How Chinhara built his Glow Petroleum empire

 How Chinhara built his Glow Petroleum empire
Published: 28 April 2019
Gift Phiri sits down for a wide-ranging interview with Glow Petroleum Trading (Private) Limited managing director Aaron Chinhara about his journey in the fuel retail, mining and commodity broking business. Find below excerpts of the interview.

Q: Tell us about Glow. I understand you founded the company in 2004 as an informal entity trading in fuel procurement and distribution.

A: Glow Petroleum initially started as an informal entity in 2004. I am a teacher by profession. But I then joined insurance at the then Southampton insurance company as a sales executive. It is when I was there around 2002, that I learnt about meeting with business people because in insurance, you are trying to write bigger premiums from CEOs of companies, and this is when I met people like Tendai Mupfurutsa, who had then Ekhaya Petroleum. Because we were in insurance together, he was at another insurance company which was First Mutual. He then invited me to come into fuel business. But then I started selling fuel around 2004 for a lot of various people.

Around those years, service stations had closed because the economy was bad around 2004 up to 2008. I started being a middleman and I was selling fuel on behalf of all the people who were bringing in fuel, most of them. The guys who started Trek, I sold for them, I was selling for Vernon who was in South Africa who runs Quetech, I was selling for Petrotrade South Africa. And, it is from there that I then formalised in 2007, that's when I created what is now known as Piglow Trading, which then created Glow Peteroleum.

Q: Are you a one-man band or do you have a team around you? What does your team look like?
A: We are a professional company. I am not a one-man band. Of course, the formulation of this company is anchored on one man. But then I had to transform the business into a family business, where I gave two of my brothers shares in the company.

Q: Do you have a family?
A: Yes I am a family man. I have got four children. So, I am a family man. So the companies have shareholders, they are three brothers. So, it's a family business

Q: Just as you were starting, you had run-ins with the law, accused of importing over 33 million litres of fuel worth millions of dollars for resale on the pretext that it was meant for the Zimbabwe Defence Industries. What happened there?
A:  In Zimbabwe, we have got a problem that in most cases, newspapers or media people don't do investigative journalism. If investigative journalism was done, there was no need for national newspapers to write stories degrading even the army. There was no reason because these were deals that were above board, which were strictly business transactions, where Glow Petroleum or Piglow Trading was not in the forefront of the deals, was just a third party which was supplying on behalf of companies that were involved.

Q: You have recently unveiled state-of-the-art fuel forecourts, I have seen one in Shurugwi, and others in Harare with convenience stores and food courts offering exciting brands. How has been the feedback from your customers?
A: We don't start from the customers but from ourselves. We are happy with the work that we are doing. If it was in other countries, we were going to be given by organisations, by the state, a pat on the back because we are the first indigenous fuel company who have done wonders on the land. We have done not only a few stations, we have done magnificent stations from Gwanda, Bulawayo, Harare, Masvingo, Shurugwi, to name but a few. And we have just showed that doing the best artefacts, it's not about skin colour but commitment.

Q: The petroleum retail industry has evolved over the past decades — in terms of structure, layout, and technologies. Are you planning on delivering new offerings and value propositions to enhance customer engagement, marketing efficiency and business capability?
A: Of course, in business we always strive to do the best and to move with the times. So, we are trying to do everything that is going to make ourselves competitive in the environment that we do our business from.

Q: It sounds like you put a lot of work in the infrastructure side at your latest forecourts. Once that's done, how do you market your oils? Has this been a learning curve for you or something you have experience in?
A: In fuel industry, you don't do much. Remember one brand cannot put their fuel at another brand's forecourt, so you need to have your own forecourts and your own infrastructure for you to dispense fuel across the country. So you must understand that the companies that are multinational and formerly multinational companies in Zimbabwe have been there for years, some for hundreds of years before us, so we have just started in 2004, so if we are going to compete with them, we need to put infrastructure which is better than what they have done, because they have done it 90 years ago. So, if we are putting up something, it must be more smarter than what was done in the past.

Q: Have the local councils been receptive and supportive of your investments in their respective areas?
A: Some yes, some no. And you must understand that they don't believe you when they see you for the first time in an area where you don't operate, where you don't have infrastructure. For example, we did Gwanda for Matabeleland and all the councils in Matabeleland have become fair to us because we have put one in Bulawayo and one in Gwanda which are some of the best stations in the Matabeleland region. In Harare, it has been difficult for us to get land from Harare, but we are buying from private people and we are putting up structures.

Q: You are saying you failed to get real estate from Harare to set up a service station?
A: You can't get anything from Harare. Harare is Harare. So, you can't get land there. Even in small towns like Zvishavane, it's one town that we have complained about — a council that does not do things properly. Because we managed to get land there, the council gave us all the task from going to physical planning, to make sure that land becomes feasible for creating infrastructure for  a forecourt, but then when we were about to start, they then said because you come from Chivhu, you cannot have land in Zvishavane because you come from Chivhu. They said the shareholders of this company are from Chivhu. So, we could not get land from Zvishavane.
But even the person that they gave, even up to now, Zvishavane does not have a proper service station. Because that land is lying idle up to now, they even could not get even the remuneration of the land from the person, which is a homeboy, whom they gave. So, these are the experiences that we are getting.

Q: The fuel crisis in Zimbabwe is being intensely felt. What is the problem?
A: The fuel crisis is a problem in Zimbabwe because of one thing, the country is running low in terms of foreign currency. We must understand how fuel works. Merchants that deal in fuel put their fuel in the pipeline and the pipeline has got a lot of fuel. But we must understand that fuel is not meant only for Zimbabwe. It's meant for Zimbabwe, Malawi, DRC, Zambia, Botswana and the fuel in the pipe line is bonded fuel, and whoever has money among those countries I have mentioned can buy on a first come first serve basis. So, if you don't have foreign currency in your own country, it will be difficult for you to have that fuel.

Q: How can this be solved?
A: You need forex, that's number one. You need the Reserve Bank, allocations of money through the Reserve Bank, you need the RBZ or the ministry of Finance plus the ministry of Energy being fair in how they allocate funds. Allocation of funds in Zimbabwe is not being done fairly. Some companies are more equal than others.

Q: Really?!
A: Yes, some companies are more equal than others. They are receiving more than they need to use. We must get these allocations according to the share of the market that each company does, but it's not like that. Today, if I was going to mention names, I would mention two company names on the downstream fuel business, where you will see two brands in Zimbabwe today having fuel every day, others not having, not because they don't have money, Zimdollar to buy or RTGS to buy money from the RBZ, but there is no allocation. Allocation is only given to one person,

Q: Who?
A: This country knows who he is.

Q: What is pushing up the price of fuel, it's now a monthly phenomenon?
A: The prices of fuel are gazetted prices given to fuel companies by Zera, so the price of fuel is US$1,44 today and US$1,20 for diesel. Crude has been going up for the past weeks, they will be following up to these prices.

Q: You have dabbled in politics before, I understand you were an MDC official in Gweru. Are you still in politics or you have cut ties?
A: No, I have left politics to focus on business.

Q: You are also the owner of Pickglow Mining (Mining) and Pickglow Commodity Broking. Are you stopping here, or do you have further expansion plans?
A: The war is still on. But you win the war through battle by battle. The first battle was fuel.  I think there is no doubt from Zimbabweans that everyone realises that Glow Petroleum is winning that battle. I want to believe on the forecourts we are the champions of the forecourts. We are now moving into seriously doing mining business.

Q: What minerals are you doing?
A: Chrome and gold. The areas around Chegutu and Ngezi. But before that, because our business, our successful business which is the fuel business needs us to have foreign currency, we can't wait for the RBZ to give us allocation for foreign currency because they are failing to do that.

Q: Where are you sourcing your forex, from the grey market?
A: We are getting from them (RBZ), but maybe we are working two weeks out of every four weeks a month. So, we are not getting enough, so its inefficient, that even our employees are now getting 60 percent of the salaries for the past four, five months, which is a difficult thing. But maybe where we are diversifying to tourism.

Q: Tourism?
A: Yes. For those ones in Victoria Falls will know that Glow Petroleum is going to build one boutique hotel in Vic Falls starting in 2020 and finishing in 2022. And we have a riverside

Q: You mean along the Zambezi River?
A: Yes. It's a US$500 000 investment that is happening, starting from 2020. It's not a secret that we are bringing Marriott, in fact, they have been here. Marriott Group of Hotels has been here in Zimbabwe. We are going to work in partnership with them.

Q: What is your most important objective for the company?
A: For us it is to make our products competitive. Go to social media, you will realise we are one brand associated with serving motorists as fast as possible.

Q: Do you train your staff in customer care?
A: Yah. I am a teacher by profession. When I open all these stations, I will be there with them for two weeks, myself training them.

Q: You are a famed supporter of netball. Why netball?
A: (LAUGHS) I don't support netball alone; I support a lot of things. Any corporate that wants to support sport, especially in Zimbabwe or in Africa, they always think about soccer, rugby, cricket. But there are sports that are getting to extinction because we are not supporting them. So, we decided to support netball because we realise that no one was sponsoring netball. This is why we supported netball. Number two, its cheap to sponsor netball. If you sponsor soccer, it's quite expensive to do that. You are supporting a team with seven players on the pitch, it's easier, its cheap. We don't only support that; we support tug-of-war as well. We have got a team that is doing very well in the Midlands region. We support a lot of things

Q: Is that all you do by way of social responsibility?
A: We support afforestation in Zimbabwe.

Q: Ok, I have seen you handing a cheque to the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe.
A: Yes, we have a tripartite arrangement between the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe, Glow Petroleum and schools in Zimbabwe.

Q: What's your interest in forestry?
A: Because I am a fuel company. If I am a fuel company, it means I am a danger to the environment. So, I must do something to mend the environment that I am destroying through emissions of gases from fuel, so this is the reason why I chose that line.

Q: To finish, would you like to add any further comments which you believe might be of interest to your staff, to your customers?
A: To our staff, our growth as Glow Petroleum is coming from pickings that we are getting from our clients, so we must handle them with care, we must handle them with love, we must make Glow Petroleum the first spot as a forecourt for many Zimbabweans. That's number one. Number two, we must make sure that our sights are as beautiful as they can be, and are as attractive as they can be, and that they follow the green revolution, this is why our site areas, we are trying to do a lot in terms of planting grass, planting trees and we will try during this time of not much fuel on the forecourts, to try and service our clients and give them service as perfectly as our circumstances will permit.

Q: Thank you so much vaChinhara for the opportunity.
A: The pleasure is all mine.
- dailynews
Tags: Glow,


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