Meet the new UKIFDA President

18th August 2022

What does being UKIFDA President mean to you?

It’s a great honour to represent our industry. I see my role as the non-executive Chairman, whereas Ken is the full-time CEO. I also see it as my job to use my knowledge and experience of 30 years in the industry to assist with UKIFDA’s response to the issues that matter to our businesses. I have gotten a lot out of our industry over the years, and I hope I can give something back.

Have you set yourself any objectives during your term?

To understand what the members want from UKIFDA; all businesses are about their customers, and UKIFDA has a duty to act in the interest of all members. Rix is a family-owned business, and whilst we are one of the largest distributors, we are structured into business units, which operate with a high degree of independence, akin to small and medium-sized distributors. I hope this gives me some insight into the way of working and issues faced by a broad range of our members.

In all of the years that I have been involved in fuel distribution, I cannot remember a time when we have faced so many challenges – from the environmental agenda and the impact on price; the supply chain issues linked to the Russia/Ukraine conflict (financially, politically and socially); to changes in regulation and legislation including the changes to the use of gas oil and; the forthcoming proposals to amend distance selling regulations.

I aim to help the UKIFDA team respond to these changes in a way that minimises their direct impact – and avoids, where possible – unintended consequences on our members and their customers.

What are you most looking forward to doing as President?

I am fortunate to be working with our (relatively) new CEO, Ken Cronin. Ken joined UKIFDA shortly after the COVID pandemic took hold, and he and Janet Kettlewell (UKIFDA’s past President) have done a great job steering the organisation through it. I’m looking forward to working with Ken to re-structure the EXPO and Dinner, building on the success of the 2022 event.

When did you become involved in the fuel oil distribution sector?

I joined Rix Petroleum as the Credit Manager, which was a new position back then. The company was expanding the fuel business, so managing cash flow and avoiding bad debts had become an area of focus. Some small independent filling stations were beginning to struggle, farmers took forever to pay, and the company had its first six-figure diesel account. My job was to bring order and discipline to payments and credit, and to keep the sales team onside while doing so.

I was lucky to work with some great people, who bought into what we were doing and helped me make a substantial impact. The results of which were the foundation of my career and progress at Rix.

What do you see are the sector’s biggest challenges?

Immediately – it is the price and supply issues arising from the Russia/Ukraine conflict as the supply map into the UK is restructured.

In the medium term – it will be managing the implications of the government’s 2018 Clean Growth Strategy with its stated plan to “phase out the installation of high carbon fossil fuel heating in new and existing homes currently off the gas grid“.

The UK and Irish governments have set out on a blinkered approach to decarbonising off-grid heating with a proposal to replace oil heating with air and ground source heat pumps. This seemingly single solution approach is misguided and fails to appreciate the challenges and costs to homeowners and businesses. Our sector and UKIFDA as our industry representative, must demonstrate that this approach is unacceptable and that liquid biofuels have a significant part to play.

What is the history of J R Rix & Son, and how long have you worked for the company?

I have been with the company for 30 years, and whilst that is quite a long time, it is a short period compared to the age of the business!

J R Rix & Sons is a sixth-generation family-owned business that can trace its history back to 1870 when it started as a shipbuilder, owner and operator. Today we still operate ships, but they are now wind farm support vessels and coastal and estuarial fuel barges; however the company’s main activities are fuel distribution, both inland and marine, property and manufacturing holiday homes.

The company first became involved in the fuel distribution sector in the 1920s when we imported tractor vaporising oil and lamp oil on our ships. The expansion of the fuel business took off in the late 1940s and ‘50s with the easing of wartime restrictions and the popularity of low-cost oil-fired central heating along with increasing demand for diesel for road transport lorries and petrol for independent retailers.

While we are proud of our heritage, the company is firmly focused on the future. When I joined the company, it operated dry cargo ships, a small shipbuilding yard on the Humber, half a dozen car franchises and a fuel business. Our marine fuels business consisted of two estuarial barges supplying fuel to ships on the Humber and Rix Petroleum ran a 30-truck fuel distribution business operating out of two depots in Hull, plus a couple of vehicles based in Immingham and Montrose. At the time, it supplied almost 300 independent filling stations and retail fuels made up half of the volume sold. The group employed about 450 people.

Today, J R Rix & Son no longer operates dry cargo ships or builds small ships on the Humber. We now operate several wind farm workboats and supply technicians to repair and maintain wind turbines on and offshore. We operate three coastal and estuarial barges supplying fuel to ships on the Humber and along the East Coast, and we only have one remaining car franchise.

Most of the small independent filling stations we supplied have closed, and retail fuel volumes have dropped from 50% to 2%, whilst the number of tankers has increased from 30 to 110, all carrying bigger volumes and capable of faster pump-off rates.

Our property business has increased substantially from owning an estate with a few tenants on legacy sites, to becoming a significant business in its own right. The biggest change in recent years has been the introduction of our holiday home manufacturing business. We started manufacturing static caravans in 2009 and quickly got to building 25 units per week. From two factories, we now manufacture more than 70 units per week. Today, the group employs almost 900 people.

Why is membership of UKIFDA important to J R Rix & Son?

An industry body is essential to our petroleum business. It is easy to miss government consultation or to fail to appreciate the full implication on our business resulting from proposed changes.

An industry voice is much more powerful than any argument put forward by individual companies. UKIFDA makes us aware of what is coming down the pipeline and responds on behalf of its members in our collective interest.

UKIFDA helps us interpret what these changes mean to our businesses and feeds back to government the issues that require further clarification. Acting as the industry’s expert, the organisation also works with members to establish industry health and safety best practice and other procedures, dealing with the HSE, Environment Agency and HMRC.

When it comes to delicate issues, such as price and supply challenges and how they impact our customers, UKIFDA serves as an industry voice to the media. Plus, it provides us with technical advice and documents and some of our professional training.

What are the most significant changes you have noticed in the industry?

Although it has been a while, I can drive a tanker, and what was acceptable 20 years ago would not be considered so today. Our drivers are lone workers and the changes made to HSE, such as working at height, have certainly improved their working environment.

Quite rightly, a great deal has been done to make the drivers’ jobs safer, including training, PPE, mobile comms, off-set fills and bottom loading tankers. We should all be focused on reducing the risk of harm to anyone who works for us.

Was there an aspect of this year’s EXPO that sticks in your mind, and why?

After more than two years of cancelled events, I think we all thoroughly enjoyed meeting in person. There was a terrific atmosphere throughout the event. However, the UKIFDA Dinner was the single part of the event that I enjoyed the most. It felt fresh and significantly different from the last time we held a dinner at the EXPO. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Has Janet Kettlewell, the past President, given you any advice about being UKIFDA President?

Enjoy it!

Do you have a work mantra?

Don’t accept poor standards. Never be afraid to challenge.

When not at work, what do you like to do?

Play golf, go rock climbing, ski, run and cycle, travel and drink wine…and beer. There are not enough days in the weekend!

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