Exercising control, making life easier
Karen Smith is the Engen Diesel Club/eFuel marketing manager and a rose amongst the thorns of the fuel industry. DAVID SHEPHERD interviewed her at Engen’s offices in the leafy suburb of Parktown, Johannesburg.
From nursing to fuel. That’s the rather unusual career tale of Karen Smith. Incredibly, this native Jo’burger – a leading light in the traditionally male-dominated world of transport and fuel – initially had designs on the nursing profession. For various reasons, this was not to be. Instead, she joined Engen in 1994. It was a very good move – Smith quips that she probably has diesel in her veins. She began on the central order board, moving to become a credit and marketing assistant before moving to EDC Sales and Marketing 12 years ago.
When asked whether the industry presents any challenges specific to women, Smith notes that “you either enjoy it or you don’t”. But she is quick to point out that many more women are entering the industry than in the past. Things are easier for newcomers than in days gone by. “Previously, it was unusual and even ground-breaking for women to enter our industry; it’s more widely accepted now,” she notes.
Naturally, members of the fairer sex receive ongoing training (along with their male counterparts). “Training is very important and the company takes individual requirements very seriously,” says Smith who will herself soon attend a course called “Leaders in Oil and Energy: developing industry leadership”, run jointly by the South African Petroleum Industry Association, Wits Business School and the Chemical Industry Education and Training Authority.
Smith might be a very important person to transport operators but this has not stopped her taking her family as seriously as she does her customers. She is married to a mining chemicals director with an equally busy schedule. “This means planning is needed to create as much quality family time as possible,” she says. Her seven year old son recently caught his first Tigerfish (a big one, and unassisted, she says) in Chobe National Park in Botswana, while her hobby of scrap-booking means her youngest son of five will have plenty of mementoes to look back on from his early years.
On a professional level, Smith says the Engen Diesel Club (EDC) provides a valuable service to transport operators. “The EDC is a system designed to combat fuel fraud, offered to transport operators and their fleet managers by Engen. The EDC assists with fuel cost savings and supplies accurate and timely fleet reporting. In 2008 Engen received the FOCUS on Excellence Best Supplier of Fuel award, in no small part as a result of the work of the EDC,” she reveals.
As the marketing manager for the EDC, Smith travels extensively, meeting with dealers and forecourt managers to ensure that the functioning of the two main EDC products – either an EDC swipe card or an eFuel Tag – fit as seamlessly as possible into the forecourt operations of all dealers. Recently she visited 17 sites, taking her from Johannesburg via Harrismith, to Durban, Port Shepstone, Stanger and Richards Bay and back. Petronas – of which Engen is a subsidiary – is based in Kuala Lumpar, and Smith will soon travel there on behalf of the EDC.
The EDC has been around since the 1980s but Smith is realistic about the challenge that confronts operators, saying no system can completely cut out fraud. “We will always have it, but we can make it harder to commit this crime,” says Smith. The eFuel technology was introduced into South Africa around early 2000. According to Smith the technology confirms that the right vehicle is being filled with no human input required. “The pump will not switch on unless authorised by an eFuel-equipped vehicle. A fully automated process prevents intentional manipulation or accidental error,” she explains.
Smith says Engen’s vision is to be “the champion in Africa by 2016”. With employees like this dynamic professional, who says she is very proud to be part of a company which, in her eyes has no competition, that’s a distinct possibility.