How fuel distributor Clipper Petroleum is managing high gas prices, according to the CFO
High gasoline prices in the U.S. may have nearly two-thirds of Americans changing their lifestyles, but fuel distributors are feeling the squeeze as well.
“It’s been difficult to manage because obviously, it eats your cash,” Clipper Petroleum, Inc. CFO Candice Clark told me. Clipper is a Georgia-based family-run private company led by Tom Bower serving the North Georgia, Atlanta and South Carolina markets with just under 500 employees across its businesses. It’s a fuel distributor of brands such as BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Marathon, and Texaco. Among its businesses are also gas station convenience stores, and restaurant franchises.
“When your contracts start coming into play, that’s when the cash flow is affected,” Clark says. “For example, let’s say with BP, we may be on a net three-day terms with them. So, we have to pay them within three days of the time of purchase.” However, the “mom and pop shops” Clipper delivers fuel to are on net seven-day pay terms, she says. “We’ve already had to pay BP for that fuel and there’s gonna be a four-day gap between when we get our money back from the customer,” Clark says. “That’s when it starts dwindling your cash flow, and you have to manage that a lot more tightly as far as your expenses go.”
Another hurdle is how employees at Clipper convenience stores are treated by customers when gas prices are high, Clark says. “People are upset when they have to pay over $4 a gallon,” she says. “So, then your customers are not as friendly when they come in. Now your staff has to deal with irate customers, and it makes their job more stressful. When they’re entry-level, ‘They’re like, I don’t get paid enough to deal with this.’ And now you have high turnover at your gas stations.” The company has to take a loss for the cost of training and uniforms for the individuals who quit, she says.
As a result, Clipper has given out incremental retention bonuses for employees to stay past the 90-day mark, Clark says. “For example, if you stay 60 days, you get $100 bucks,” she says. They’re also implementing referral bonuses, she says.
Clark, age 39, joined Clipper as a controller in 2015. And the Georgia State University grad was promoted to CFO in April 2021. The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, which halted all of the oil pipeline’s operations, occurred within a month of Clark becoming finance chief.
“I had to immediately start working closely with ownership with our wholesale division,” Clark says. Then she had to base fuel allocation to customers on historical sales. “I was having to pull information on how much fuel they were buying prior to this to make sure that we didn’t overly favor someone,” she says. “If you were buying a certain amount of loads before Colonial, that’s how many loads you’re gonna get.”
Clark says she loves the problem-solving opportunities her CFO role at Clipper provides. “The oil industry is unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced before,” she explains. “It’s one of those industries that has a high washout rate—you either get in it and love it, or you get in it and you hate it, and you move on very quickly.”
However, it’s also an industry where there’s a lack of women in leadership roles, especially women of color, she says. “A lot of times, when we meet with vendors or potential customers, I’m the only person of color in that room,” she says. “I just don’t see that type of representation in our industry. And I’d love to see that change.”
But there is a sense of allyship and sponsorship that exists among women in the industry, Clarks says.
“When I started at Clipper and got involved in different projects among departments, I got on the radar of the owner’s daughters, and they are big-time women’s advocates,” she says. When the prior CFO decided to retire, they championed for Clark to step into the role, she says. “It was their voices,” Clark says. “And they spoke very highly and strongly as an advocate for me.”
See you tomorrow.
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