Three decades have passed since we started trading at the end of 1991. In many ways the business is the same as it always has been, but in other ways it’s changed beyond all recognition. So, who better to ask about it than June Heron, our longest serving member who has been here since the start.
After leaving school, June worked at the Capper Pass smelting company in Melton, near Hull. As the 1980s drew to an end, the plant was about to close down and she was facing redundancy: “I had another six months of guaranteed work,” she says, “but I started looking for jobs and came across one at Maritime Bunkering, which was part of Rix. I thought, well I don’t know about shipping, but I decided to apply anyway.”
June got the job but left soon after, having been offered a position by her colleague Dave Gregory, who was leaving to set up rival trading company Sea Bunkering. Together with Ed Denyer, Dave and June started up the business and began selling fuel to vessels sailing in and out of the Humber Estuary, as agents of Conoco Phillips.
“Back then it was just back-to-back trades, there was none of the physical supply that we have now”, she says. “We did a lot of silly trades, sometimes just adding 25p a tonne, it was all really tight. Because we were based on the Humber, we could see the ships coming in – we’d have binoculars in the office, see a ship coming past and rush over to the window.” The most valuable resource in the office back then was the Blue Book – a directory of all the ships in the UK and who owned them. Traders picked up the phone to try and sell fuel, and that’s how deals were done.
Since then technology has transformed almost everything about the marine fuel business, and June’s job is no exception. “When I first started working at Sea Bunkering, I did absolutely everything – the payments, the accounts, all the paperwork. Nowadays we can make deliveries of 300 tonnes, but back then it was lots of small deliveries, maybe 10, 20 or 30 tonnes, and there were lots of them, sometimes 150 jobs a week. They all needed paperwork and it was all manually done – so we had piles and piles of paper, boxes and boxes of files.
“The banking is all electronic too now of course, but back then we had to hand-write all the transfers for foreign payments, and physically go to the bank with cheques. The enquiries would come in over the telex machine and we had handwritten sheets with all the details about the port, the buy and sell prices – everything was just scribbled on a piece of paper.”
Over the last 30 years, the business of bunkering has become a global affair and the company has evolved into a major physical supplier with two ships, a road transport network and fuel storage tanks up and down the UK. There are currently 19 employees instead of three, so nowadays (unlike before when everybody mucked in to do a bit of everything) the work is spread out across different departments. June is mainly involved in invoicing, banking and credit control – with almost no paper to be seen.
Our MD Barry Newton joined Sea Bunkering as a trader in the early days and later bought the business, now better known as the Geos Group. He moved the office down to London and then out to Henley in 1998. June still lives in Hull with her son and partner, so she started working remotely many years before the rest of the team, who’ve been mostly based at home since the pandemic began in early 2020.
“Everybody has realised now how hard it can be, working from home, she says. “I used to feel more isolated because they were all together in the office and I could go all day without speaking to anyone. But it’s much better for me now that we are all in the same position – we talk on the phone more and we have a meeting on MS Teams every day at 11 o’clock, even when it’s really busy.”
In her spare time, June is a cycling enthusiast, going out on her bike at least four times a week and on cycling holidays too. “I do really long rides, 100 miles at a time. And I also keep fit by swimming, running and going to the gym in the winter because the roads are icy and I can’t get out on the bike,” she says. “I do a lot of long walks too – we’ve just been to Cornwall for a fortnight and walked about 150 miles in two weeks. When the weather is lovely, I could fill every day of the week outside just walking and cycling.”
Having been with the company since day one, June has an unrivalled level of knowledge, experience and wisdom, and continues to be an important part of the team. “I sometimes feel like I’ve been here forever,” she says. “But it’s a really good company to work for and everybody is well looked after. I’ve been through some difficult times in my life, but the one good thing was I could always work. Whatever life has thrown at me, my job has always been here.”