A photo of a service station employee refueling a customer vehicle

Jun 27, 2019

Meet our Readiness Programme Alumni: Pat Mahlangu

We talk to a Readiness Programme alumni, Pat Mahlangu, about her experience on completing the PetroCONNECT Readiness Programme and why you should consider joining the programme if you’re interested in entering the fuel retail sector for the first time.

Learn more about the PetroCONNECT Readiness Programme

What motivated you to attend the PetroCONNECT Readiness Programme?

I was in the industry (petroleum) for many years. During those years, I was working closely with dealers (service station owners) in the various portfolios I managed. In working with dealers, they always maintained that corporate managers do not understand the challenges they are facing on the ground example being total site operations, financial management and HR among others.

This feedback got me thinking and I started talking to consider franchisees who were outside the industry about the challenges they had with the relationship with their head offices - albeit at varying levels of sentiment, the underlying message was similar to the feedback I received in person. When I later decided to embark on the entrepreneurship journey in a different industry, I found myself going through the same experience.

I then decided that before I go into the more complex petroleum sector, I needed to have hands-on training re: running a service station. PetroCONNECT became the relevant platform and brand to engage with. The company intends to create a pool of capable and trained individuals with the idea of approaching the industry successfully. This will mitigate the risk of business failure which is a problem in the industry - thus creating sustainability which is what all oil companies and the sector is looking for.

The course met my expectations accordingly. The training provided me with the relevant 360 degree exposure to site operations (not just theory) i.e. working as a petrol attendant, cashier, back office etc. PetroCONNECT also does not have a petroleum brand bias – it focuses on the key skills that are a requirement by all petroleum brands - providing the potential dealers with the requisite skills to run a successful service station which I think is very important.

What did you like the most about the Readiness Programme?

  • I liked the course structure.
  • Classroom training.
  • On-site experential learning.
  • Business plan presentation.
  • The ” learn – Do – Learn“ approach really worked well for me. I found that even on the last day during the business plan presentations facilitated at Nedbank’s offices, we continued to learn through coaching and feedback by the directors, other panellists from the bank and oil companies as we were critiqued on the business plans that we presented.
  • Furthermore, we were exposed to the day-to-day running of the service station and worked closely with the site staff – from Supervisor to Manager, staff and serving customers was the most humbling and enjoyable part of the programme.
  • One got exposed to the challenges that the staff face daily and at the same time the challenges that a service station owner gets exposed to in terms of (HSSEs, HR, Marketing, Finance, Franchise Operations Manuals and other legislative compliance aspects etc).
  • I liked that some of the facilitators are service station owners – they shared their experience with us and supported us during the business plan preparations and this is a good benefit of the course.
  • The fact that the group I was with came from diverse backgrounds was a bonus. From the collective experience in the fields of Finance, Law, Accounting etc prudent questions were asked that enriched the learning in a positive manner
  • Learning about how to evaluate the price of a site before you purchase it was a real eye-opener. We learnt about industry benchmarks which was very helpful.
  • Lastly, knowing that the program is endorsed by Nedbank is a bonus for us for future funding.

What was the most challenging aspect of the Programme?

Nothing was too challenging because the course coordinators were always at hand to handle questions at any point in time and the directors were always accessible to us.

How do you plan to use what you’ve learnt from programme on the rest of your fuel retail journey?

I will implement the learnings - and continue to draw from the collective knowledge of the facilitators, alumnae’s and the directors Sbonelo and Mark. It is my wish that I can become part of the facilitators in future once I have settled at my service station. Maya Angelo said “when you learn, teach. When you get, you give” and this has been my mantra over the years, and I will continue to do so with the knowledge that I have gained. I believe this is exactly what the Directors did, and their vision will live through us.