Mega-fuel marketer switches to lower gear

Clive Berlyn
Clive Berlyn

Caltex Eastern Cape Marketer (CECM) head Clive Berlyn will be stepping down from business.

The 69-year-old, from East London, wants to take time to focus on charity work, travelling and  fishing.

CECM has a supply arrangement with 108 fuel retailers throughout the Eastern Cape, spreading from Storms River to the eastern parts of the old Transkei.

It owns 42 sites, a big chunk of Caltex’s nearly 900 fuel stations.

Berlyn believes it is now time to let others run the show.

“I want to get involved in an Aids charity, do some travelling, and indulge in much more diving and fishing,” he said.

Berlyn was born in East London into  what he describes as “a very average, blue-collar home”.

He lives in the city now, but says his heart and soul is in the Transkei.

After gaining an accountancy qualification at the then University of Port Elizabeth, he worked for several boards and development agencies in the Transkei homeland in the 1970s and 80s where he met his future business partner, Richard Ndungane.

Together they turned a part-time side hustle of one petrol station in Mthatha into a transformative business success story.

Berlyn said within three years that particular Mthatha station was the biggest pumper in the entire Caltex SA network.

He said his relationship with Ndungane was “a genuine business partnership based on trust and honesty – we didn’t always agree, but we did always find a way to build the business”.

Ndungane died in 2010 but his family retain a share in CECM while businessman Stephen Dondolo, from Uitenhage, has become the new empowerment partner.

Asked about the secret to his business success, Berlyn rattled off a long list.

“It’s never just one thing. I got great advice from one of my first bosses when he told me there would always be a job for anyone who worked hard.

“So, you have to put in the hours and pay attention to the details, and be passionate about the business – live, eat and sleep it.

“And you have to really care about everyone who works for you and with you, and the communities you operate in.”

He has been an active member of retailer councils and industry bodies, and always made sure that he anticipated change and shaped it in his favour as best he could.

The prime example is how CECM was the pioneer  of the branded marketer model for Caltex in 2005.

“Everyone doubted what we were doing and no bank would lend us R10m to get the new concept rolling for 32 stations, but we finally got the funding and, by the time we wanted to double our scale again in 2012, the banks were queuing up to lend us well over R100m.” 

Berlyn also credited his relationships with Caltex and the brand’s owners – first Chevron and, since last year, Astron Energy.

“Of course, we’ve had our differences in this long journey but they have been good guys to do business with – their word is their word.”

Astron Energy  retail general manager Price Njokweni said: “It’s been a fabulous journey with Clive and CECM.

“They have led the way boldly and set the standards for the business model, fuel retailing and customer service.

“Berlyn is pragmatically optimistic about the future of SA and his beloved Eastern Cape.

“There is money to be made and growth to be delivered, but we have to get more industrial development in East London, make the IDZs more impactful and hope that Coega reaches its potential.”

Berlyn will retain a role as a director of CECM but the Wild Coast water now beckons for this passionate diver and business driver.

*This article was amended to remove the paragraph which makes reference to the ownership of Astron Energy.