Paul van Herrewegen – General Manager, Rubis Terminal – Netherlands
Rubis Terminal’s general manager in the Netherlands discusses the company’s business strategy, and the independent terminals ability to provide added value for its customers.
You have been manager at Rubis Terminal B.V. for a little bit over 8 years. What have been your major milestones since you became General Manager?
I started here in March 2007 on a greenfield location and have been gearing the company towards becoming a customer-oriented organization from the start since properly positioning our terminal to our customers is our most important mission. We have managed to grow in steps as a newcomer in a highly competitive environment from scratch towards our current capacity of 161,600m3 into being a very interesting party for our customers. We have also taken the decision to grow further and almost double our current capacity. We are a flexible operation due to the small amount of people making decisions at the executive level. This allows for a quick turnaround period and allows us to prioritize our customers’s needs.
How is Rubis Terminal Group’s overall portfolio split?
We have different markets around all our locations, but in the Netherlands we focus on mainly two areas. In France the majority of our services are geared towards the fuel market, and we are the largest independent storage operator, mainly with local distribution of fuels whereas the Port of Rotterdam is geared towards clients who temporarily are moving their goods beyond the Hinterland as a hub rather than a final destination. As such, here in the Netherlands we mainly store chemicals , which represents approximately 50 percent of our storage capacity. The other 50 percent is set up for bunker fuels. In Antwerp we both service the chemicals and liquid gases sector. Our terminal in Antwerp is a joint venture between Mitsui-ITC and Rubus Terminal.
How different are Rubis Group’s terminals in Europe and how complimentary and integrated are they?
There are three areas in which the company as a whole is involved in which we have clients with different demands. We have operations in Turkey where we currently use our facilities for fuels and crude oil throughout the Mediterranean. In France our main market is in fuels with mainly local distribution to the hypermarkets; to a smaller extent chemicals and fertiliser are stored. Antwerp and Rotterdam have a comparable set-up with chemicals as their main market with Antwerp additional in liquid gases and Rotterdam in bunker fuels.
You entered the market in Rotterdam in 2008. How did you attract customers and what do you do to continue appealing to new clientele?
In Rotterdam, we are strategically located near the Rhineland and in general the largest and most developed markets in Europe. Our Rotterdam location is extremely important to the Rubis Group’s overall portfolio because if you want to have a position in Europe, you need to have a physical presence in Rotterdam. We can then service the flows of markets coming from this region of the world.
We were chosen by our customers while attending conferences to promote our services and creating awareness of our organization. We could also take advantage of the name of Rubis Terminal known from France at that time, combined with our own network of contacts. We host potential clientele to come in and visit our facilities and learn about the services we can provide for them. When we attract new clients we also demonstrate our capabilities via our communications and let our experience speak directly to clients about our excellent services.
As a company with strong French roots, how have you adapted to fit the specificities of the Netherland’s business mentality and what specific value does the company offer that differentiates you from the competition?
The organization as whole has French roots but as a Dutch affiliate the company hired mainly Dutch employees to fit to the business mentality of the region. The work culture at our Rotterdam terminal is open-minded, direct and we openly share our insights with one another. The company works in a very good corporation locally, but also together with our Head Office in France and they give us the autonomy to a very large extent. Of course strategic decisions are taken jointly.
We are a lean organization, which allows us to make decisions quickly and offer tailor-made attention to our clients. Our terminal is built in a very flexible way; tanks can easily be connected to all transportation modes.
Rubis’ objective is to adapt to the strategies of its customers and provide customized services through strong commercial relationships. How does Rubis juggle maintaining its market niche and area of expertise and continuously adapt to the needs of its clientele?
It is a combination of promoting what we are good at and letting our exemplary service speak for itself. We work in a specific market niche, and we know how to tailor the demands of our clients. At the start, we made a strategic choice in which markets we will be in and to have tanks and services that give added value to our clients. We have developed and improved our market approach to better suit the needs of our clients, and have chosen to grow mainly in specialty chemicals. Looking at our expansion we are focused specifically towards that market where we can add our strengths.With a current capacity of 161,600 m3 (28 tanks), progressive extensions have been planned to finally reach 330,000 m3 after finalising the expansion, covering a full range of different tanksizes.
What added technologies or expansion will the added capacity give to Rubis Terminal’s Rotterdam location?
The expansion program we designed is divided into five stages, and every two years we will add on more capacity. This will allow us to remain competitive by growing at a healthy rate, as too rapid growth may create too much capacity. Slow, smart, and well thought out growth is the most important thing to remain ahead of the game. We will, as a zero-emission terminal, also extend our existing highly sophisticated vapour treatment system. Currently we are already taking advantage of our set-up by treating the vapors and meanwhile using these vapors to produce steam for the heating of our tanks.
What is the current business climate at the Port of Rotterdam and what is Rubis Terminal doing to remain ahead of market trends?
The Port of Rotterdam is massive in size and offers a large variety of services, mainly involving oil (products) and containers, yet because of our size we are able to attract other flows of business. Markets will change, such as the expected further shrinkage in production of chemicals from chemical plants and refineries in North Western Europe. The effects will cause the port to transition into an import port, and Rubis Terminal is poised to adapt to the changing business climate. Remaining flexible is of the utmost importance due to the changing nature of the business climate. For example, not even a year ago shale gas was on the rise and what we see today is a drop in oil prices and the cost of producing shale oil has risen leading to rapidly changing dynamics. By trying to adapt to market conditions as much as possible, we can at least have something to offer to the customer and meet our clients’s needs.
From a leadership perspective, how do you continuously implement the international standards set forth by safety and environmental policy laws and ensure rule and regulations are met by the organization across the board?
The existing focus on safety has again improved over the years in cooperation with the whole tankstorage industry in the Netherlands. Our branche associatin has jointly with all members developed a safety audit where we check on hardware (all the equipment), software (Safety management System, procedures) and mindware (safety culture). This year the audit , that we call Safety Maturity Tool, will be performed at each terminal of the members of our branche organisation for the 3rd time by independent auditors. Main goal is to improve safety both jointly and invidually, and also learn from each other. Apart from the encouragement to even more focus on safety it became very clear that we had to change towards a more pro-active approach in communicating about our safety action and our role and added value as tankstorage companies.
Within our on company employee safety has been further developed in recent years due to courses we offer both in-house and externally, which allows our employees to learn about the newest safety standards and culture. Setting and keeping our safety culture needs to have continuous attention where it is of extreme importance to practice what you preach. The company has also reinforced our other key values of transparency, reliability and honesty to ensure that employees meet the standards of the organization.
Many of the Dutch independent terminal players are global examples within the industry, especially in the downstream sector. How do you see the Netherlands trying to maintain its position as the downstream pioneer and hub?
The ARA region, and in particular Rotterdam, will remain the largest port in Europe focused on the downstream sector in the coming years, but changing market conditions in Asia will have an impact. I do not see this as a problem because we are not competitors because there are particular needs according to population and demographics. In order to remain a trailblazer in today’s market, our company has to maintain its lean organization with low cost structures so we can act rapidly to the needs of our clients.
Where do you see Rubis Terminals in five years?
Rubis Terminal in Rotterdam expects to grow at a healthy rate. It will be difficult to anticipate market shifts ahead of time, but we need to be able to adapt to these changes and keep our customer focus. Meanwhile we have made our choice to grow in chemicals in niche markets and will have additional capacities available for our customers to improve their choice with different tanksizes and connections to all transportation modes including ideal jetty capacities.
How does your management style help to maintain the company’s motto of ensuring that if there is a “will to undertake, then there is a choice of responsibility?”
As for having the responsibility for our location in Rotterdam, I am motivated to continue doing well and anticipate the market changes as much as possible to suit the needs of our customer’s demands together with all the others within our Rotterdam organisation. Our managing partners at the Rubis Holding always stress the importance of being an entrepreneur in your region and I strive to serve the needs of our clients and assist our employees whenever possible.