INTERVIEW: Eugene Mayne, CEO, Tristar Group

Read our exclusive interview with Tristar Transport's CEO.
CEO Eugene Mayne founded Tistar in 1998 in Dubai with three used trucks.
CEO Eugene Mayne founded Tistar in 1998 in Dubai with three used trucks.

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Eugene Mayne, Tristar Group’s CEO, on what he looks for in new recruits, what makes a good leader and why the private sector can make a difference by giving back.

Since establishing Tristar Transport in Dubai in 1998 with three used trucks, Eugene Mayne, Tristar Group’s CEO, has transformed the company into a market leader in delivering integrated liquid logistics to the petroleum and chemical industries. The business operates in 13 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific and Central America, boasting a fleet in excess of 1,000 road tankers, pick-ups and flatbed trailers.

The company has developed a diversified portfolio of services ranging from road transportation, warehousing of dangerous goods and chemicals, management and operation of fuel farms, turnkey fuel operations, into-plane aviation fuel services, and ship owning and chartering for movement of petroleum and chemical products.

To find out more about Tristar Transport’s success, Logistic Middle East sat down with the man in charge, Eugene Mayne.

It’s been a memorable year for the CEO so far, with him accepting the Dubai Quality Appreciation Award on behalf of the company from His Highness Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, this summer as well as RoSPA’s Gold Award for Occupational Health & Safety for the third consecutive year.

Personal achievements abound as well with Mayne named by Forbes among its top 100 Indian leaders in the Arab world and among the top 25 3PL executives in the Middle East by Logistics Middle East. Commenting on the latter, Mayne remains humble about the accolade.

“It’s a very rewarding experience, to be recognised in the top 25 logistics leaders, not only for me personally; I represent the company, so it’s rewarding for our employees. When their leader is in a public forum like this, they feel really proud of the organisation,” he said.

Asked how would he describe his leadership style, Mayne revealed he doesn’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to being the boss.

“As a leader, you have to adapt your leadership style. I lean towards a more authoritarian style but there are times you have to be visionary and times you have to be empathetic. Sometimes employees need you to listen and I adopt a paternalistic leadership style.”

Mayne’s balancing act is clearly paying off with the company set to end 2014 on a high. He concedes that after a slow start, the second half of the year picked up for Tristar. A recent triumph is complex new work in Africa, where the company has a significant presence.

“We have just landed a large contract in central Africa, starting on 15th September, to build infrastructure and a logistics network from A to Z to ensure we’re able to supply fuel to peacekeeping organisations,” he shared.

“There are a lot of conflicts in these regions with troops keeping the peace. We are charged with building the entire network, managing the site and supplying fuel to the end users. We’re working in difficult environments but this is what we do very well.

“We build solutions and this is what people come to us for. Where there are no roads, we try to take the aerial route or we bring in special trucks to deal with difficult terrain. It is our job to find solutions to bring fuel to people in the middle of the jungle, for example.”

Tristar also recently started operations in Liberia, which Mayne explained is part of the company’s overall strategy of extending its geographical footprint by at least one country per year. As a firm that’s used to operating in Africa, Mayne takes the ongoing problems posed by the Ebola virus in his stride, despite having to evacuate his workforce.

“The wellbeing of the people came first and we have to ensure they’re safe and protected. We work in very challenging environments and we never deviate from our people’s safety being the first priority. Our safety culture starts at the very top and can be seen in the behaviour and performance of every one of our employees,” he stated.

Safety was also a key factor in another achievement far closer to home; the launch of a logistics centre for dangerous goods in Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza).

“We want to specialise in dangerous goods handling and since there is a chemical zone established in the freezone this is the ideal location for us,” Mayne said.

“As part of our culture and the requirements, safety and security is of prime importance. Jafza is doing very well and driving best practices. We are a long-term resident of Jafza and our parent company Agility is also present in the freezone, so now is the right time to open a facility inside it.”

Another development of note is Tristar’s recently inked deal to partner with the Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) in setting up a new 50:50 joint venture in Saudi Arabia. Focused on specialised logistics services for the petroleum and chemicals sectors in that country, the company operates as Integrated Logistics Company. Under the terms of the agreement, Tristar has management responsibility to build and operate a 500-strong trucking fleet in the next three to five years.

Speaking about the deal, Mayne remarked that the venture is an ideal platform for Tristar.

“ENOC wanted a larger presence in Saudi and we have a very strong brand. It is a great achievement to be selected by a government department,” he asserted.

“Strategically it is important to have a strong partner when moving into Saudi Arabia as a lot of your success is based on local relationships. We had a presence in all of the GCC region apart from Saudi Arabia, so we are pleased we have found the right partner with the right synergy that we were always looking for. Saudi is a huge market, the biggest in the GCC region, so we’re going after the low hanging fruit.”

Besides new opportunities, Mayne is also continually on the lookout for the right talent to join the company as it progresses, mulling new appointments carefully.

Elaborating on desirable qualities in employees, Mayne confessed: “I personally look for a certain feeling with prospective employees and I use my intuition. We have to get along. Recruitment is an investment and I want that person to be with us for a long time, so I take my time in recruiting.

“Obviously I look for knowledge but apart from that I want to see leadership, commitment, and a person who goes the extra mile, needing minimum supervision. I think we have been successful in this respect and we have a very good team.”

The company’s team no doubt benefits from strong direction under Mayne, a man who clearly enjoys his role at the helm.

For anyone wishing to emulate the CEO, Mayne quipped that his advice would be “to wear the boss’s shoes for a week and see what it feels like”.

He believes it is results orientated individuals who tend to move up the ladder.

“It doesn’t matter if you sit in the office from 9am to 6pm – companies look for people who produce results and that requires hard work and commitment. You can’t be the boss unless you have these basic core qualities,” he shared.

“The other important thing to have is good principals and ethics; you have to lead from the front and people are looking up to you. You are the face of the organisation and you must consider what kind of message you send to employees, stakeholders and customers.”

Indeed, Mayne is a man who follows his own advice as Tristar has been extremely active in supporting worldwide charities, including flood relief support in Pakistan, recycling programmes in Democratic Republic of Congo, and road safety education in Oman and the UAE.

The company supports the promotion of education in all of its operating areas, and runs its own school in Juba, South Sudan. Tristar is also actively involved in promoting education in Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and Haiti.

“I believe that it is private sector companies like us that can do a lot for the community and the environment,” he remaked when asked why CSR initiatives are so important to him.

“If all private sector companies became responsible businesses, we could make a real difference. Tristar fosters a culture of giving back and personally I like to do things for people, so I incorporate that into the business. We work in places like Africa where we see poverty and strife first hand, so doing whatever we can gives us a lot of satisfaction.”

In the same vein, Tristar’s ongoing road safety campaign in schools and among its employees is “an all-round effort”.

He explained: “Children need to gain an understanding of the need for road safety and they are a big influence on parents, so giving them that message is important.

“We work with RoSPA [the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents] to spread the message in the community partly because transport and logistics is our key business. Our trucks are on the road 24-hours a day, so it’s in our own interest and in the community’s interest for all road users to think about road safety. Being respectful of other road users leads to fewer accidents. It’s about attitude and habits.

“I think we have been successful in spreading the message and I see safety improving. Dubai Police want zero deaths [per 100,000 people] on the roads by 2030 and we’re doing what we can to support that initiative.”

With our interview coming to a close and more meetings to attend immediately afterwards, I wonder how much time Mayne gets to spend in one place, though evidently he thrives from a somewhat hectic lifestyle.

“My work takes priority but it’s a balancing act,” the busy CEO revealed. “I like to spend time in Dubai and I do have to manage a lot of things from here, as Dubai is home to our headquarters, but at the same time I need to manage the field operations. When we got out first contract in Sudan in 2006, for example, I went with the idea of staying for a week and I didn’t come back for six months because there were so many challenges.

“All that matters though is the end result and I do whatever it takes.”

This is something Mayne leaves me in no doubt about and I suspect, with Tristar well into its second decade, he’s just getting warmed up.

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