036: In 1966 started in a servo, bought a truck, built a fuel distribution business, poor exit with business partner, with new partner grew defunct distributor from 1 to 30 FTE, $0 to $80m sales & 100m litres pa 2001 sold for 5x profit (John Trewin)

australia fte 31-40 petroleum podcast sales $50m+ aud Aug 30, 2020

In this episode, I interview John Trewin, the previous co-owner of Advanced Petroleum. At the age of 29 in 1966, John got his first job off the farm in a petrol station, bought a truck, grew the fuel distribution company, and added a business partner (which didn’t end well a few years later) While he was taking some time out of the distribution game, he was approached to rebuild another distributor nearby. He went on to grow it from 1 full-time employee (himself) to 30 full-time employees, and from 0 sales to $80 Million in annual sales. The business was selling over 100 million litres a year just eight years after starting in 1989. 12 years later, the business sold for 5 times profit. 

John credits the team he had back then for the phenomenal success they had with the business and feels he got 90% of the hires right. He believes strongly in “Looking after your people” He and his new business partner started with a little capital and had 6 months to prove they could build the sales volume before BP gave them a long term contract. They funded their fast growth in a risky, but genius way, where they put more than $3 Million in the overnight money market for 15 months right after the 1990 recession and earned 21% or $600,000 in interest per year. 

With some luck and advice, they dodged losing $6 Million the business had in their bank when that bank went under a week after withdrawing all funds. John has always loved a business challenge and shares that the moment he felt they had succeeded with Advanced Petroleum was when they got through the first 6 months. He feels the hardest thing about growing a small business is choosing the right people. He says that the advice he would give himself on day one of starting a business is, “Seek more advice about running a business and in particular talk to other people who own a business, especially those who are older and with more experience” Stay tuned to gain from John’s immense wealth of business wisdom.

This Cast Covers:

  • Starting in the oil industry in 1966 and having a successful 38-year journey.
  • Taking over a failed inland storage tunnel and turning it around.
  • How they raised funding by investing their cash flow on the overnight money market at interest rates of up to 21% per annum.
  • Becoming more efficient so they could be both fuel sellers and transport operators.
  • Taking the opportunity to lease service stations and how they made money from that.
  • Dealing with the two major types of shrinkage that were affecting their business.
  • Selling their 50% of the business to BP in a satisfactory arrangement.
  • The satisfaction of being able to pick a good team that helped grow the business.
  • Being one of the first companies that invested in computerization.
  • The importance of picking the right team members to help market the business.
  • Marketing after the first five years: Spending more on making sure they weren’t going to lose business.
  • How they came up with the name, “Advanced Petroleum”
  • Selling some real estate to put in his share of the startup capital and how they found an opportunity in the recession back then.
  • Understanding that there is never a need to get worked about things one can’t control.
  • Facing the stress of a broken business partnership.
  • His pride in creating employment and seeing his employees enjoy doing their jobs.
  • The allure of the challenge of the unknown that comes with running a small business.
  • Having resilience, the ability to see ahead, and relying on instinct to make early calls.
  • Looking after employees and rewarding them when they do a great job.
  • The value he got from investing in mentors.
  • The relief he got from exiting the business both operationally and financially.
  • Buying a couple of small businesses after he had retired.
  • Starting one of the first aerial photography businesses when they could only use Blimps to take photos.
  • The hardest thing in growing a small business: Choosing the right people
  • Growing a small business by finding a good mentor and seeking advice from more experienced business owners.

Additional Resources:



“Pick the right people and give them something to work with” – John Trewin

“There is never a need to get worked up about things you can’t control” – John Trewin

“Find the right people, be comfortable, and make sure the people are good at their jobs” – John Trewin

“Look after your people and reward them for jobs well done” – John Trewin

“Seek more advice about running a business from older people who own a business” – John Trewin


Music from https://filmmusic.io “Cold Funk” by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com). License: CC BY (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/