Newly installed CEO of Maxol, Brian Donaldson, speaks to Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer about his first two months in the company’s hot seat
After a diligent and lengthy service as Chief Operations Officer of leading forecourt brand Maxol, Brian Donaldson has now stepped into the top job.
Acting as the right hand man of former CEO Tom Noonan before taking up the role in June, Brian helped steer the company into innovative new directions.
And it’s in these new directions that Maxol is firmly aimed, with a slew of innovative forecourt designs, new franchise partnerships and creative promotional campaigns at its core.
“It’s certainly exciting to move into the leadership role,” Brian told Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer. “I was well prepared, being the Chief Operations Officer for some years and having been mentored by Tom Noonan.
“I’m just enjoying the new position and I’ve received a lot of support from the board, my colleagues, and the company’s owners, the McMullan family.”
However, the job, like any other leadership position, will not be without its challenges.
“The industry is moving at a formidable pace,” Brian said. “And we’re also dealing with the uncertainty resulting from the Brexit vote in June.”
Of course, leading an island-spanning company like Maxol means having to deal with macro-economic and super national issues, but Brian is prepared.
“At this stage, it’s too early to predict what the outcome of the Brexit vote will be,” he said. “We have, however, seen a lot of volatility on the financial and currency markets.
“From our perspective, it’s very important Stormont and the Irish Government listens to business to address this, and any future arrangements affecting the Common Travel Area.”
Article 50, triggering the two year deal-making period, is expected to be invoked in early 2017, and Brian has taken the step of setting up a Brexit Steering Committee, to ensure Maxol stays one step ahead.
“The committee will help us keep an eye on the developments and mitigate any risks posed by Britain leaving the EU,” he said. “It’s about taking a prudent approach.”
Maxol celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2020, and for Brian, the steering committee is just another aspect of the responsible corporate governance that has seen Maxol succeed throughout the last century.
Brian said: “We want to continue to grow and be ready to take advantage of any opportunities that may arise, while remaining aware of the risks posed.
“For example, Northern Ireland should become more attractive for people shopping with Euros. But there could also be an increase in costs for new developments.
“The weaker Sterling could push up the input costs of goods and services, and that could make new projects and site costs more expensive. There’s always that other side to the coin.”
While over-arching strategy decisions like these are now central to his role as CEO, Brian is also dedicated to providing quality leadership and support throughout the business.
One of the ways he is hoping to achieve this is by focussing on the needs and aspirations of his work force.
“Going forward, one of my main priorities is creating a better culture and working environment for staff throughout the organisation,” he said. “It’s something I’m very passionate about.
“Maxol is already a great place to work and we are continuing to improve the working environment. My goal is for Maxol to also become a place where staff can learn and develop their career and be proud to be part of this great organisation.”
But it’s not just the contentment of Maxol workers that has Brian’s attention, it’s also their customers.
When speaking to Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer late last year, Brian had outlined his keen interest in customer data.
Now as CEO, he has wasted no time in putting data to the forefront of Maxol’s future.
“Data analytics are very important for the future,” he said. “It means that we will have the right insights to help us make the right decisions.
“As a business, we’re moving increasingly toward the food-service side of the industry, so there’s a bigger need to understand what’s selling and what isn’t so we can fine tune what we’re offering our customers.
“Data collection and analysis is very high on our agenda, but utilising that information correctly is a challenge and has become more complicated by working with other food franchises.
“However, we’re already making progress and it’s a significant part of how we are modernising the business.”
And while Maxol is diligently looking inwards, it’s also looking outwards, with a new television advertisement identifying the company’s forecourts as family friendly destinations.
Brian said: “We thought it was important to tell our customers how much we value customer service. We believe Maxol to be a focal point for many of our customers’ everyday lives.
“The ad has really helped build awareness and communicate that message.”
As Brian looks forward to completing his first 100 days in post, he is keen to highlight new additions to the Maxol team that are taking the company forward.
These include a new group project manager John Kennedy – an experienced engineer who will be working on planning applications and future designs for sites. Aoife Kearney is now looking after Maxol’s food projects, developing the award-winning Moreish range and supporting the roll out of further franchise partners. Norman Graham, meanwhile, is the new regional manager for independent dealers in Northern Ireland and Donegal.
And with projects like Maxol’s Tempelogue trial, where a trio of franchises – O’Brien’s, Bagel Factory, and Abracababra – are vying for customer attention, Brian has demonstrated he is not afraid of experimenting.
“We are investing and willing to be much more creative,” he said. “One model doesn’t fit all, so we need that point of difference across all our sites to appeal to different consumers across our network.
“Feedback so far has been very positive. It’s a very exciting time for the business, and along with my colleagues in Belfast and Dublin, the McMullan family, and those in Maxol Lubricants in Santry, Dublin, we’re very much looking forward to the future.”