Woman in Fuel, Tshepiso Phosa, Shares Her Story of Taking On SA’s Petroleum Sector + Book Excerpt

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Fuelling Futures: From Influence to Impact is a book by Tshepiso Phosa and Timothy Maurice Webster. Their fuel-themed book is part biography, part business book with personal development thrown in for good measure.

Phosa is from a politically significant family, her parents are Dr. Mathews Phosa and Pinky Phosa, but as you will find out in the book, she has never been content to rest on her family’s laurels.

She is founder of a petroleum company called Milviforce Puma Nelspruit.

“I have six years’ experience in the petroleum sector and am proud to say that I have sold over 10 million liters of fuel in my short career.

“I have recently signed a deal that will see me opening up three filling stations in Mpumalanga in 2019 and diversifying my portfolio into wholesale and retail combined.”

Phosa is also director at MobiGo Solutions, which creates educational content and provides digital learning solutions inspired by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. She is also a director at Lowveld Coffee, a coffee machine distribution company.

The book’s co-author is Maurice Webster who is well-known to South African audiences. Webstar is an author, multiple times over, a television and radio producer and host and a long-time authority on everything personal branding-related.

Below is an excerpt of Chapter 4 of the book, titled ‘Efficient Fuel – Waste Little’. In this Phosa writes about the business struggles she faced with launching her first petrol station. 

Chapter 4:  EFFICIENT FUEL – WASTE LITTLE

TSHEPISO: In September of 2015, I knew what my strengths were. I was confident that we could grow the business using my people skills and understanding of market expansion.

It was clear that the community who lived and worked in the area where the petrol station is located were not aware of the station and it didn’t have a personality the community could relate to. It was just a stop, grab-petrol-and-go station, right off of Samora Machel Drive, opposite the I’Langa Mall.

This area is prime for business activity; the type of area where if a business has the right concept and targets the right consumer, it could boom. People in the region have disposable income and the petrol station’s potential excited me. I wanted to be a force for good in the region, using the power of fuel at the station.

Ironically, when it was time for me to choose a company name for ownership purposes, the shelf company option presented to me was named ‘Milviforce’. I probably would have pushed back on the name more, but the ‘force’ in the name resonated with me, so I made it work.

Everything was happening fast and since trading and getting the petrol station going was the priority, I took the name, created a logo that contained a petrol drop and we were off to the races. The mistakes I’m going to list are largely a result of me not knowing the industry but also because my focus was on marketing and building a name and not on the operational side of the business.

Here are my top three mistakes:

1. Choosing a family connection instead of selecting the
best supplier.
2. Delegating too much responsibility to a manager.
3. Not having the confidence to assert myself as the owner.

Let’s start with choosing a family connection over selecting the best supplier. I’ve always believed in strong networks. As a kid I watched my family only allow certain people around us and we only did business with quality people.

So, when I took over the station, it was natural to trust all the suppliers who had come through family. What I wasn’t aware of is that management at some of these family networks had changed without our knowing. Even though the ownership was strong, the revolving managers made the connection weaker. In an eight month period, a key supplier had finagled me out of R1.2 million.

To stop the bleeding and literally stop the fuel loss, I reached out to an industry elder. The petrol industry in our province is run like a tribe or organised mafia. Everyone knows everyone and it made sense to call one of the ‘Dons’.

I needed to hear from the best in the business on how to proceed.

The book Fuelling Futures: From Influence to Impact is available at selected book stores listed here

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Melissa Javan
Melissa Javan
Melissa Javan is a writer with nine years' experience in the media industry. She enjoys blogging and taking part in Twitter chats. You can find her on Twitter @melissa_nel.

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