JOHANNESBURG - Businesswoman Molebogeng “Lebo” Mbethe, 38, has broken the mould in the R13 billion a month petroleum industry. She is the first black woman to supply the lucrative commodity to JSE-listed African Rainbow Minerals’ Nkomati Nickel Mine.
Mbethe, who holds a BCom accounting degree from the University of Cape Town, is the chief executive and founder of Advent Oil, a 100percent black female-owned petroleum supply company she established in 2006.
A Shell Branded Distributor, it has fuel distribution depots in Mpumalanga, Gauteng, the Northern Capt, the Western Cape, North West and the Free State.
Mbethe, who entered a fuel- supply agreement with Shell South Africa in 2014 for the supply of diesel, said she was the first black woman to supply the Mpumalanga-based Nkomati Mine, which gobbles about four million litres of fuel a month. Advent Oil’s clientele include JSE-listed construction and engineering group WBHO, manganese miner UMK, and Liketh Investment, which supplies coal to Eskom.
In an interview with Business Report in Johannesburg, Mbethe said she supplied mining, logistics and construction companies, with about 100 million litres of fuel per annum.
She said the country consumed a billion litres of fuel per month, adding that she had doubled the size of her business. Mbethe said her turnover now stood in excess of a billion rand. She employs more than 70 people and has eight subcontractors who are in the transport sector, as part of her corporate social investment.
Mbethe, who has a marketing background, is a former employee of consumer goods company Unilever and leading alcohol beverage company Brandhouse. She said she had made and lost a lot of money during her rewarding career. However, she entered the lucrative petroleum industry by chance.
The 2005 fuel crisis in the country spurred then Minerals and Energy Minister Lindiwe Hendricks to set up a commission of inquiry headed by advocate Marumo Moerane.
The Moerane Commission looked at whether regulations were needed to prevent future shortages. It also focused on whether oil companies were obliged to hold stocks of finished products in respect of commercially prudent norms as well as the terms of the basic fuel price, the mechanism that determines petroleum prices.
“One of the recommendations of that commission was that government needed to issue licences to new entrants in order to be able to allow them to import and increase the security of supply for the country as we had run out of fuel,” Mbethe said.
“I was in a consortium with other people; we were then able to secure one of these licences. That’s basically how I started in fuel in 2006. We started importing fuel via Mozambique. We would then manage the entire process of getting the customer, we would buy from trading houses, bring it into the country and supply customers. From there I kind of built the business.”
When it was established, Advent Oil was about taking advantage of the fact that many of its customers had transporters that were working for them and the transporters did not have any way to pick up fuel. “This was before filling stations could service big trucks, where a filling station was just too small for a truck to be able to come and pick up fuel. So, we used to supply trucking companies in that way”. Speaking about her partnership with Shell, Mbethe said her company was a Shell Branded Distributor and Shell had given a commitment to growing Advent Oil into a mini Shell.
“Inasmuch as it’s an enterprise development programme it’s also a sales programme because when we joined Shell we already had customers. We brought customers to Shell’s books that Shell didn’t previously have.” Advent Oil recently landed a three-year contract with WBHO to supply all its sites and projects as and when their projects come on stream.
Mbethe was optimistic about the future of South Africa’s economy, which is forecast to grow by a mere 0.7percent this year, saying the reality was “we are still growing”.
“There are a lot of opportunities within this market alone. For me, when I see the JSE running the way that it is, something is happening somewhere. Why are there so many investors piling into our market, yet we are only seeing the bad parts of it?”
She has done a lot of work in the Southern African Development Community bloc, exporting fuel to countries such as Zimbabwe. “We did supply into Zimbabwe, then you have forex issues, then you have border issues, then you have storage issues, then you have distribution issues, then you’ve got health and safety issues.
“I like to sleep at night. I like to have a lot more control over things. I don’t like the part where I have a driver who is stuck somewhere between Harare and Masvingo, calling me to say he’s stuck on the side of the road and he’s got nowhere to sleep. Those are the kind of issues I don’t need.”
- BUSINESS REPORT