Maher Najjar may be the new guy at Atlas Oil Co., but he leans on an old saying to illustrate the technological challenges he knows loom on the horizon for the c-store industry.
"You have to know where you are before you know where you’re going," said Najjar, who after just three months at Taylor, Mich.-based Atlas Oil has found himself promoted from director of commercial systems to chief information officer.
"You say, ‘Here’s where we are now, and here’s where we want to be,’" Najjar said.
Right now, Atlas Oil is a company that, in less than three decades, has grown from a one-man kerosene distributor to a multi-faceted juggernaut in fuel distribution for commercial, industrial, retail and residential customers. Its reach extends to nearly 20 states and its holdings are growing leaps and bounds each month.
The company is an industry standout for green business practices, and it’s aiming to sell 5 billion gallons of fuel by 2015. That’s the "where" in that old saying, by the way.
"What will it take to get there?" Najjar said. "We have to build an infrastructure that’s secure, stable and supports our existing needs."
Najjar joined Atlas Oil in June after spending eight years as CIO at Arrow Uniforms. Before that, he served 13 years as CIO at Coine Textile Services in New York. He said he was attracted to Atlas because of CEO Sam Simon’s similar business vision for ambitious growth.
Leading the Charge
Najjar is no stranger to technology, but he’s finding this new industry—this beast known as convenience—is a complex machine. "It’s like a bunch of different businesses rolled into one business," he said. "There’s retail, service, logistics, sales, manufacturing. You have to make sure you put all these pieces together, and not just fit it to the current needs but the future needs, too."
Najjar said he’s working to construct a system that integrates every level of the business into a centralized concept that can be accessed as needed. "You don’t want to create an island of information," he said. "You want to create a system that can be integrated."
PCI compliance and security standards are at the top of the agenda. Najjar said there’s a learning curve he’s looking to bridge through professional organizations and conferences by groups like NACS.
"We want to make sure, from a security standpoint, that we’re on the right track," Najjar said. "That’s part of the strategy for the next six months. I want to know what it’s going to take to move forward.
"The technology is there. We just want to make sure the technology selection is the (right) one."
He figures all the fancy equipment in the world won’t help unless it’s the right equipment. "We don’t want to just buy technology for the sake of technology. You can go out and spends millions of dollars, but then all it does is look good."
Ultimately, Najjar is leading Atlas in identifying its core business functions, from beginning to end, and building a system that takes the company to the next level. "The only way to do it is roll my sleeves up and dive in," he said. "There’s a lot to learn about this business."