they work. And I think they struggle with anything outside of those parameters,” David declares.
“With us, yes, we’ve got processes, we’ve got controls in place,” David continues. “But because we’re a lean team, when we get something that falls outside of those parameters, instead of saying, ‘We can’t do that because it’s outside of our processes’, we get together and say, ‘What do we need to do to make this happen and happen safely?’”
We’re not going to lose sight of our customer focus. And we are finding solutions in a period of volatility to make sure that they get the product where they need it, when they need it. – David Price
That agility and ability to make things happen will be vital moving forward, especially amid so much global and economic tumult. When asked about his key message for customers, David explains that Gulf Oil Marine strives to ensure “stability and reliability in a period of volatility”.
“We’re not going to lose sight of our customer focus. And we are finding solutions in a period of volatility to make sure that they get the product where they need it, when they need it,” he says.
Safiul picks up on the theme of serving customers in volatile and uncertain times.
“The industry has moved to a call centre approach towards customer service, however we offer a single point of customer contact who follows a delivery from inquiry to fulfilment. They will not rest unless a happy captain has sailed off. We are always at the ship’s side.”