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Turning the wheels of the economy and the transport industry

Joe Mahlo, general manager of commercial at Engen, has spent more than three decades keeping the transport industry fuelled. FOCUS chats to him.

Mahlo started his career in the transport industry as an accountant straight out of university. He hated every minute of working as an accountant and soon started spending most of his time in the sales, marketing and other related divisions.

While he has been situated in Johannesburg for most of his career, he also spent a few years in the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US).

“In 2012, I was quite privileged to be appointed to the role of Engen sales and marketing general manager based in Cape Town, where I was responsible for customers from all the sectors Engen services,” Mahlo says.

“As you can imagine, that is a huge portfolio. Recently, Engen has undergone some changes in the organisation, and now I focus only on the commercial customer base. The commercial division includes everything except service stations,” Mahlo notes.

Mahlo was appointed general manager of commercial at Engen in March this year. He has also moved back to Johannesburg, where the majority of Engen’s clients are located.

He says: “It was the best decision; I’m spending more time with customers as I’m just a phone call away and don’t have to hop onto a flight.”

For him, the most satisfying part of working in the transport industry, and particularly at Engen, is that he can make an impact. He says: “What I’ve found really fulfilling is that (in a manner of speaking) we turn the wheels of the economy. The transport industry is absolutely essential for the functioning of the economy, but it can’t work without us.”

He adds: “For me, knowing that without our contribution the transport industry, and therefore the economy, wouldn’t work is something that keeps me going.”

Of course, this is not a one-man job. Mahlo has an entire team working to keep the transport industry fuelled. When asked how he approaches managing his team, Mahlo explains: “I believe in getting the right people in the right jobs, and making sure that they are capable and up to the task.

Joe Mahlo, general manager of commercial at Engen.

“I support them at first, but then let them carry on with what they have to do. Let’s face it: no amount of standing over someone’s shoulder will produce results if the person is not up to the task.”

Mahlo loves the fact that his team is very young. “I quite like people with a little bit of head space that they can grow into. What I also like about the team I have is that they are not weighed down by baggage and history. They are able to look at new ways of doing things and are then willing to go and do those things.

“Young people are much more willing to ask what to some may seem to be ‘stupid’ questions, which can actually lead to finding new breakthroughs,” he says.

While an innovative team makes it much easier to face challenges, it doesn’t eliminate them. One of Mahlo’s top concerns for the transport industry is the weak economy, which severely impacts the industry’s growth.

“During a weak economy the transport industry also is particularly prone to fuel theft. If it was just a little bit here and a little bit there, then perhaps we wouldn’t make such a big fuss, but large quantities of fuel are being stolen.

“It is estimated that, depending on the quality of controls that companies have in place, they could be losing up to 20 percent of their fuel to theft. The industry is losing an enormous amount of money,” Mahlo explains.

For this reason, he believes fuel suppliers, like Engen, should be assisting customers to mitigate any losses that they might suffer. He says the most important
part of preventing fuel theft is to remove manual interventions during the refuelling process through the use of technology.

“Over time, Engen has moved away from technology that can be tampered with to wireless technology. We continue to work with partners that specialise in this technology to introduce even better controls. The best solution will be to get rid of paper, which can be falsified, and, if possible, to get rid of cards as these are less secure than electronic communication between the vehicle and the station or pump,” Mahlo explains.

He adds: “Ultimately, we need to introduce two-factor authentication, which will be required before one can authenticate the refuelling of the vehicle.  This is something we are working on and it will provide reasonable certainty that no one can steal from our customers. If we achieve that, I think we will have done a great service to the industry, but we still have a way to go.”

Although no particular moment in Mahlo’s career stands out, he feels it has been a great journey. “I think to single out any particular moment would be to do an injustice to a career in which I couldn’t have asked for more. It has been an incredible journey and I’ve been very privileged,” he says.

For anyone starting their career in the transport industry, Mahlo advises: “This is an incredible industry. It is crucial to the functioning of the economy and has great opportunities to venture into various different spheres.

“All the companies that I’m familiar with spend enormous amounts to develop their people. They actually care
about their employees. It is the one thing that struck me when I started working for Engen – the community spirit.”

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is one of the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publications in southern Africa.

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