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Petrol interview questions, Uroš Bider, General Manager of Petrol Serbia

Energy of our responsibility

Petrol has been transforming from an oil company to an energy company for the last decade. Some time ago, the entire business was based exclusively on petroleum products, while today, 50% of Petrol Slovenia’s business is made up of energy and ecological solutions.

1. How did your career develop before you became general manager of Petrol in Serbia? How long have you held that position?

My career started more than thirty years ago, at the petrol station where I worked during the summer in my student days, washing car windows. I started working as a salesman, was promoted to manager at several different sales locations and later moved up to a regional retail manager in Slovenia.

When Petrol started developing its business outside Slovenian borders, I actively participated. First I worked as the organizer of petrol station network expansion in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro. I served as the director of retail for Petrol in Croatia for five years. Following that, I was the general manager of Petrol in Bosnia and Herzegovina for six years.

Since August 2018, I am the general manager of two Petrol companies in Serbia. The first one is Petrol d.o.o. Beograd, whose core activity is retail and wholesale of petroleum products and other goods, as well as energy solutions in private and public sectors, and the other one is Beogas d.o.o. Beograd, with the core activity of constructing gas pipeline and distributing gas in five municipalities in Serbia - in Belgrade municipalities of Voždovac, Čukarica and partially Palilula, as well as Pećinci and Bačka Topola.

2. In these trying times, our common goal is to take responsibility and show solidarity towards the community in which we live and work. What has Petrol Serbia, as a socially responsible company, done in the previous period to help in these difficult circumstances?

Petrol focuses on two segments as a socially responsible company. The first segment is the relationship with our employees, while the second one is the focus and attention to the environment in which we operate. In the Corona virus crisis, Petrol supplied all our employees, sales locations and offices, even before the state of emergency was introduced, with protective equipment and accessories, as well as instructions on preventive measures that can be taken to defend against the Corona virus contagion. Apart from this, all our sales locations received protective plexiglass partitions at the cash register, and the staff were equipped with PVC visors, alongside masks and gloves.

Company management decided to reduce their own salaries for the duration of the crisis and provide additional financial rewards for those employees who were in increased risk of disease, especially at petrol stations. We have unanimously reached the decision that we will not be dismissing any employees, regardless of some our sales location being closed down due to curfew.

During the crisis we donated more than 5 million RSD to Torlak Institute and RFZO Srbija for the acquisition of tests and other necessary protective equipment.

3. In what way has this crisis, caused by the Corona virus, affected your day-to-day business? How did you organize work in this situation?

The most important thing was that we could not allow the slightest possibility to jeopardize the health of our employees. We constantly point out that people are the greatest capital of our company and that a good company is made up of its employees, primarily. Their knowledge, dedication and loyalty makes our company one of the best in the market.

From the very start of this situation, our priority has been the protection of our employees. Protective masks, gloves, and disinfectants were provided in a timely manner, while the employees at sale locations were equipped with visors, as additional protection. With this goal in mind, we have applied our internal health and safety procedures, and we have introduced work from home at the start of the crisis for those whose work process allows for that.

4. Have there been changes in the demands of your clients, compared to the period prior to the crisis and can you explain what the nature of those changes was, if there were any?

There certainly were changes. Pandemics influenced us, as well as our clients. Requests were different, but very reasonable. From postponed payment demands for immediate liabilities and flexibility in delivery via our wholesale services, to the requests from our lessees at our gas service locations to reduce their obligations or even remove them completely for a certain period. We all had the same goal - to secure financial stability.

Petrol, as a socially responsible company, has fully met all of our clients and business partners in all of their demands, as we are aware of the fact that partnerships must be nurtured in difficult times.

5. No one can really guess how long this new reality will last, but according to some estimates, economic consequences will be much greater than those in 2008. What are your predictions, what will be the consequences for your company, Serbia and world economy?

In my opinion, the greatest problem of the Corona virus crisis is the uncertainty of when the pandemics will finish, i.e. when we will be able to return to normal operating conditions. The role of the government is very important in that and I think that Serbian government has played that role very well. All the measures that have been taken had a very good, positive effect. Economy of Serbia is quickly returning to the pre-crisis levels according to our estimates.

Crisis in our company will have the worst effect on the dynamics of planned investment realization. Oil and trading companies have a reduced cash flow, and plans need to be pushed towards the future for this reason. If the situation with the Corona virus does not repeat to the same degree as in March and April, I believe our investments will be about a year late.

As far as the Serbian economy is considered, I think it is on a good path. Serbia is currently in a very intensive investment cycle and great infrastructural changes. Serbia is attractive for both domestic and foreign investment. Agriculture is a branch in which Serbia offers a lot of stability, in my opinion. Full activation of the tourist sector will require a lot of additional activities and attention. This year Serbia will lack the income from visits of ex-pats Serbs. Transit tourist income might replace the fact that we will not be spending the summer vacation in Greece or neighboring countries, but we will be visiting attractive domestic tourist destinations.

On a global level, in my opinion, there will be a reduction in business activity and layoffs only after the crisis caused by the Corona virus. Some branches of the economy, such as pharmacy and IT will additionally advance and develop, however, this challenging tempo will be very fast for some other branches that have already had long-term survival challenges due to digitization and transformations. In Serbia, as well as some other countries, great responsibility for the consequences of the crisis will be borne by the governments and politics of those countries.

6. A hurricane went through the oil markets and the price is lower than ever. Warehouses are full to the brim, so black gold is sold for next to nothing. Price of gasoline fell below 130 dinars in Serbia, and price of diesel below 140. Will the price of fuel go down even more? Demand for fuel in Serbia was halved from the beginning of March to the beginning of April, and Europe asked itself which refineries will be able to still operate, OPEK countries have agreed to reduce the production of oil for 10 million barrels since May 1st... What is your comment on this?

Fuel prices in Serbia are the consequence of the price shift on the world market and stock markets, and as a rule this is the consequence of the levels of supply and demand. It is hard to predict and speculate on the long term price movement. My answer to this common question is that no one has the crystal ball to be able to know what the price of the black gold is going to be in the future. Market is very unpredictable in this segment. Also, due to harmful emissions the pressure on reducing the use of this energy source is constant. We should not forget about the OPEK association which can sometimes affect the amount of supply on the market, and through that the price.

7. The Slovenian energy company Petrol Group is by many parameters at the very top of the Slovenian economy. Tell us more about the future plans and strategy of the group for the Balkan region? What are the development priorities of Petrol Serbia in the upcoming period?

Petrol has been transforming from an oil company to an energy company for the last decade. Our turnovers were until very recently 100% dependent on the oil business. Today our turnovers rise constantly, and the percentage of oil business is 50%.

Petrol Serbia is considered a part of the Southeastern Europe. This part of the region is very important for us due to cultural similarities and history, as well as physical vicinity. We are putting the focus on the development in this part of the region.

We are strategically planning to expand in the area of retail and wholesale of oil and petroleum products, with natural gas as one of our key energy sources, thus offering buyers security and simple energy management. We are working on projects for the production of electrical energy from renewable sources, such as wind parks, small hydroelectric plants and solar plants. We have ambitious plans in the area of energy and ecology solutions. Lately we have been focusing on digitization and e-mobility.

8. How and in what way did Petrol recognized its role in the field of energy? Is Petrol looking to become a recognized regional provider of comprehensive energy and environmental solutions? How will you achieve this?

Absolutely, this is one of our key goals. We wish to be partners in the energy solutions and energy efficiency projects in the private and public sector - street lighting, energy repairs for buildings, district heating, energy-efficient solutions in the industry, cleaning devices, water supply, etc. because Petrol has experience and good references in this segment.

Petrol is the largest regional energy company and this gives us certain advantages. One of the advantages is having a stable cash flow, which allows us to plan investments into these types of solutions. Petrol wishes to be a partner in energy solutions. We offer our partners comprehensive solutions, significant energy savings, as well as the possibility to finance projects.

Due to all these reasons, I consider Petrol an excellent choice for this type of projects at this time. It is most important to offer our partner or consumer solutions to spend as little energy as possible at the lowest price possible.

9. What are your current and future activities concerning electric energy supply?

Petrol d.o.o. Beograd is a licensed provider of electrical energy with customers in Serbia, while other companies of the Petrol Group supply over 64,000 users of electrical energy in the markets of Slovenia, Croatia and BiH. Apart from this, Petrol Group is active at 12 electrical power exchanges and works on the wholesale market in 21 European countries, with annual turnover of 22 million MWh of electrical energy. Thanks to the access to various markets, Petrol aims to optimize their portfolio and to offer individual approach on the Serbian market, which only has one dominant supplier and several smaller ones, in accordance with the needs and demands of customers, based on the ability to quickly adapt to trends, as well as have a long-term experience and expertise. This approach implies other services that follow reliable and safe supply, such as providing information on the changes in the market and advice on the optimal moment for purchase, in order to have a more efficient management of price risks.

Our region is also facing an inevitable energy transition that includes the transition from conventional sources of energy, primarily coal as the greatest polluter, to renewable sources. Petrol actively participates in this process, through intensifying the cooperation with producers of energy from renewable sources, as well as investing in their own production from wind, water and sun energy.

10. What do you offer your customers as an additional service besides offering various fuels at Petrol gas stations?

In the first place there is definitely the Q Max family of high-quality fuels. Our fuel with additives offer our customers primarily safety, followed by exceptional performance, which is important for all motor vehicles.

Each Petrol retail facility is modern and multifunctional in design, focused on providing the widest spectrum of products and services possible. Petrol facilities have a well-supplied mini-market Hip Shop with a rich offer of consumer goods, as well as a wide selection of car cosmetics.

Apart from the mini-market, the services that we are proud to offer to our customers is Petrol Coffee on the road - coffee to go. Our offer includes 7 different beverages, and we are sure everyone can find their own favorite drink among them.

We have developed a loyalty award program for natural persons the golden Petrol card. When purchasing any kind of fuel or chosen products from the Hip Shop market, customers gain a refund to their golden Petrol card. The amount refunded can be used for the next purchase already.

All the large oil companies in Serbia have cards for legal persons, however, not a lot of them can offer the service of using the said card at over 500 fuel services in the region.

11. Your job is dynamic, but tiring. How do you manage to overcome everyday stress?

My job is certainly super-dynamic. I would like to point out that my family follows me on all my “expeditions” to work places outside of Slovenia and I am eternally grateful to them. It would be hard to take on all the obligations, responsibilities and other pressures without my family.

I am trying to find an optimal balance between the work life and private life. I think that the life of a successful manager should not be focused on work 24/7. The company loses more than they gain this way, due to common burnouts and bouts of depression.

In my free time I do sports, such as running, tennis or skiing. I love to travel on my bike for several days or to read good books in peace and quiet.

In Serbia I like to go to good restaurants and clubs with good rock music. I like to hang out with people I met in Serbia, and with whom I share experiences, knowledge and vision when having a cup of coffee.

12. Would you like to add something at the end of this interview?

I would like to point out the most important thing in the end. The greatest capital of Petrol Serbia are our employees. I can say that we have a great team of experts and colleagues and that we get over any obstacles together, I am especially proud of that. I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart for all the energy they invest in the business and the results that we achieve.