Automated Trading, Scheduling Fuel Energy Trader

By Mel Duvall Print this article Print

Trading, pipeline scheduling and accounting systems boost revenue-without big staff increases.

Revenue Per Employee $62 million

Two years ago, James Emison, chief executive of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Western Petroleum, went on a hiring spree. He added three new employees to help manage the company's burgeoning business, which had more than doubled in sales from $688 million in 2002 to $1.9 billion in 2003.

But no more Mr. Free Spender. Employment was capped at 58 in 2004, while revenue, spurred by rocketing fuel prices, almost doubled again to $3.6 billion. In what should surely cement Western Petroleum in the Productivity Hall of Fame, that translates into $62 million in revenue per employee.

The remarkable figure is a byproduct of the business Emison is in; his company buys millions of dollars of petroleum products such as automotive gas, propane and airline fuel from refineries, and resells them to consuming companies like gas stations, airlines and large manufacturers.

But it's also a factor of technology.

The volume of gas, propane and other products Western Petroleum has sold since it began operations in 1969 has grown exponentially, but technology in the form of sophisticated trading, pipeline scheduling and accounting systems has allowed it to grow with close to the same head count as a decade ago. In many ways, Western Petroleum was a virtual company long before the term, or the Internet, came into existence.

"A business like ours has to live by its wits. Every day, we get up and hustle for a living," says Emison, the privately held company's principal owner, who has worked in the oil and gas business since being discharged from the Marines in 1954. "We operate on razor-thin margins, so controlling our costs and head count is how we make a profit at the end of the day."

This article was originally published on 2005-10-06
Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.

eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.