Interview: Eugenia Benavides shares views on industry issues and tips for newcomers
Eugenia Benavides is currently serving her second term as an IBIA board member. Here she tells us how she became involved in the bunker industry, her engagement with IBIA, what she sees as the major issues and dispenses some insights into what anyone thinking of a career in this industry should consider.
Eugenia was born and raised in Barranquilla. She has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and two further graduate degrees in maritime and international business from universities in Colombia. In 1984, she began working for Organization Terpel, a major Colombian oil company as an intern and has advanced over the years holding various positions. Since 2004, when Terpel del Norte merged with Organizacion Terpel and reorganized, Eugenia has been working solely in the marine business and she is currently the Sales Director of Marine Fuels for Colombia.
Eugenia has been active for several years as a speaker and panelist at various bunker events, and she taught the IBIA Bunker basic course on several occasions. She was first elected to serve as an IBIA board member in April 2011, and was reelected to serve an additional three year period in 2014. Currently, she is also honorary treasurer for 2016-2017 period and IBIA’s Convention Committee chair for the third year in a row. She also participates in IBIA’s marketing, communication and finance working groups.
The first international bunker event that I assisted was in May 1993 in Orlando when IBIA was established. I BELIEVE IN ACTION has been my motto ever since. At that time, Terpel was just starting in the marine business; IFOs were new to us. The bunker business is a completely different business compared to other fuels segments and other business. Thanks to Rob Fitzgerald we learned of the event and joined. The event was a game changer for Terpel. I established a lot of contacts and friends that I remain in touch with to this date.
Terpel is a distributor of fuel in Colombia for automobiles, aircraft and vessels, and produces and sell lubricants. We are the market leaders in fuel and gas sales for vehicles in Colombia, and we also have operations in Panama, Ecuador, and in aviation in the Dominican Republic. In the marine business, we offer marine gas oil and marine lubricants at the main terminals in Colombia, as well as in international terminals located in Panama.
Has the bunker industry changed much since you first became involved with this sector?
Yes it has changed. Many new small companies are coming to the market as physical suppliers in the countries where we operate. Worldwide traders have disappeared. New technical specifications have appeared. New alternative fuels are coming.
Is the bunker industry in Colombia unique or are the principles for running a successful operation there much the same as in other countries?
The bunker industry in Colombia has many issues. We only have one state-owned refinery that supplies the raw materials to the players who blend and produce the IFOs. In Colombia the product used for IFOs is transported from the refinery by trucks, often more than 1,000 kilometers, to the different ports where the final product is then blended and delivered. This makes it different. Here in Colombia the same company that supplies the product also owns the barges, making it different from Panama where one company owns the barges and another company sells the fuels. Also we don’t have any bunkers delivered by pipeline.
Are there any specific issues that are particularly important to you and your business?
I think one of the issues is the alternative fuels and sulphur content of fuels as we depend on the products that the refinery supplies.
What are the opportunities and challenges for IBIA in your region?
IBIA has a lot to develop in the America’s area. We need to get more companies involved in the association as only 12% of IBIA’s membership worldwide is based in the Americas. So there are a lot of companies in the Americas that should get involved in IBIA, such as ship associations, port authorities, and physical suppliers in each country.
I also think that we should establish an America´s branch.
How does being a member of IBIA benefit your role and your company?
Being in IBIA has given me the opportunity to know more about the bunker business, network worldwide, meet suppliers, port authorities, traders and brokers from all over the world, meet key players in the industry, participate in forums, convention and bunker events, know different cultures and get information on legal and technical on maritime issues.
And of course learn about my colleagues experience in other countries.
What made you decide to stand for election to the board of IBIA?
IBIA is the most important organisation in the bunker business and is an association that is really necessary for the maritime industry. It is really exciting being part of it and I am very passionate about the industry.
Through my tenure at the board, I have improved my company’s profile in the industry and increased networking. In 2010, I received a call from my friend, the late Argentinian Alejandro Risler, who encouraged me to run for the post he was vacating. I followed his advice, but was not recommended by the BDC the first time. With Alejandro’s support, I was elected the following year.
I believe that I am a good board member as I am extremely enthusiastic and actively participate in the association, and the bunker one is my passion.
I believe that my energy and commitment will help IBIA break down local barriers and open up the organisation to many more people, especially within the Americas community where today IBIA needs to improve its presence as I have previously stated.
Do you have any message for other members considering getting involved with working groups, regional executive committees or considering standing for the Board?
I think if we want to change the status quo we have to work for it. Complaining will not bring results. We are a team of all players in the industry. This is not just a small group. We need people from our big interactive family with various different activities in various regions that share the same interests. If we work together we can bring about change. We need to come together to create awareness about the issues that are affecting and will affect our market,
We need new people, new generations, millennials, to get involved in the association to innovate and develop new projects,
Do you have any tips for someone considering a career in the bunker industry today?
I will share a few tips and recommendations:
- Update through training courses
In a changing and global environment like we operate in, we should be updated through training courses within the company and outside, to maintain and develop skills. There are lot of courses in the bunker business and an academy as well.
- English is not enough
A second or even third language is needed in this global business. This will increase your profile.
- Boost your networking
In this business is not only important to increase knowledge and develop management skills but is also necessary to develop and maintain professional relationships. As things are changing you cannot loose contact with anyone. Participate in IBIA’s annual conventions, as well as maritime weeks and bunker conferences that are held today on all continents. Choose the nearest one in your area. The annual IBIA dinner during IP week is a must in this industry.
- Read and be informed
Information is the key to success. The press and all the specialised publications in this particular business are great to focus on the current market demands. Subscribe for free e-shots in all the specialised companies and publications in the bunker and maritime business and then decide where to take out full subscriptions. At least you will be seeing the headlines of what is going on every day. Read the full collection of the bunker books that are in the market, in particular those written by Nigel Draffin.
- Research your basic stakeholders
Join an association like IBIA where you will constantly get updated information about the industry. It is also a way of knowing which companies are in the market, regions and leading certain projects. We have different types of memberships. I am sure one will fit your budget.
- Be at the forefront of technology
To be competitive in today’s market you must always be connected in order to interact with your customers, suppliers, traders and competitors. Have every App on your phone and stay connected via the fullest possible range of desktop facilities.