EDITOR INTERVIEW In conversation with... Mike Skypala, Managing Director, OATS Ltd

OATS today is recognised as a leading global company - how did the company begin and what services do you offer? OATS began as a start-up by ex-Castrol technical managers who spotted the need for a lubricants specification database in the 1980’s. The published booklet form went fully digital post 2000. It was bought by the Haynes Publishing Group in 2016 and later acquired by Infopro Digital in 2020.

We provide Lubricant and Automotive Aftermarket businesses data, software and consulting to support their product portfolio optimisation, lubricant selectors, catalogues and other channels to drive sales.

Your previous commercial experience was honed in retail/FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods); what drew you to OATS and this very different sector? The retail industry has gone online and is now fully signed up to the value of data – customer, supply chain and product data drives a lot of decisions both operational and strategic. The Lubricants and Automotive industries are further behind on the data journey but with huge potential to incorporate it into driving the business as Retail. I felt it would be a great learning experience to work in a new industry, especially one at the heart of the current climate change and sustainability drive.

Given your previous leadership positions, how does the lubricants sector compare? Has it been challenging in ways you might not have expected? The recent trend for major food retailers is to work with smaller, local producers whereas in the Lubricants industry it’s more global; there is a fascinating collaborative yet highly commercial relationship between the major Oil companies and their Lubricant arms, independent blenders and distributors on the one hand, and the major automotive OEMs on the other.


The trend is on consolidation in both the Oil/Lubricants and Automotive industries given the huge investment required in the race to be carbon neutral. Lubricants plays a significant role in reducing emissions and climate change and yet is becoming increasingly distant from consumers and more the preserve of professionals. The biggest challenge is making Lubes engaging to the consumer.

Sustainability is a key focus in our sector. Are we taking it seriously enough? For example, digitalisation – could this play an even greater role in driving trends/insights into actions? Yes - as the automotive parc becomes electrified, the lubricant supply chain will need to adapt to different product usage, storage and demand flows, and having digital systems and triggers for monitoring this and keeping stock levels tight as demand shifts will be key. Integrating systems will drive efficiency and help to identify where there are economies of scale.

Covid has left its mark on every aspect of our personal and professional lives; how has OATS adapted throughout this time? What will OATS take away moving forward?

Like many digital businesses, we have managed to thrive during the pandemic. We have grown our sales, won new customers and been able to operate and communicate in some ways better than before. We have moved to a smaller, serviced office in the UK which will be used mainly as a meeting hub. It has made us more efficient and flexible, although obviously we miss meeting customers face to face, going to industry events and being able to have more interactive workshops where everyone has the chance to participate.


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