Stephen L. Hightower is back in growth mode for his petroleum and energy supply company in 2019.
Hightowers Petroleum Co. in Middletown, a Top 20 Dayton-area company based on 2017 revenue of $260 million, is looking to add another 10 to 15 local jobs as the company adds liquefied natural gas (LNG) and crude oil to its service lines this year.
"We're in rapid growth mode again," Hightower said. "Our expansion plans are into upstream; we're focused on taking deliberate steps to make that happen in the next six months."
Hightowers Petroleum Co. in 2018 grew its annual revenue by 60 percent from the previous year, to $415 million.
The company, specializing in pricing and delivering petroleum, makes a delivery every five minutes, 24 hours a day — totaling 200 million gallons a year — in 48 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico and South Africa.
Hightower, also chairman and president of HP Energy, said he's working toward his ultimate goal "to create a billion-dollar business to leave my family in a manner that they can be successful."
Does your company have any significant plans for the next 12 months?
The future is going upstream and looking at the assets the U.S. has. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) and crude oil we're adding. We're changing our operation to be an upstream trading platform; buying from the producer and selling to refinery. We're negotiating with China buying LNG for power plants. The U.S. is one of the largest suppliers of LNG and crude oil.
Is your company hiring?
We are hiring for individuals with industry-specific skills. Account managers and accounting. We're hiring about 10 to 15 positions in Middletown. We're getting more comfortable with people working at home. We're looking for interns in IT.
Talk to me a bit about your path to success and how you got here today.
I grew up in Middletown. My family had a janitorial service company which is where I got my skillset. ... We sold the janitorial business in 1982 and built the construction company (Hi-Mark Construction Group headed by Stephen's son Quincy Hightower). We had an industrial supplies company that started as factory materials. We sold to the state of Ohio. We did commodity transactions; not industry focused. We won a contract for petroleum. We sat down with BP who had won the contract for 32 years. We partnered with BP to continue to rebid. We compete with and buy from major oil companies.
What's your biggest workforce challenge?
Finding industry-knowledgeable persons for account management. People that want to work hard. When you're growing, it's not conducive to people who want to lay back. With this growth trajectory, we need hard skills to keep up. We grew over 60 percent revenue last year; $415 million was our 2018 revenue. We were grinding it out; coming off a down year. Having tough years is good for business some to refocus and cut out waste.
What do you like to do for fun?
National parks and camping. Ballroom dancing, going to concerts and plays. Relaxing with my wife and kids.
What was your first job?
Hightowers Janitorial Services.
What did you learn from being a janitor?
The business gave me the skillsets of how to sell; engage customers; manage people and personnel; how to collect. I started when I was six years old.
What advice would you give a young business person starting out today?
Have patience, perseverance, commitment and integrity. If you can bundle those then you've got the ingredients to be successful. If you lack any you will have a hard time getting to your end goal. Time is not something you can beat; only something you can manage.
What’s the biggest competitive threat to your industry?
The perception of fossil fuels as an energy source; and alternative fuels in the marketplace. Fossil fuels had not gotten momentum until (President Barack) Obama. ... Driverless cars will have to refuel somehow. I will not see the end of gasoline and diesels used in my lifetime.
In automotive fuel alternatives, electrical vehicles have the edge today. Hydrogen vehicles are tailing off; it's not reliable. The next potential source may become compressed natural gas. There's an abundance of CNG and it's inexpensive. Next to crude oil it's one of the cheapest fuel sources. The largest natural gas finds in the world are in the U.S.
What keeps you up at night?
I run a pretty complex business; the possibility of a customer not being satisfied for whatever reason. That might be Duke Energy or AK Steel. We have demanding customers. Last January when the Carolinas had subzero temperatures; we ran 4,000 loads of fuel there. We broke records and got supplier of the year for Duke Energy.
What's been your greatest adventure in life thus far?
I do a lot of things. Scuba diving; jumping off mountains in Brazil hang gliding; racing cars. I've done some crazy things; been to Africa, Europe, but one of the most magnificent things I've seen is the Zion National Park in Utah.
Favorite Middletown-area restaurant?
Stefano's Italian Cafe in Middletown.
Hightowers Petroleum Co., 3577 Commerce Drive, Middletown, Ohio, 45005
Offices: Middletown; Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; New York; South Africa.
2018 revenue: $415 million
2017 revenue: $260 million