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A Momentous Achievement

In Focus
NAME:Sanjay Varma
COMPANY:Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd
POSITION:Managing Director
LOCATION:Mangaluru (Mangalore), India
Already the largest single location public sector refinery in India, Managing Director, Sanjay Varma, is leading MRPL toward even greater heights as it navigates new international markets while also remaining focused on continued local growth.

In mid-2023, South India-based Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (MRPL) reached a landmark moment in its 35-year history.

From its relatively humble beginnings as a joint venture in 1988, with annual refining capacity for 3.69 million metric tons, it last year became the largest single public sector refinery in India.

“We’re proud to say that our products, which have a high-quality reputation and exceed customer expectations, have helped us thrive in these challenging global markets.”

The achievement was branded momentous, processing, as it did, more than 17 million metric tons of crude oil – five times its original volume. It was the highest throughput by a single location in the history of the Indian industry, accounting for 10 percent of total crude oil processed by public sector refineries in India.

Heralding the accomplishment, Managing Director Sanjay Varma insisted it was just the start.

“MRPL is poised for greater heights,” he said.

Attaining New Heights

Over the years, MRPL has undergone phased growth, both as a joint venture and after its acquisition in 2003 by the state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation.

The operation now processes more than 250 types of crude oil from all corners of the globe including the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, Russia, South America and the United States.

Its capabilities are equally diverse, producing a broad range of products from regular petrol (motor spirit) and high speed diesel to aviation turbine fuel, bitumen, kerosene, liquid petroleum gas and more.


But what sets the business apart from its competitors, Varma tells The CEO Magazine, is that MRPL is the only public sector refinery in India exporting close to 40 percent of its products. Such a distribution strategy exposes the company to a unique competitive landscape, the veteran refinery executive says.

“We’re pitting ourselves against global competition. And we’re proud to say that our products, which have a high-quality reputation and exceed customer expectations, have helped us thrive in these challenging markets,” Varma explains.

“Our geographic location also offers us a strategic advantage. It gives us a broad customer base in Singapore, Australia, East Africa, South Africa, the Mediterranean and Southern Europe.”

He adds that the advent of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor – a project unveiled by world leaders at the G20 summit in New Delhi last year – could open up new, emerging markets for its refined petroleum products.

A Duel Focus

In addition to scanning the globe for emerging international opportunities, MRPL is also turning its gaze to its home market. Varma characterizes this dual focus as reducing the company’s export reliance while enhancing its services to the domestic market with a strong and differentiated retail presence.

MRPL already owns and operates a number of service stations under its HiQ brand, with further expansion on the agenda.

“A plan is in place to expand our retail presence throughout the southern states,” he reveals.

“The primary goal is achieving a one-million-metric-ton sales target for motor spirit and high-speed diesel through HiQ over the next three-to-five years.”

“The primary goal is achieving a one-million-metric-ton sales target for motor spirit and high speed diesel through HiQ over the next three-to-five years.”

The strategy is part of a wider objective to drive sustainable growth. While fiscal prudence is of paramount importance, Varma is equally aware that investment is critical to staying ahead of the competitive field.

“The organization has devised a comprehensive strategy for financial optimization and strategic investments to secure our immediate financial health and long-term sustainable growth,” he says.

“We have the scope to diversify revenue sources, and our retail expansion project is a significant step to achieve this. Apart from strengthening MRPL’s position as a significant retail player in South India, it gives us leverage in low refining margins.”

A Collaborative Approach

Success, of course, is not achieved in isolation. MRPL is acutely aware of the need to develop strong supplier partnerships and ensure transparent communication. In its journey of success, MRPL has relied on trusted partners and specialist chemical manufacturers like Sud-Chemie India and W.R. Grace for their unwavering support.

“We regularly hold vendor meetings to gather feedback and identify opportunities for improvement,” Varma says. “Our aim is to make working with MRPL as seamless as possible.”


That search for improvement, striving for efficiencies and achieving excellence across its operations are instrumental in driving the performance of the company.

Illustrating its leadership position, MRPL became India’s first AS9100: D certified refinery to meet industry-recognized quality assurance and risk management standards for the production and distribution of Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF).

Additionally, Varma says, the company will soon establish a Bio ATF plant to develop sustainable aviation fuel, one of a number of projects being explored to strengthen its green credentials and reduce its carbon footprint. Sustainability, he adds, is deeply ingrained in the company’s culture.

“Our aim is to make working with MRPL as seamless as possible.”

Varma has been with MRPL for all but five years of its existence. And while change in the energy sector has been relentless, some things are as true now as they were when he joined the business in 1993.

“Ease of business and transparency have always been the core principles of MRPL operations,” he concludes. “And our unwavering commitment to cost reduction is the cornerstone of our competitiveness on the global stage.”

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