At the age of eight, Bongiwe Bako, manager of marketing and business development at Engen, was already interested in petrochemicals with a passion for the Engen brand – then Mobil South Africa. MARISKA MORRIS learns more about her.
There are few people who can say that they knew from a young age what they wanted to do and or where they wanted to work. This is not the case for current manager of marketing and business development at Engen, Bongiwe Bako. At the age of eight, she already had dreams of working for this petrochemical company.
“My grandfather had a trading store that sold paraffin. I had a good idea of the products that came from the industry. When I was about eight, I saw a Mobil advertisement and I decided that I was going to work for this company one day. I was so sure! As my grandfather owned a store, we were very brand conscious,” Bako notes.
While she was at university, the beloved Mobil brand changed to Engen. Unsure about the new brand, Bako didn’t apply to work at her dream company. However, not long after starting work, she noticed the new Engen logo and fell in love again.
“I worked at Waterfall Park in Midrand, where there was an Engen office. The first time I saw that ‘e’, I decided that I wanted to work there. I even told all my friends that I was going to work for Engen one day. When a friend informed me that Engen had vacancies in 2001, I applied for a position,” Bako explains.
She was called in for an interview and a few weeks later she finally joined the Engen team in the retail space. Unfortunately, the opportunity did not pan out as expected and Bako left to develop her skills and business acumen elsewhere.
“As soon as I left, I wanted to come back,” she admits. It would, however, be years before her path crossed again with the beloved brand.
Bako says: “After three years, I bumped into a former colleague, who explained that exciting opportunities for career growth existed at Engen, so I applied to re-join the company.” A year later, she joined the commercial team at Engen as a more experienced individual and found an innovative and exciting company which launched her current career trajectory.
“It was a fresher Engen and it is still transforming today. The speed of transformation is just incredible. Each year, it is faster. I’m very proud to be a part of Engen and am passionate about the industry,” Bako notes.
She adds: “Engen is very employee focused and customer centric. It is important for the customers to feel the passion we have for the brand, as most of the Engen customers are very passionate about the brand. Negative feedback does, however, offer us an opportunity to grow and improve our service offering.”
Just as Bako is a very different person today compared to the early 2000s, so Engen and the petrochemical industry has changed dramatically.
Bako notes that when she worked in the retail division at Engen in the early 2000s, the company had six competitors and was concerned about one more joining. Today, Engen has more than 200 competitors.
“In 2001, our fear was that the blue-pump agreement was ending and Sasol was entering the market. In the commercial division, we are now competing with 200 suppliers. We have to continually come up with innovative strategies on how to occupy our space and defend our market share,” Bako says.
One approach is focusing on customer value and services. Bako explains: “Engen sells solutions. We speak to customers about what else they need so that we can offer a package deal.” This ever-changing environment is one of the things that she loves about the industry along with its size.
She notes: “The industry is small, so you get to know everyone. The people in the industry are all pro-development. Whether it is developing the industry as a whole, or as an individual, we learn a lot from each other. Although I’m in marketing, I spend a lot of time with sales and engineering teams. There is a lot of growth and collaboration.”
It is not surprising that with her two Master’s degrees, Bako advises young professionals entering the industry to continue studying. She says: “If you have a vision of where you would like to be, write it down and look at it often to remind yourself why you are here in the first place. Then never stop learning.
“Your company is giving something to you – even if it is just a pay check. It is then up to you to give something back in order to make it a two-way relationship. It is also important to volunteer internally and learn from colleagues.”
Although Engen is playing its cards close to its chest, there are some exciting developments in place for 2019 including the launch of a new diesel. It’s parent company Petronas has invested in an internal exchange programme dubbed “cross pollination” in which staff from the Petronas group of companies are given international postings to learn and share their knowledge when they return.
At the end of December, Bako and her family will bid a temporary farewell to South Africa to take up a two-year posting at Petronas Lubricants International in Italy where she will be exposed to and gain valuable experience of the global lubricants market.
“The benefit to Engen is that when I return to South Africa, I can share the knowledge gained and further contribute to Engen’s vision of being the oil company of choice,” Bako concludes.
Those of us remaining in South Africa are excited to see what this brand, which has inspired such passion in Bako, has to offer in 2019. We wish Bako luck in her expedition.