Comoil (Pvt) Ltd is one of the first indigenous fuel companies in Zimbabwe. It was established in 2000 after the liberalization of the petroleum marketing and distribution sector in Zimbabwe. The industry had been dominated by foreign owned brands such as Total and BP and the change in government regulation offered indigenous business people with an interest in energy to also have a seat at the table. Since its formation, the management control was given to external individuals for the first two decades of its operation.
Comoil was not spared from the economic turbulence in Zimbabwe over the years and the operation that once boasted 15 retail sites and large commercial distribution began to dwindle. A time came for the baton to be passed from the founding generation to the next which marked Natasha Kasukuwere’s entry into the management structures.
To date, Comoil employs 50 people and hopes to further the employment creation objective by developing new sites and allowing more people to join the workforce.
When I started studying law at the University of Zimbabwe, it never crossed my mind that I would end up on the path I am on now. It all seemed a little bit farfetched and I had one goal; to work for the United Nations or have a nice 8-5 job in a bank. Life had other plans for me and I found myself stepping out of my comfort zone and into something I could not have even dreamt about. My story is different, it is one of taking the reins of a business that was already existing, with infrastructure and a management team but had inherent challenges of its own. It is a story about keeping a brand alive beyond its original owners and trying to create a legacy in a country that has not easily afforded business people a chance to do so. I believe that there has never been a better time for young people, and young women in particular, to start educating themselves, readying themselves for positions of corporate influence and making an impact in the business world.
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and 20 years into Comoil’s operations, I left my job as a Senior Audit Assistant at Deloitte Zimbabwe in May 2020. I made a decision to use the skills I had obtained working in other organizations to try and selvage what was left of the business and build it back up on those ruins.
When I started at Comoil, two service stations were operating and I am proud to say that we now operate 5 retail sites located in Harare, Dotito, Kadoma, Lupane and Mutare. This number continues to grow as there are plans to develop new service stations. We also having a growing list of commercial clients ranging to farms, mines, manufacturers to name a few. I managed to steer the company out of debt and negotiate supply agreements with fuel traders. This has seen the business grow from strength the strength.
The position we are in today has not been without its own challenges. Running a business that is flagged for political exposure has resulted in several bottlenecks in accessing finance. This has resulted in me having to think outside the box where raising funds is concerned and have the business grow organically. While I would love to grow the business at a faster rate, our challenges have taught us financial discipline, integrity and that nothing worth having comes easily.
Being a woman in a male dominated industry also comes with its own set of drawbacks. I struggled to get serious clients as I was new in the industry with a brand whose visibility was fading. I even had challenges with staff who saw me as the little girl they watched grow up who was now calling the shots at an organization formed when she was 5 years old. Change is always difficult and even more so when some believe that a woman’s place is only in the home, looking after children. I was encouraged and supported by other women in energy and that went a long way in building my confidence and getting my feet cemented in this new industry.
Comoil is on its way to scaling greater heights and I am enthusiastic about the opportunities opening up within the country. The words of John F Kennedy encapsulate my journey thus far: “we do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard.”