CFO Ridwan Gany shares his lessons for making a strong entrance

The Petrocam CFO unpacks his experience of expanding into markets with dominant incumbents.

Ridwan Gany came from a family that has always been entrepreneurial, and developing around all these business minds gave him an affinity for commerce.

“I entered the world of consulting very soon after my studies and I was lucky to have had the opportunity for a few stints overseas,” he says. “I had just come back from the UK and started doing some consulting work in South Africa when the opportunity arrived to join a company that was already in the commodities market, however it was increasing its focus on the oil and gas industry.”

Ridwan says his ascent to becoming CFO of Petrocam hasn’t been easy, but now 10 years in, he has learnt and evolved significantly. And he’s enjoyed the consulting work as it gave him insight into different organisations and industries.

Prior to joining Petrocam, a petroleum company which is well established in Africa, he says his exposure to the oil industry had been indirect. “Venturing into the petroleum industry promised to be a new challenge and an opportunity to broaden my skills set in a very dynamic industry.”

Some of the challenges he has come across have been the long working hours in different time zones and managing a lot of travel. “It’s never easy getting into new markets, especially foreign markets, so a lot of effort is required in understanding the environment or ecosystem.”

He says that he was lucky that he found an alignment with the aims of the company and his own personal objectives.

Industry opportunities and challenges
Ridwan says being a CFO in the petrochemicals industry in South Africa is dynamic, exciting, and challenging. “Being a leader within the business of a challenger brand is an opportunity to provide value to stakeholders as well as the opportunity to be more solution-driven. Seeing the benefit achieved from it, is exciting,” he says.

His outlook is that there is opportunity in everything and it’s up to you to look around and realise that. One of the challenges the business faced entering the South African market was proving that they could match the quality of well-known brands but come in at a more attractive price point.

As luck would have it, Petrocam’s lubricants hit the market locally in early 2020, just before lockdown. “As you can imagine, any momentum gained was lost in a long lockdown where businesses were closed with only essential movements allowed. Basically, the local market came to a standstill” Ridwan recalls.

Starting anew
The challenge the company faced after lockdown was recreating that momentum and creating awareness in the South African market. In order to rev up interest and awareness, the company embarked on an exercise to test its oils in race cars, which are well known to require the highest quality products to reach the correct performance levels.

The most exciting test was Ice Motorsport’s Toyota Supra with over 800kW and 1300hp under the hood. It is the first eight-second Supra in South Africa.
“This was a bold move that required a lot of confidence in the product, but we saw it as an opportunity to illustrate that Petrocam, a local company with an African footprint, has a quality product,” says Ridwan.

Another challenge as a new entrant was the Petrocam price point. Ridwan says, “I think human psychology has a part to play here – we tend to consider high priced items as superior quality and lower priced items as inferior. So, finding the right price point that enables us to bring a profitable, quality product, while passing benefit through the value chain without upsetting the entire lubricant market is challenging.”

He says that one of the crucial factors to consider when entering a new market is the reasons the business is successful in its existing market. “Petrocam is well-known in Africa, with a presence in east, west and central Africa, and so we are well-placed to do well in South Africa.”

He acknowledges that all companies are concerned with the bottom line, and creating sustainable growth in shareholder wealth, but adds that, “We realised to achieve this, we needed to do the same for one of our key stakeholders, our clients. This is a passion of mine – a client centric-approach that allows us to peer into the trades of our clients and use our knowledge and capacity to enhance their positions rather than take advantage of them.”

This enabled the company to create efficiencies in the trades of its clients, thereby participating in their growth and by default in Petrocam as well. An example is identifying the inefficiencies, such as dead freight, in clients lifting products offshore and discharging into tanks.

Additionally, since the oil industry is dollar based, at times customers are faced with liquidity or conversation risks, as well as operational delays resulting from transacting with multiple parties to conclude the transaction. There are a lot of operational and regulatory compliance requirements that go into moving products from sea to shore.

Ridwan explains, “Our solution was to offer a comprehensive service under one financial instrument and manage some of these risks on behalf our customers, therefore eliminating the cost of dead freight, reducing immediate liquidity requirements, the necessity in dealing with a variety of third parties on operational matters as well as ensuring that certain regulatory requirements were fulfilled from a product import perspective.”

Solutions such as these are what changed the dynamics of that market and he is proud to have been part of a proudly African company making a difference in the market.

“This is one of the places where I found the alignment between the different stages of my professional career. It’s how one year became 10. It is very much about believing that what you are doing is making a difference,” he says.

Always learning
Whether he’s at work, or away from work, Ridwan says he loves learning new things and sharing that knowledge with those around him.

“I used to play a fair amount of cricket and soccer. With the lockdown however, it dawned on me that I spent a lot of time travelling and was missing out on the finer things in life … time with my wife and children … so, a lot of time on the trampoline.”

He is also passionate about travel and can’t wait to venture out again after the pandemic.