Forte Oil Embraces New Beginning

One year after the official unveiling of Forte Oil Plc as the new name of the erstwhile African Petroleum Plc, the company has embarked on a new look for some of its outlets, reports  Raheem Akingbolu
 
A recent visit to the flagship station of the former African Petroleum Plc on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, provided an insight into the effort being made by the current handlers of the brand to draw a line between the past and present. Aside the name change to Forte Oil, the logo and other elements of the company have also followed suit.
 
The new identity colours of the brand are now a mixture of leaf green, spring green, white and lime, which the company believes are vibrant colours that depict transparency and verve for innovativeness.
 
In an interview, the head of Brand & Communications in the company, Mrs. Nkiru Olumide-Ojo, told THISDAY that the vision of Forte Oil is to be the preferred energy solutions provider that exceeds the expectations of customers. Speaking on what informed the change of identity, she said, “Having operated in Nigeria for over five decades as both British Petroleum/African Petroleum, the board took a decision to refresh our business outlook and thereon the name.
 
“With us, it is not just a change of name but a complete restructuring of our business into a lean, talent based and technology-driven organisation that is more responsive to the customer's need.”
 
To this end, she added that beyond the physical changes, the company has also taken a step further by embarking on reorientation of staff of the company to be able to align with the new order. “To make sure everything conforms to the modern way of doing business, the management of Forte Oil is carrying everybody along in this process so that the rebranding can take place simultaneously in both the physical and internal operations of the refreshed brand,” she said.
 
According to Olumide-Ojo, the revolution that began with the completion of the rebranding exercise at the Ikoyi gas station will soon cover the entire country, where the company has fuel outlets. Speaking further, she revealed that the conceptualisation of the new logo was carried out by Brand Union, a South African-based brand design agency and that the management has just embarked on the process of appointing a Nigerian agency to handle all its above and below the line communications.
 
On why the company settled for a foreign agency, she explained that “working with Brand Union was done by referral. Being an indigenous company (Forte Oil) with an international outlook, we wanted a company who had designed what we choose to call 'exportable brands'.”
 
Considering the fact that most fundamental business decisions are made at the end of each financial year, which often coincides with the end of the calendar year, the timing of the general overhaul in the company could be said to be timely. These decisions are often taken to give organisations and business owners the opportunity to appraise the year drawing to a close, preparatory for the challenges of the succeeding year.
 
Usually, many organiations use the period to give a facelift at this time of year while some go the whole hog of a complete rebranding. Also, given the fact that a lot is being done currently to reform the oil and gas sector, the decision by the management of Forte Oil to refresh its operations, may be a well calculated step to playing a leading role in the emerging oil and gas industry.
 
All over the world, rebranding is seen as the creation of a new name, term, symbol, design or a combination of all of the above for an established brand, with the intention of developing a differentiated (new) position in the mind of stakeholders and competitors. From just a change of visual identity, rebranding is seen as an overall brand strategy for a product or service.
 
It was therefore not surprising, when management of AP Plc rallied its shareholders, customers and other stakeholders in the oil industry to the unveiling of its new corporate name, Forte Oil Plc last year.
 
Meanwhile, contrary to the perception in some quarters that the old name of the company had become a burden for the brand and necessitated the rebranding, the company has stated that the change of name was borne mainly out of the need to meet the changes in today's extremely dynamic business environment. 
 
“Both BP and AP are part of our brand DNA. Rebranding for us was not just a name or logo change, but a transformation strategy to build a high performance company,” the company stated.
 
Brand experts have, however, pointed out that the name change exercise is just a completion of a cycle of transformation for oil firms privatised by the federal government in the last decade. The AP initiative is the last of the three oil marketing firms privatised by the federal government between 2001 and 2007 to be rebranded. The other two were National Oil Marketing and Chemical Company Plc which changed to ConOil, and Uniperol which changed to Oando.
 
When AP started its restructuring last year, the company had indicated that it would soon begin a fundamental rebranding exercise which would lead to the change of its logo, colours and other associated elements of branding. Immediately the announcement was made, brand communications firms began to submit bids for the project. One year after, a South African-based agency and some local agencies were said to have been signed on to breathe fresh air into the brand.
 
Already, staff of the company are said to have undergone comprehensive training in order to key in with a corresponding positive approach to the company's vision and objectives. Industry affairs commentators said the change initiative is bound to be followed by a change of focus and a comprehensive turnaround which is aimed at preparing the company for the emerging challenges in the business climate.
 
Chairman of the company, Mr. Femi Otedola, who described the name, AP as a tired brand, attested to the increasingly challenging environment which has necessitated the need to reposition the company in the minds of its teeming customers.
Addressing stakeholders at the unveiling of the new corporate identity last year, Otedola said the oil and gas industry was not left out of the massive negative impact of the 2008-9 economic and socio-political environment.
 
 
Transformation Agenda
In addition to the image transformation, the company is also said to be planning a complete modernisation of the company using similar templates that are of global standard. According to a source, old staff of the company, especially those who see AP as an extension of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, which once held controlling interest in AP, have since been honed  to understand the dynamics of today's business so as to actualise the dreams that informed the rebranding exercise.
 
AP at some point became synonymous with controversies, a development that seriously affected the performance of the company. These issues included the alleged share price manipulation and internal wrangling allegedly fuelled by some staff of the company.
 
However, officials of the company said Forte Oil is a company that has emerged from AP with a mission to stamp its authority in the oil marketing sector and to give its stakeholders, including shareholders better value for their investment.
 
Otedola, in a meeting with the shareholders last year, said the new name was part of the strategic plan of the company to make a fresh start and do away with the past which has tainted by all sorts of controversies.
 
Clearly, upbeat, he declared that as things stand today, Forte Oil Plc does not owe any bank in Nigeria or abroad. “This company is sound and strong, and can only grow stronger, and we are determined to achieve that.”
 
AP Plc has had a chequered past since 2001 when it was sold to Sadiq Petroleum under the privatisation programe, which in turn sold its shares back to NNPC and Afribank Plc. It was eventually resold to Otedola shortly after the federal government rejected a cheque from rival businessman Jimoh Ibrahim to acquire the company early in 2007. From the change of ownership to management crisis, the company has suffered a loss of confidence by its stakeholders.
 
In the 2009 financial year, the company declared a loss but quickly recovered to declare a second quarter 2010 unaudited profit before tax of N794 million. Most of the shareholders, who spoke on its transformation, expressed delight at the turnaround that the company has undergone.
 
Stakeholders' Expectation
From the moment the new ownership and management took over AP, they have made it clear that part of the strategy was to undertake a total review of the entire business processes of the company.
 
Speaking on the transformation, an analyst, Mr. John Ajayi, said he was not in doubt that Mr. Otedola would bring his understanding of the oil and gas terrain and marketing experience to bear so that the brand can get to the preferred destination.
 
Ajayi, who publishes Marketing Edge, a marketing communications magazine, however, stated that staff would need to be trained, especially attendants at its various stations to be alive to the new order and master the basic elements of customer service to attract customers.
 
Another commentator, Mrs. Johnson, who described the rebranding in the company as a welcome development, tasked the handlers of the brand on the need to make sure that things are done in a way that that the shortcomings of the past would not resurface.
 
In what looks like a response to these observations, Olumide-Ojo had stated that massive research was undertaken on how to improve on the relationship between the brand and members of the public before embarking on the exercise. She pointed out that every member of the company has fully bought into the new system and that the management expects a high level of brand adoption in the next one year.
 
“We are optimistic that this will begin to translate to positive returns in our revenue and will benefit our numerous shareholders. Since our first outing as a new brand, we have received very heartwarming reviews on our brand look and feeling. Our business partners are also very keen to have their outlets rebranded. The most common descriptive word used to welcome our new brand is: 'very refreshing'.”
 
 
Long Journey
Incorporated as British Petroleum Nigeria Limited in 1964, the company transformed into African Petroleum in 1979 under the indigenisation programme of the federal government, with NNPC holding 60 percent of the shares in the company.
 
Today, Forte Oil Plc boasts of a retail network of over 500 filling and service stations across the country, with thousands of shareholders. It has a lubricant blending plant of 50,000 metric tons while its subsidiaries include AP Oil Services Nigeria Limited (wholly owned) and AP Ghana Limited (wholly owned). These two companies are also undergoing rebranding.

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