Bruce Blaise is the president and CEO of Kenan Advantage Group, North America’s largest tank truck transporter and logistics company. They are the #1 fuel carrier in North America and one of the largest chemical, merchant gas and food transporters in the nation.
In this conversation, Bruce discusses the changing fuel industry as well as what manufacturers are moving across the country on a daily basis.
Jason Blount: The U.S. is now the largest oil producer globally after we recently surpassed Saudi Arabia. How did that happen?
Bruce Blaise: It all goes back to the fracking revolution. It’s been around for a while, but it really took off about 10 years ago. It’s really changed the landscape in the U.S. as far as the production of oil. Exploration and production were wide-open until late 2015 when it started to turn due to the collapse of oil prices. Since then, production has rebounded and continues today.
Jason: Did that ramp up in 2014 and early 2015 have a big part in why your revenue jumped notable during those years?
Bruce: Not really. We’re a little more conservative and we target end products that are a bit more downstream. We focus on stable pieces of business that are more predictable. One thing that we take caution in is the volatility of crude oil. For example, the big dip that occurred in 2016 and 2017. Although we do participate in the crude oil area and transport some of it, we haven’t made a full force move into that space. We prefer to deal with gasoline, diesel oil, jet fuel, and ethanol–products that have a consistent volume year after year and aren’t as volatile.
Jason: What are the other major things you transport besides petroleum?
Bruce: Chemicals, industrial gases, and food products. On the chemical side, we’re one of the top three chemical transporters in the U.S. This involves transporting from a chemical plant into a manufacturing facility. The chemical producers control the dynamic. We don’t have to go out and market to all of the manufacturers across the country. Our market is very specific. We’re growing rapidly in this area. It’s an area you guys have been promoting with the reshoring initiative that started with fracking.
Jason: Can you give me an idea of the chemicals that you’re moving?
Bruce: We haul products such as plasticizer, a product that is used to make items like car seats and dashboards when mixed with other chemicals. We haul resins, whether dry or liquid, that is molded into certain products. We haul resins, whether dry or liquid, that are molded into certain products. We ahul solvents which are used in paints and other products. We haul concrete admixtures that are blended with cement to straighten concrete for buildings and bridges. We’re hauling the chemicals that are used to make products built by U.S. manufacturers.
Jason: So, what do you transport in the food industry?
Bruce: Our biggest area is corn sweetener that’s used in a lot of food and soft drinks. We also haul vegetable oils. We haul a lot of pet food, too. There’s actually this dynamic happening in the country that people are calling “the humanization of pets”. Pets are actually loved so much by their owners that they’re fed premium foods and getting placed on pet medical policies. Pet owners are also spending millions of dollars nationally on veterinary care and other pet goods. So, we’re a big player in hauling a lot of the raw goods that are going into pet foods for popular pet food companies.
Jason: How about industrial gases?
Bruce: That’s a very specific industry. We haul products like carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen, helium, oxygen and just an array of different industrial gases. We use cryogenic trailers to transport the gases, which can keep the gases at the right temperature. We load commodities shipped at temperatures as low as 600 degrees below zero. They’re used for numerous applications within a diverse range of end markets to include manufacturing, like firing furnaces and steel mills, healthcare by delivering oxygen to hospitals, energy production and many others. We also haul a large amount of liquified natural gas, otherwise known as LNG. That’s a growing segment as the energy infrastructure shifts away from oil to more natural gas. We’re in this market in a big way as well.
Jason: Do you use a data management system that analyzes the levels of the tanks?
Bruce: We do. We manage the inventories primarily for our fuels customers. We actually import inventory level information into our system every hour or so by ‘pinging’ the tanks. The system takes that data and combines it with historic usage trends to develop optimal delivery of the next load. You don’t see as much carrier controlled inventory management in the chemicals, food, or industrial gases areas because the volumes aren’t as heavy. They usually place orders with us after the end user takes their own inventory.
I actually started out as a dispatcher and that knowledge continues to serve me well in my role today. The American dream is truly alive and well.
Jason: How many trucks do you currently have on the road?
Bruce: Overall, our company runs about 7,000 trucks in North America and 11,000 trailers. We’re approaching 10,000 employees.
Jason: How did you get to where you are today?
Bruce: I always thought business leadership at this point would be more complex than it is. Most of it is just common sense, hard work and those core values that your parents taught you that work well in business. It’s about being well-rounded and understanding all of the exciting and challenging aspects of the transportation industry. I actually started out as a dispatcher and that knowledge continues to serve me well in my role today. The American dream is truly alive and well.