Here we go. Piedmont needs to re-invent itself. Again.
McCayne is gone. She started as a truck driver in the heart of the last economic collapse, and worked her way into a CFO position. She then took off for Asheville where she founded a management consulting company. Why do all the cool people always move to Asheville? McCayne shepherded us through some extremely dark times, and we are grateful for her contributions.
Paul is gone. He was an actual chemist. A surgeon with a forklift. A self-taught boiler repair technician. He was our polymath. When it came time to shed our Research and Analytics arm, everyone was delighted when Paul elected to stay with us in production. He moved into management and guided the ship for 2014.
And Bob has jumped in. So now there are four. And since we need to retool the company, we had Jeff from DIG Southeast take our picture, holding our tools of choice. Eric has a pipe wrench, since he plumbs on a regular basis. Bob has a clipboard and a hammer. That’s symbolic. Ray has a big ass adjustable wrench, which is fitting. He’s done a lot of adjusting during his years at Piedmont.
I’m holding a chainsaw. Partly because I’m the “neighborhood arborist,” and partly because Piedmont is going to embark on some gut wrenching changes.
One way to look at Piedmont is as three distinct business units. The first is oil collections. We service several hundred accounts, and we buy from a handful of small collectors, makeup and nutraceutical companies. We aggregate waste fats oils and greases from a variety of sources, and we process them.
The second is production. Our personal best was 1.3 million gallons one year. Our personal worst was closer to 50K gallons. That was 2014. 2015 looks even worse than 2014, so we are going to shudder production. The middle part of our business is closing.
We are not sure if that is permanent or temporary. We will shed some assets in 2015, but we will retain all that we need to make fuel. Things will get boxed up, labeled and put on pallets. Tanks will get drained. And we will position ourselves to make fuel the moment that makes sense. Shuttered, not scrapped.
The third part of our business is fuel distribution. That would be our seven locations of the B100 Community Trail. We are going to keep that cranking. People depend on us to keep their tanks filled with the good stuff—and we are going to keep that rocking and rolling.
We will ship the feedstock we aggregate off to brokers. Some will go to biodiesel. Some will find its way into other things. In good years and in bad there has always been intense pressure on feedstocks in this business. Some goes to animal feeds. Some to makeup companies. Some to solvents. Some to soaps or candles or lotions.
Like oil, vegetable oil is globally traded. That’s one of the reasons the biodiesel industry is so tough. We are sandwiched between giant fickle global commodity forces over which we have no control.
So off we go. We’ve been in the biodiesel business since 2002. Commercial production fired up in the fall of 2006. There have been years when it looks like a decent business. And there have been years when it looks idiotic. Sometimes we look like geniuses. Sometimes we look like morons.
One thing we have been is resilient. We’ve survived a number of body blows. Production incentives come and go (they are gone for now), we lost my founding partner and brother Mark, we’ve had accidents and fires, spills and chills. And we are still standing.
We will retool in 2015, and find our way. Bob refers to our new endeavor as “Piedmont 3.0.” That’s not entirely true. I believe the actual number should be “Piedmont 36B.” But “3.0” has a tighter ring to it, so we’ll go with that.
I’m jazzed by the crew we have assembled, and I’m looking forward to the work that lies ahead…