At a youthful, and still very energetic, 69 years old, Clive Berlyn will give up his executive responsibilities after building Caltex Eastern Cape Marketer (CECM) into the biggest Caltex petrol station branded marketer operation in Southern Africa.
Berlyn’s company has investments in a staggering 108 Caltex retail outlets, spreading from Storms River to the eastern Transkei, and he believes it’s 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 says.
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 70’s and 80’s where he met his future business partner, Richard Ndungane. Together they turned a part-time side hustle of one petrol station in Umtata into a transformative business success story – Berlyn proudly shares “inside three years that Umtata station was the biggest pumper in the entire Caltex SA network.”
Berlyn says 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 sadly passed away in 2010 but his family retain a share in CECM while Stephen Dondolo has become the new empowerment partner.
When asked for the secret of his business success, Berlyn rattles 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.”
CECM has constantly grown employment opportunities and trained more than 2,400 Petrol Attendants across the business network, and it has led the way in the personal development of petrol station attendants with incentives, competitions, rewards programmes, and intensive training. “We wanted to make it a career for people and to help them to grow personally and financially. It’s no accident that our outlets consistently win national retail service awards.
CECM’s community engagement programmes are extensive and include investing in AIDS orphanages, school development programmes, bursaries, and local sports sponsorships.
Berlyn’s colleagues and associates offer their assessment of his success. Craig Scott attributes it to his “vision and mentorship” while Richard Bind vouches for his integrity, and notes how Clive “respects the people that he works with and surrounds himself with good competent managers and lets them get on with the job.”
Another key for Berlyn has been “keeping my fingers on the pulse”. 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 were the pioneers 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 credits 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.”
In return, Astron Energy’s Retail General Manager Price Njokweni says: “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 South Africa 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 IDZ’s more impactful and hope that Coega reaches its potential.” added Njokweni.
Berlyn will retain a role as a director of CECM but the Wild Coast water now beckons for this passionate diver and business driver.