Efficient and reliable deliveryNovember 2, 2021
Richard Atikpo, board chairman of Lemla Group, talks to The Energy Year about challenges in Ghana’s downstream and the company’s strategy for expanding its petroleum products retail and export businesses. Lemla Group is a Ghanaian conglomerate active in petroleum products trading, importation and distribution.
What are the main challenges affecting Ghana’s downstream sector?
Ghana consumes about 5 billion litres annually of oil and gas products. Our refinery isn’t able to meet that demand. We want the refinery to produce locally and meet that national demand so that importation is reduced. The prices would be more stable and foreign exchange exposures would be minimal. It would also make indigenous downstream companies strong enough to bring business into the country, exporting into landlocked countries or developing fuel storage infrastructure.
Which are the opportunities present in the domestic market for the development of fuel storage infrastructure?
In this dispensation where product integrity and quality are of utmost importance to consumers, Lemla Group would want to move away from the system of having products imported by different companies (albeit meeting Ghana’s import specifications) co-mingled in the various storage facilities around the country.
Our promise to our customers is the supply and distribution of clean petroleum products we can vouch for. That said, we would want to have our own storage terminal to guarantee an unmatched service delivery to our customers.
How would you describe your main business?
Lemla Group is a diversified business conglomerate which was established in 2013. We were acting as petroleum products brokers between international and local companies, then we realised that we had the muscles to import and distribute ourselves.
Currently we own two tankers. One has a 6,500-tonne capacity and the other has a 20,000-tonne capacity. We are able to import and bunker. We will continue to invest in our fleet of tankers to sustain our expansion.
Our vision is to become the number one reference point for efficient and reliable delivery of petroleum products to clients in Ghana and the ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] sub-region.
What have been Lemla Group’s milestones since its inception?
In 2018, we purchased an OMC [oil marketing company] licence called Gulf Energy and started aggressively importing. In 2019, we applied for a BDC [bulk distribution company] licence. We were then licensed to be importers, distributors and exporters of bulk oil products.
We’ve done large volumes, even in 2020. That year, we were third in ranking of indigenous companies in terms of imported cargo. In 2021, we are hoping to do 300,000 tonnes by the end of the year.
What is your fuel sales strategy within Ghana?
We’ve grown into the fuel retail business through Gulf Energy’s OMC licence. We are currently selling around 250 million litres per year of gasoline and gas oil products. Currently, we have about 60 retail outlets.
We supply bulk customers as well. We sell to BDCs and OMCs, and we sell to bulk customers like Ghacem and other sites that are not known in the open market – for instance, truck owners.
What are the company’s main ambitions for the long term?
We want to have our own tank farm. Also, instead of building a new refinery, we need to resurrect the TOR. We want to do that in partnership with the government. Beyond that, we’re looking forward to having our own oil block and moving upstream. And we’re working towards rendering marine support services and repair and refurbishment of old vessels at dry docks and at loading and discharge ports.
Is partnering with state-owned enterprises such as the TOR refinery one of Lemla’s priorities?
Yes, I think they need to give us a chance. Some of us are very aggressive because if you don’t show how serious you are with your own company, how will the government or state entity partner with you? You need to show seriousness before you will be given that opportunity. We have proven that we can do it.
Business is about integrity and being transparent. From 2019-2021, Lemla Group has paid about GHS 611 million [USD 101.6 million] to the government in taxes. It’s not about how much finance you have; it’s about how transparent you are and whether you keep your word. That is the key to business. Financing is one aspect but if you give your word, it must be a bond.
Do you look for foreign partners to create joint ventures?
At the beginning of 2018, the company resolved to secure strategic partners from Europe to enable its repositioning as the main source of petroleum products in Ghana.
As of today, we have a lot of foreign partners. We want to bring them on board to invest locally. But before you can get someone to invest locally they must be able to see what you’re doing locally. That’s why we’ve started aggressively investing locally – so when they bring in their investment, we’ll be able to protect it.
How do you pitch Ghana to investors?
Ghana is a peaceful country in West Africa. We are growing robustly in every area of our industry. In Ghana, you can do business without government involvement – it’s an open market. Once you have a strategic plan, you will be successful here. Investors can be assured that their investments will not be lost.
On top of all of that, there are huge returns. Most of the international companies in Ghana make their profits here and not in Europe.
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