Gulf Oil Lubricants India has grown at a CAGR of 11-12% over the last decade, says Ravi Chawla to BrandSutra
Gulf Oil Lubricants India has grown at a CAGR of 11-12% over the last decade, says Ravi Chawla to BrandSutra

Ravi Chawla, MD & CEO, Gulf Oil Lubricants India, is currently in the news, having just entered the high potential Electric Vehicle (EV) charging space by investing in Indra Renewable Technologies, a UK-based EV and smart energy technology company, to tap into a market of the future. Here, he takes us through his 30-year career that made him evolve as a marketer, including the last 10+ years at Gulf Oil, where he has successfully grown and built the brand

I started young in business…

I belong to a Sindhi business family from Mumbai. When I was barely 20, I started a small business with my friends to sell tennis shorts to a store called Amarsons in Breach Candy. While playing tennis, we realized that we didn't have elastic shorts that were only available abroad then. So, we copied a few designs and got the shorts tailored and started the business. I also used to record video cassettes of movies to sell to various stores and video libraries. My family business was money-lending, but I never thought of joining it. I am passionate about people. I wanted to do something that impacts people. What better than marketing, where you can make an impact over thousands or millions of people? That was my call to be a marketer.

Making of a marketer…

I started my career with Wipro Consumer Products in sales, where the brands we developed were Santoor and Shikakai, based on marketing insights. My first real marketing opportunity came when I joined the luggage company Aristocrat which had been taken over by Blow Plast. We had to set up marketing there – right from shortlisting the agency, creating the new brand look, to doing the campaigns. Then I joined CEAT Tyres as product manager; it became No.1 in car tyres, car radials and two-wheeler tyres, partially due to what we did and partially building on the work of our predecessors. I worked with top agencies like HTA and Ulka on marketing and communication, and really understood the value propositions, above the line and below the line marketing, pricing et al to position the brand. I set up retail chains called CEAT Shoppes, really getting the business off the ground. Around that time, I got married, and figured I needed a better salary. So I joined a multinational, Polaroid, handling the passport photo business in India, marketing the ubiquitous ‘one-minute passport photo’. After that, I moved to American motor oil company Pennzoil and spent eight years there. When Pennzoil was acquired by Shell, I learnt a lot about international marketing. Subsequently, I joined Mahindra Tractors for a year. In 2007, I got an offer to join Gulf Oil as president of the lubricants business.

The Gulf Oil challenge…

At Gulf Oil Lubricants India, which is part of the Hinduja Group, I could bring together all my learnings in my earlier jobs, because lubricants is a very low-involvement category and a lot of ingenuity was called for. Gulf Oil was an international brand and had entered India in the mid-80s. I brought in a few changes — one of them being major brand-building. Gulf Oil was known as a motorsport brand, but motorsports were hardly big in India. So, we took on cricket. Our Chairman Sanjay Hinduja introduced us to IPL cricket, and a tie-up with Kings XI. As the market leader brand had been entrenched in the market for more than 8-9 decades, we were the new kid on the block in terms of market investments, and we took it on with IPL. Our brand values are care, courage, inspiration, youth and endurance. We iterated ‘youth’ with IPL, and also signed on MS Dhoni as our brand ambassador. From Kings XI, we moved to Chennai Super Kings; through cricket, we were able to take the Gulf Oil brand from No. 6 or 7 in the category to among Top 3. Last year, we became the No. 2 brand as per our internal brand track (involving 3,000 customers) in terms of total top of mind awareness and brand considerations. Globally, our brand is also tied up with Manchester United, and in 2020, we announced our tie-up globally with McLaren. We’ve had various associations with Moto GP championships. We also have Hardik Pandya fronting our allied business in batteries. Thanks to sports, we now have a good cocktail to become a strong challenger brand.

In all this, my challenge has been that we can’t make very large investments; we have to earn and invest. We have adopted a segment-wise brand play strategy, systematically investing in areas that we know will work. We invest close to 6-7% of the revenue in the brand. We have grown our business volume 11-12% CAGR over the last decade, whereas the industry has grown only by 2-3%. Looking at a decade of growth, we had Rs 18 crore profit in 2008-09; today, it is Rs 280 crore. It’s satisfying for me that I manage and run the organization, but still contribute to marketing on a daily basis.

Ravi Chawla, MD & CEO, Gulf Oil Lubricants India
I am a big foodie and a sports buff; if I'm watching a sport, I lose myself completely in it. If I am exhausted, I only have to watch a game to boost my energy. In the COVID-19 pandemic situation, I have realized that one’s family and close people are the most important. I look forward to time with family and touching people’s lives by doing good for them.

Betting on the EV game…

Gulf Oil International, our parent company, had initiated a tie-up with Indra Renewable Technologies, which has 5% market-share in the home-charging market in Europe. With this investment, we have exclusive rights to bring the Indra technology to India. The cars and LCVs home-charging business will take off in India; so, this investment will give us a play there. We’ll also request Indra to get into two-wheelers later. We have some relations with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), some real estate companies, garages, about 8,000 bike stops and 2,500 car stops. About 2,000 car stops and a few bike stops are currently branded Gulf Oil in the open market. So, we can look at this opportunity for Indra. How soon the market develops is to be seen; electric vehicles will definitely be big in may be 15-20 years from now, so this is our foray into the EV value chain. Our B2C brand has done well; we also want to build our B2B brand, going forward.

You have to be consistent…
I've always worked for challenger brands, which probably makes me always work a little harder. But there are situations where even if you try your best, you get a certain percentage of success, not a 100% ever. Keep trying, even if you fail, your efforts should be consistent.

At Pennzoil, I had a boss who had come from Procter and Gamble. An excellent marketer, he made us come up with the best campaigns with our agency, Chaitra Leo Burnett, but we did not get to use them or air them the way we wanted due to cost pressure and other issues. The learning is that there are lots of good ideas, but you should have the resources to back them consistently to get success.

At Gulf Oil, being consistent is my biggest challenge — how do I empower my team, people who have good ideas, pick the winning ones. I try to give good resources to programmes which benefit the brand and the organization. I recently listened to a very interesting song ‘Unstoppable’. Unstoppable is the theme now for our next four-year plan.

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