Supply Chain Now Episode 497
“There is no problem that’s unsolvable (with the exception of very, very few). The question is what are you willing to do to solve it?”
– Fernando de Aguero, COO of Diversified Energy Supply
The energy industry is a complex space, with unique challenges and a constantly shifting regulatory landscape at the federal and state levels. From a business perspective, a company’s energy costs can be ‘make or break,’ determining if and when they need to approach customers for energy-based surcharges that can have ripple effects through the supply chain.
Allison Sheffield de Aguero and Fernando de Aguero are the team behind Diversified Energy Supply, a nationwide fuel supplier. They started this business, their second successful entrepreneurial effort, to help companies solve their energy problems through a combination of strategy and technology.
In this conversation, Allison and Fernando tell Supply Chain Now Host Scott Luton about:
· Why the fuel supply chain has historically been affected by a significant lack of controls
· What it takes to offer a market-leading and uniquely flexible solution to companies that all need something a little bit different
· Their advice for entrepreneurs with regard to debt, approach to sales, and positioning for long-term growth
It’s time for supply chain. Now broadcasting live from the supply chain capital of the country. Atlanta, Georgia heard around the world supply chain. Now spotlights the best in all things, supply chain, the people, the technologies, the best practices and the critical issues of the day. And now here are your hosts. Good morning, Scott. Ludin
Scott Luton (00:29):
What’s the blockchain now welcome to today’s show today’s episode. We’re talking with several business leaders that are helping companies manage their fuel supply chains, perhaps an overlooked element in industry, right? Certainly gonna be working hard to raise your supply chain leadership RQ, uh, more to come on that and just a moment, but Hey, quit programming it before we get started. If you liked today’s episode and I bet you will really enjoy the pre the pre-show warm up, Hey, make sure you check us out and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from. All right. So with no further ado, let’s welcome in our guests here today. We’re going to be chatting with Alison Sheffield, the [inaudible] president and CEO of diversified energy supply and her colleague Fernando de Guerra chief operating officer also with diversified energy supply. Good morning, Alison and Fernando. Good morning, morning. So, you know, as we were chatting before we went live here, really, I I’ve come to really start appreciating your background, the journey you’re on all the growth you’ve had and an industry that unfortunately might get overlooked a bit, you know, we’ve, uh, as I shared with you, we’re Fastly approaching.
Scott Luton (01:35):
When this episode publishes, we’ll be right around 500 and shame on us. We have not focused on what powers global supply chain and the fuel supply chain. So I’m looking forward to, to, to raise my own IQ as we’ve worked through this conversation,
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (01:49):
I’m happy to be a part of that. Thank you so much for having a son.
Scott Luton (01:53):
All right. So let’s, before we talk, shop, so to speak and industry and get some of your thought leadership and experiences, let’s get to know you both of y’all a little bit better. So Alison for starters, and tell us about where you grew up and give us an anecdote or two about your upbringing.
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (02:07):
I was the daughter of a fuel logistics officer in the air force. So I was actually born overseas in Germany and spent most of my childhood moving from place to place wherever my father was stationed. Um, as we were growing up, ended up landing in South Alabama, where he then retired from the air force and went to work, uh, with the family business, which was also an oil company, Sheffield oil company. Once he retired from that particular company, he then moved on to work for, uh, a jobber, uh, in South Alabama, myself. Um, I came up, went to school, um, in Alabama, ended up moving over to Mexico for a few years, picked up the Spanish language and then came back and started my career working in inside sales for different companies in their Latin American divisions, just using, using some skills that I had loved. So let me
Scott Luton (03:00):
Ask a couple follow-up questions, going back to being the, the, um, the daughter of a, of a career air force veteran and the moving around. You know, we talked to a lot of folks like that and, and, you know, constantly meeting new people, immersing themselves, new communities. They, they have to, um, adapt more so than, than many others that might grow up and live in the same place for most of their formative years. That’s gotta be a great advantage, uh, now being, you know, leading a business and, and meeting and, and, you know, uh, new people all the time that do deals that
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (03:33):
The big advantage I have to agree that yes, it is a, it is a big advantage. Um, I have the benefit of meeting all different kinds of people from all different walks of life. Being able to understand, uh, just different cultures as you’re mixed in. Um, just as you’re brought up in, in, in the early years, there’s really not a, a chance to put down roots. So to say, so that was different for me. We’ve been here in Atlanta since the year 2000. So this is more of a new experience for me as I grew up. Um, just being in the mix with all different sorts of people. I do think it’s an advantage for me because as I meet people, I’m able to just be flexible and understand different points of view. Um, those things aren’t foreign to me because I’ve, I’ve, I’ve seen a lot, I’ve met a lot of different people. I’ve, I’ve had that advantage,
Scott Luton (04:21):
Love that Alison, I wish more people had those experiences. Cause I would think it would create a lot more dialogue and we could bust through some of the challenges that we face globally. Um, all right. So I don’t wanna put you on the spot. One final question. So growing up in Alabama, now, 20 years here in Atlanta, which is you get your native badge, uh, as I understand it, after 15 years when it comes to football or weird, or where your allegiances
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (04:48):
Watching closely. Oh my goodness. This is such a loaded question. Okay. Well, multiple times father, my father was a diehard Georgia fan, so I always have to cheer for the dogs. I mean, that’s just a loyalty thing for me. However, my husband is a Georgia tech grad, so we do have a little conflict there, you know, at least once a season, but we are also, um, we are also big fans of the Miami hurricanes. So we’re, we’re pretty broad. Again, there’s a lot of diversity in our football language, so
Scott Luton (05:24):
I love that. That’s a great place to be. All right. So Fernando and I also heard, you said you were watching it as she answered that question. So I love that
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (05:32):
We can relate. I think, you know why now? Right.
Scott Luton (05:37):
All right. So same question, Fernando, let’s get to know you a little better. So tell us, you know, where did you grow up? What were some of your experiences, you know, in your formative years and who knows, who might end up on football too?
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (05:47):
So I’m first generation in the U S my mother and father were born in Cuba and fled communism. Um, they came to the U S each of them were placed
Fernando de Aguero (05:58):
In orphanages here, and I met later in life. And, uh, my brother and I were the first generation, I was born up North, but I was there for a very short period of time. So I don’t claim to be a Yankee by any means. Uh, spent most of my youth in Atlanta. I moved here in 77, but I also spent some time in Miami each year, uh, with family down there. So I kind of claim both places. It’s my upbringing area. As I was growing up. I didn’t really connect right in either place because I, I would spend part of the year in each. So I connected at a certain level through sports and things you do as you’ve. But I really, because I claimed two different places as my home, they were so different. I got a little bit of that benefit of that diversity of views, cultures, languages, uh, between Miami and Atlanta.
Fernando de Aguero (06:46):
And, uh, and so that helped form, uh, I think this flexible nature slide into one group or slide into another group very easily. And then that really helped me, particularly when I, uh, when I got into the college years. And I started co-oping, uh, when I was in college with, uh, Georgia power year Southern company. Uh, and I, and I really started being able to connect in the professional environment with people from all different walks of life, because I could find something to connect with that particular person on. And so, uh, that part of my childhood actually translated nicely into early years of adulthood until I got really straightened out when I met Alison in my late twenties. And then, then I really, you know, I don’t really got straightened out, but, um, that’s a little bit about my childhood.
Scott Luton (07:30):
Let me ask you a question. I love, I appreciate you sharing that about your, your parents are trailblazers, that they were, you know, I can only imagine as they landed here in the States, and as you said, they both were put in orphanages, as you look back now, what have they shared? What’s one big lesson learned from your parents as they experienced that. And now, you know, the fruits of their efforts, you know, you and your brother, successful entrepreneurs and great businesses, what an awesome story, what, what’s one lesson that they really taught you that you, um, you know, maybe carry with you?
Fernando de Aguero (08:06):
Well, they’re telling me, my father is, um, very articulate in particular. Um, and there’s two things that he can’t have a conversation without getting some flavor of one of these or both of these things. One is there is no replacement for, and there is no shadow of freedom period. You’re either free or you’re not. And if you don’t have freedom, none of the rest matters. And I think that’s rooted in being ripped out of ripped out of your family, ripped out of everything, you know, at 10 years old and being sent to another country where you don’t speak the language, you know, in 1960 61, there was no internet. There wasn’t really even, uh, you know, there was no cable. There, there was really no visual auto audio information coming from other countries. So this was really like picking up and leaving and moving to another planet with no adults just come from a, from an experience perspective, that’s gotta be really traumatic for the child.
Fernando de Aguero (09:10):
And, and so that, that idea of, if you don’t have freedom, you have nothing is really number one. And number two, compromise, compromise. Everyone has to compromise in all things in life. Now, you don’t compromise the things that are important. You take a stand on those things, but when it comes to negotiations and, and a negotiation would be, what movie do you want to go see tonight? Not just talking business, right? Pick the things that matter and stand firm on those things. And for me, and for Alison it’s, everything that’s rooted in faith, uh, that is not it’s uncompromisable, but on everything else in the long picture, it’s compromisable, right? So work with people as you go. So those are, I think the two big things is freedom and compromise.
Scott Luton (09:56):
I love that, especially that first one, it makes things easier, right? When it, when it’s crystal clear and, and that simplicity. Um, and then, and then the second point, you know, it goes back to that dialogue that we were talking about with Alison second ago, you know, I believe that not enough dialogue is taking place, you’ve got hardened positions, and it really is part of the reason why I believe we are where we are. So at least here in the States, right. But nevertheless, Hey, we’re a big optimist we’re going to, we’re going to break through. And, and I love hearing these stories from business leaders, such as yourself. So to that end, let’s, let’s keep going down your journeys before, before diversified energy supply. Let’s talk about your professional journey. Both of y’all kind of alluded to it already, but let’s talk about what you did more before your current roles and in particular, was there a certain mentor or coach that you look back at, um, and that was, was critical to your development?
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (10:55):
So, um, I alluded to, yes, I, um, came back from Mexico, started working in inside sales, um, in the Latin American division for a couple of companies. One of them was, um, an engineering equipment company. The other one was, um, software security software. From there. I took the leap as a mother, took a few years off to start our family. We, um, we have four kids. I’m happy to say, we’re amazing. Kids did take some time to start that process, start the family, get them situated, and then came alongside of Fernando as we started our first company, which was a national guest, um, retail company here in Georgia, worked with him on the marketing efforts, uh, came alongside, particularly to the Hispanic communities using that skillset that I had previously been using from there, we started our electric retail company moving forward. We got into the wholesale to percent energy supply, um, starting this company, a, um, natural gas wholesale company. Um, so utilities out in California in 2014, I actually, uh, took over the company from Fernando. He was a primary on the Nat gas and we decided to take a shift over into petroleum. And we started growing the company with a focus on petroleum, um, wholesale, nationwide to customers that have just a larger nationwide footprint. And yet we’ve been going strong from there.
Scott Luton (12:21):
So we’ve got three kids here. And, and so, uh, any, any time we’re running some with more kids than me, it reminds me how small my problems might be. And it’s amazing to raise a family and, and to, to accomplish the feats that you are accomplishing and more, it’s a really, uh, what now? What are your four kids? You don’t have to share too much if you don’t like to, but what, uh, what are they up to, are they, are they really interested in the business or they have other interests? What are they, I’m a chip off the block, or
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (12:52):
I don’t mind talking about my kids at all. They’re amazing. So I have three boys and a girl, um, 16, 15, 10, and eight. Our daughters are, is our youngest one. All of them are hybrid homeschoolers. So we’ve got an additional challenge this season, um, as they’re in school a couple of days a week, and then out of school, you know, working from home. So definitely want to give a shout out to my mother. Who’s giving us a tremendous amount of support in that, in that area. Um, so we can go on and continue to do what we’re doing here with the company, but the kids are amazing. Um, my oldest is actually more interested in ministry than anything else. He’s wanting to be an evangelist and a preacher. So, um, he’s a 4.0 student and just loves the Lord. So that’s, that’s his primary focus next sundown, same, same type of thing. Not quite sure what he wants to do, but he’s more mechanically inclined, I think. Um, and then our younger two, just coming up, being kids, riding horses, and playing football and that sort of thing. And, um, yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s a busy, good life.
Scott Luton (13:55):
Love that. Gosh, love that. And it’s great. The kids can be kids and a challenging year, like 20, 20 historically challenging year. That’s great to hear. All right. One final question for you. Alison is, you know, given the journey you described both past and present and all points in between what’s one Eureka moment that really sticks out to you here today.
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (14:17):
I think my, my biggest Eureka moment, if I’m just going to be totally transparent, uh, was the moment that I realized it was okay for me not to have all the answers, but it wasn’t okay for me to, to stay that way. I don’t have to know everything, but it’s not okay to stay in a state of ignorance. It’s you have to broaden your scope. You have to continue to move forward and open your mind and, and seek the information and the knowledge and the skill sets, um, that are, that are ultimately going to help you be more successful, help you to be broader in, in your offerings as a person, as a wife, as a mother, as an employer in all areas. So I think, you know, taking the pressure off of myself to be perfect, or to have all of the answers and just surround myself with the people that can help me get there and just to continue to grow myself in all those areas. So I can, I can learn and, and ultimately be broader in what I have to offer
Scott Luton (15:18):
Love that, you know, there there’s that when you, when you want to say the word, I don’t know where the phrase, I don’t know, there there’s a, um, transparency. There is a, what’s the word I’m thinking of a certain place that leaders don’t always embrace, right? Because it shows a little bit of what is the worst insecurity. It is like a vulnerability vulnerability. Thank you, Alison. And that is such a powerful thing to embrace. And I think it, it, it really keeps conversations, honest and transparent and truthful and, and powerful with the team. So I really appreciate you sharing that with us. Alison, I’m a big believer, like kindred spirits there. Okay. Um, all right. So Fernando, let’s, uh, let’s talk about your journey as well. You know, feel free if, if you, um, you know, coaches, coaches, mentors, uh, gods, you know, that’s been really instrumental in my life, but if there’s one in your life that really comes to mind would love to learn more about that. And, you know, we’ve got to get a Eureka moment for you as well.
Fernando de Aguero (16:19):
Sure. And I’ll weave in kind of professional history journey as well. It’s all, it’s all, it’s all interrelated
Scott Luton (16:27):
Connected, right? It’s all interconnected. It
Fernando de Aguero (16:29):
Is. It is. I was not the most motivated high schooler. I, when it came to academics, um, the Lord did bless me with the ability to learn and retain and synthesize, uh, for more than just academia. But I didn’t really take advantage of it. There was one, the first mentor, and I wouldn’t really label him a mentor. I would call him a person across my life that pivoted me to see something more. It was a, a high school teacher and coincidentally, his name was mr. Sheffield. Okay. But this was a, uh, an older teacher. I had no relation Fernanda. It would have been yet. Um, but he, he, uh, was, uh, kind of, uh, a weird bird, but I connected with him and he helped me see things in myself that no one ever pointed out and no one ever showed me to look towards. Right. So I’d have to identify him early on when I didn’t really have a lot of direction. If someone had helped point me in the right direction, moving forward, I, I don’t want to use up our time talking about my detailed history, but I do want to say, I did end up at Georgia tech for my undergraduate degree. And I earned a bachelor’s in nuclear engineering while I was there. You’re going to pause
Scott Luton (17:50):
It for a second, a nuclear engineering degree from Georgia tech. I’ve just realized just how far out of my league I am in this conversation. Fernanda. Goodness gracious. How’d you get here? That’s amazing. Well, I mean, that’s fine.
Fernando de Aguero (18:03):
There’s no sleep. There was no sleep during the six, literally. And there’s another story around that, but there was literally no sleep. Particularly the last year we had a large class and there were 16 of us in my class. Okay. And I just had the unfortunate and in some ways fortunate, um, timing of being there with two national science foundation scholars at a school that curves that grades on a curve. So I didn’t, I never felt like the smartest guy in the room. My roommate, I think half of those folks ended up including my roommate, earning PhDs, becoming professors at schools, working at the national labs on the top secret projects, where they lock you underground, uh, those kinds of things. Uh, so I enjoyed my time there. I learned a tremendous amount on how to learn things you don’t know. And that’s really the big, the big takeaway. Uh, the map helped as well, but it was really how do I solve things? I have no idea how to solve. Right. Learn a process of a process.
Scott Luton (19:00):
Yeah. That marries so well, Fernando, with what Alison was just sharing, you know, it seems like that might be a common theme in our conversation Bay. You know, we all have those knowledge gaps. It’s just, some are more willing to, to, uh, acknowledge them and then tenaciously go after filling them. So I appreciate you sharing that, Fernando.
Fernando de Aguero (19:17):
Yeah. And there’s an extended concept there, which we may touch on later on. So I just want to say it now. There is no problem. That’s unsolvable with the exception of very, very few. The question is what are you willing to do to solve it? Right? And sometimes that means getting the right brains in the room. Sometimes that means making the right commitments. So there is no problem. That’s unsolvable with the exception of very few. I love that. So moving along, I got into the war and by the way, when I was at Georgia tech, I co-oped, uh, so I earned a five-year degree, but I also co-oped, which was a two year program where you’re not in the classroom, you’re actually at the workplace as an employee. It’s not an internship. Uh, and so it was a seven year process to get my undergraduate degree with the co-op designation. Most people would say, Hey, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. You could have gotten a master’s in another two years, but I, because of the co-op, I actually pivoted during college from what I thought I wanted to do when I graduated into what I actually wanted to do, I would have never learned that being in a classroom and reading books, I had to be in the field and see the folks doing that work to realize I better not do this. I’ll be miserable for the next 30 years.
Scott Luton (20:35):
And that’s more important that that lesson learned that in the opportunity to learn that lessons part more important than any advanced degrees out there.
Fernando de Aguero (20:42):
Yeah, absolutely. So maybe someone that’s listening to this podcast has a students that are at that age. Um, and I’m certainly as this with our kids, encourage cooperative programs, get in the workplace and actually see what the quote real world really looks like in your major before you commit long-term great direction. So, um, moving along, uh, I, I ended up with an offer before I graduated, uh, to go work for Georgia power in their nuclear group. So I was a Southern company guy as a co-op during college. And I became a Southern company guy. Uh, when I entered the workforce, I also, uh, again, night school, uh, weekends and nights to earn a master’s in business administration, um, while I was early in the workforce years. Um, so I have an undergrad in engineering and then a, uh, an MBA. After a few years, I took a train, a transfer position to a subsidiary Southern company in Atlanta called Southern company energy marketing, which IPO three months after I arrived and spun off.
Fernando de Aguero (21:48):
So all of a sudden I thought it was a life or in Southern company, I was doing my rotation. I’m no longer in the company, but it was a blessing. I got to learn a heck of a lot from a lot of smart folks. There was about a dozen people in the group I worked in, uh, myself and one, or there were the only two quote dumb guys that didn’t have a PhD in the group. So I got to learn a lot from a lot of smart folks during those years and just happened to be there during the energy boom in 2000, 2001 and the Enron and Ron initiated, uh, collapse. Uh, so I was one of the three architects of the plan of reorganization when the company I worked for filed for bankruptcy. Uh, and I learned even more during that time, then all of the other years when we were operating in the boom, I think, um, uh, you know, the Lord just put me in the right place at the right time to learn a lot during those years.
Fernando de Aguero (22:40):
So moving along, I really got to understand business at a much deeper level by putting my hands on it, not just reading the books and taking the tests. And when I transitioned, we were having our first son at the time, I transitioned to Atlanta Gaslight company for more stability when I got there. Um, I came in and did some things for them, but ultimately the board, I’m sorry, not the board, the CFO and the CEO asked me to analyze how to deploy a significant amount of capital. I had to report back on, in about six months to the board. And so they wanted some, some intelligence and some modeling around that. And in that process, I realized, Hey, asset light businesses that cashflow quickly are really the way to go in that process. I talked myself into getting out of corporate America and becoming an entrepreneur because it’s a heck of a lot easier to get into an asset light business than it is to build an asset heavy business in the energy industry.
Fernando de Aguero (23:38):
Right. That led me to the launch. Our first company, Alison alluded to it. It was a natural gas retailer, Georgia, and then moving along, we started an actual gas elect, I’m sorry, a retail electric company in Texas. Uh, then we built a, we started a company that built the first smart meter to have your, have you’ve heard of that, or had people on the program, uh, around smart infrastructure in the utility space, smart meters and so forth. We built the first piece of software that actually allowed utility companies, gas, water, and power to utilize that infrastructure and create a better product services, billing intelligence for consumers of those commodities. From there, we went ahead and transitioned and we started this company in 2011. And so that’s kind of the professional background, uh, the company, our company today. We’ll talk about it a little more. I’m sure. In a few questions is really centric around technology. You could call it field tech, similar to FinTech. We’re kind of,
Scott Luton (24:32):
I love it. Or logistics, tech, freight tech, love it. Fuel tech.
Fernando de Aguero (24:36):
That’s right. That’s right. So, and by the way, the mentors, the, the most influential person during those years in my life was not someone in business. It was someone who taught me what it is to be a man, what it is to be a husband, a father, a son, and just, just a human being, uh, which translates into every area of life. And he was a retired pastor. He’s still alive. He became a very close friend and I chose to take half a day a week. So I’m taking hours away from work half a day, a week, 52 weeks, a year to just sit with him and disciple with him and learn from him. And, uh, and that was transformational. And it did translate into the business world very quickly because it gave me my Eureka moment. Rica moment was, it’s not about the business. The business is a by-product. If you do things properly, the business will work properly is a big word that we could spend a half hour impacting. But that’s the Eureka moment is that it’s not about the business. Uh, the businesses is going to happen one way or the other based on actions that are taken in your life, the seeds that you plant, the people that connect and the people you choose not to connect with,
Scott Luton (25:52):
Right. All those choices. And that’s, that’s one of the better things I’ve learned about being an entrepreneur is you get, you get to seek out and elect to partner and collaborate with greatest people in the world, right? And, and to your point, you get choosing the partner with some of those folks that may be a bit more, a bit different, uh, challenging, or you fill in the blank. But regardless, I love that. I love that story. There’s so much there. We’re gonna have to bring you all back for a multi-part episode, because both of y’all’s journeys are so much more there. I’m sure you could write a couple of books, both of you, but let’s, let’s transition over to diversified energy supply and, and really quick, you know, what the company does. And then Alison, and we’ll start with you. If you could re in a nutshell, tell us about what the company does, and then tell us about some of the unique complexities dynamics that a lot of folks probably don’t appreciate about the industry you’re in
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (26:50):
The bottom line for our company is we’re going to provide you the fuel that you want, that you need when you want it, where you want it in the way that you want it. We focus on customers that have large footprints, nationwide foot prints. They have complex fuel needs. We’ve got folks that need anything from just straight bulk delivery, down to mobile refueling, where we actually come and we fill each individual tank in a fleet of vehicles. Um, we do consigned fuel. We do fuel cards. Just anything that you can imagine, we come to you and, and, and provide that service for you. One of the things that makes us different is we started this company with the idea that we wanted to, we really just wanted to solve problems. Um, we noticed that there, there are customers that are frustrated. They’re folks that are out there that have all of these complexities around their business.
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (27:46):
And they’re really looking for, they’re looking for an easy button. They, they do what they do, they manufacturer, or, you know, they distribute food or supplies or construction. Um, they’re not in the fuel business. They just need this to make sense. They need it to be simple. And when it comes time to pay the bill, they needed to be clear. So what we try to do is go in, we ask for your worst possible mess, whatever mess you’ve got, the worst location you have, where nobody else can get it, right. Give us that, give us an opportunity. This is how we, um, establish our, our relationship with our, with our largest customer that we have to give us, give us the worst thing you got, because you don’t exactly just show up first day on the job and say, Hey, I’m a fuel company. Give me your, give me your business.
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (28:29):
You know, you really need to prove yourself. So there is a, there’s a, a proving time, especially with these, these larger, more established companies, we’re looking at fortune 500 companies. They’re not going to sign anything over just Willy nilly. They, they want to vet you. And I can certainly appreciate that. So we come in, we find out what the pain points are and we work diligently to solve those problems. One of the things that we came to realize very early on is that in the fuel space, in particular, there was not a lot of technology that really supported the efforts, um, of, of the companies that are providing fuels. So we just figured, you know, we’ll just build it. So instead of just taking things and bolting pieces on to try and create a solution that we could then provide to the customers, we’ve worked from the very beginning, um, to create our own proprietary software, um, our own platform. And we can customize that. And that’s one of our major differentiators is that we can pivot on a dime. We have our own team of developers here in house, and we can, we can take that customer’s problem and generate a solution
Fernando de Aguero (29:42):
In real time. And that’s something that I know that a lot of them have, have come to really appreciate. We’ve got just an excellent team of developers, just first-class all the way. So that’s, that’s something we’re very proud of. And, you know, and we do offer the piece where we are a woman owned business. So that’s also very important to a lot of our customers are seeking to meet some supplier diversity goals. And, you know, we can do that as well.
Scott Luton (30:06):
Wow. So, so many elements there. I love that the technology piece in particular, because that’s, you know, having interacted, not interview, but interacted with some, some of the folks in the fuel business throughout my time in Atlanta, that’s certainly something that I under appreciated and I love y’all have developers. I mean, you can, you can build out programs that sounds and really be a customized solution provider. Fernando, piggyback on that. What, what else would you add, especially as it, as it relates to complexities in the industry from a supply chain?
Fernando de Aguero (30:36):
I think in order to transition to that more, uh, I guess the broader question of the supply chain is understanding there’s a severe lack of controls in the historical fuel supply chain, severe lack of controls. And the reason is it’s a fragmented supply chain where there’s, you know, if you’re, let’s, let’s take a very common sense example. If you’re selling electricity to someone, somebody owns a power plant and it’s got a big cable connected to it. They make the profits there, it comes down the cable and it goes through a couple of transformers and it’s measured along the way. And eventually it hits your business or your home. There’s no human touching it. Anything when it’s produced, it shows up over here instantaneously, right? It’s fungible, right? Well, in fuel, you’ve got physical gallons that are produced in a refinery. They’ve got to be inserted into a pipeline.
Fernando de Aguero (31:30):
It’s got to physically move down that pipeline. And then it comes off the pipeline and whatever market you’re in. Let’s say the Atlanta market that comes off. And then it’s stored at a local terminal here in the Atlanta market, where there are humans involved, valving product here and there, and blending and all kinds of activities, which we don’t need to get into. That’s complexity that won’t help buyers, you know, but at that point, you’ve got a truck that’s driven by a human that shows up and puts fuel in multiple compartments, in a truck. And then that’s started the distribution portion of the supply chain
Scott Luton (32:06):
Of how you’re painting the fuels, the end-to-end fuel supply chain. Cause that I’m sure folks don’t, that’s highly underappreciated. So I love that. We need an infographic that captures that next time we have y’all okay.
Fernando de Aguero (32:19):
We can certainly help you with that. It’d be like to do that. And that is true. It’s kind of like electricity. You just flip the switch and you expect it to work and you don’t care. What’s upstream. And if it doesn’t work, you scream. Well, the same thing with fuel, you just expect fuel to be in the tank. And when your fleet vehicle needs to get out on the road to deliver, you know, Coca-Cola products, it, it just needs to work. Right? So this guy shows up like human drives a truck loads at the terminal into multiple compartments, and that truck has to drive it to a location. Then it has to connect hoses, physically offload each compartment of that truck into whatever location the customer wants. It. There’s a lot of human touch in this process. How do you document how much is moving from point a to point B as title transfers, you know, is there a loss of temperature, you know, change in the fuel causes expansion can Trek, there’s all kinds of complexities in this thing. Uh, that creates slip scenes where lack of controls occur, right? Did the driver leave all the fuel that was on the paperwork? How do you know maybe he left one compartment for himself?
Scott Luton (33:28):
And by the way, it’s fuel, it’s, you know, you have all the safety and the, the control points that, that need to be factored in, you know, being that it’s a flammable product that you’re, you’re shipping and managing it. Holy cow.
Fernando de Aguero (33:40):
Yeah. Well, there’s, there’s, it’s, it’s technically EPA has met, right? So insurance is different. You know, we take lots of trucks onto airport properties around the country. It’s not easy taking an 8,000 gallon firebomb across a runway. So there there’s, there’s all kinds of stuff that the customers don’t really think about that then they shouldn’t think about it. That’s what we do. But understanding that complexity is, is key.
Scott Luton (34:10):
I love that, you know, through all the shows, we’ve had wonderful people from that ship and managed coffee, supply chains that ship and manage all kinds of products, right. And all of them have their unique challenges, right. And, and unique problems and issues to deal with, but what you’ve just described and just the, the regulation and the policy and the, the, you know, all the state and federal and all the different authorities and the levels you’ve got to go through. I can only imagine how that adds to the complexity of just the sheer management of the fuel supply chain. So we’ll have to dive in deeper, but now I understand why y’all, you got to have the backgrounds that both of y’all have to navigate through that and then grow the company, given what it does.
Fernando de Aguero (34:55):
Yeah. And that, that is the, the supply chain up to the customer location. We manage that, but there’s a heck of a lot more that buyers need to really understand once that fuel gets to their property around financial controls, how do they monitor for employee fraud? You know, there’s all kinds of other things that we do for them, or we assist them so that they have the right tools to manage that. Uh, and we can talk about that at some point here in the next few questions
Scott Luton (35:22):
Sounds very holistic in terms of, of, of the value prop. So let’s talk about your roles as we talked about and appreciate everyone makes a lot of assumptions, CEO and COO, and where you spend your time and, and whatnot. Alison, tell us about, you know, what you do day in, day out as presidency,
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (35:39):
Generally speaking, I oversee the treasury aspect of the company, the strategy, the direction we’re going in. I push a lot of paper. That’s the short answer. I oversee the people what’s, what’s happening inside this building. What’s happening on our team, making sure that everybody has the tools that they need here to be successful and to do their job, you know, looking for different ways to grow and, and asking the questions of the team to see, um, where the gaps are, where, where can we step in, where can be, where we can be more effective, where can we grow in ways that we hadn’t thought of? Where can we position ourselves, not just to sell a bunch of fuel, but to, but to market ourselves as a complete solution to folks that are better needing something more than just a low cost, a low cost, low to fuel, you know, that’s really my thing. And, and it’s just really my primary focus. My heart is, is for the people here for the company and just making sure that they can be successful, um, and do the things that they were built to do well here. And then they feel supported that they, that they have what they need, um, to do that well.
Scott Luton (36:51):
Mm love that. I love that. All right. Same question for you, Fernando, as CEO, COO at diversified energy supply, where do you spend your time? What’s your favorite w and what’s maybe one of your favorite activities.
Fernando de Aguero (37:02):
Oh, gee, my, my number one favorite activity is the creative part of the job. And that is solving problems internally that then our team uses to go solve problems externally. What does that mean? It seems very fluffy. It’s what it means is designing software solutions to real world problems. I work directly with our architect and our developers and our commercial teams to kind of the cross section between them all. And sometimes I have the opportunity to step in and mathematically, you know, come up with solutions for things that haven’t been done in the business. Sometimes it’s just understanding from our salesmen, for example, unique customer needs, uh, and figuring out a way to, to solve them commercially. And then translating that to, you know, our architects who then further translated and translates it into data models and Capote and whatnot. So it’s a ever-changing creative process because the world’s always changing technology in the world is evolving the way customers of our customers want their products is changing the level of visibility in our customer’s internal platforms, whether it’s their accounting systems, operating systems, data warehouses are constantly evolving. So, you know, it’s a, it’s a constant moving target and we want to be running the race in first place as we keep chasing the customer needs. So that’s the number one thing I enjoy doing and just being creative around solving the problems. I love it. And every problem,
Scott Luton (38:36):
As you said earlier, every problem, except just a small few can be solved if you’re really committed to solving it right. That’s right.
Fernando de Aguero (38:44):
And the re the rest of my time is spent doing the, the customary things that, that you do when you run a business, you know, accounting, operations, you know, new supply, contract negotiations, et cetera, negotiating with, you know, Microsoft on whatever it’s, it’s, it’s the things we all do in business. But, um, the, the best part is to me, it’s just being creative.
Scott Luton (39:06):
Love it. That drive truck drives a ton of value. All right. So let’s, uh, let’s shift gears a little bit here, and let’s talk about growth, you know, as we have uncovered, y’all have grown tremendously, especially in the last seven, eight years, you know, kind of reader’s digest. If y’all, if y’all are familiar with that magazine, let, let’s take a reader’s digest version to this answer. What’s a couple of things that you’d like to share, especially the other business leaders can either relate to, or, you know, bake into their growth recipe for success. What Ellis, what would you point?
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (39:36):
I think that the secret to our success really has to be the technology and our ability to, like I said, pivot on a dime. We aren’t just settling for what has been customary in the fuel space. What has been, um, the offerings that are available to pretty much anybody we’re looking for, the complexity, the, the complex challenges that are facing those customers. And we’re trying to find the unique cutting edge ways to solve those problems, to bring that to the table in a way that’s complete and comprehensive. So not just from the fuel delivery where they have the product, but down to the accounting side of things, where things are transparent, they can report on that. They don’t have any heartburn, six months, you know, down the road because something wasn’t clear, we’re looking for ways to make it very dynamic and relevant for the customer. And the only way to do that really is to stay as current as possible technologically speaking, which is why we have the developers in house, which is why we have folks like Fernando, who are extremely creative. And, um, they bring this broad skillset into the mix. And it’s, it’s more than just being smart. It’s, it’s applying that and bringing it into, um, into something tangible that we can then present to the market
Scott Luton (40:56):
So much goodness there. Alison, I appreciate, and I appreciate as succinct did you package all that in you’re a pro I’ll tell you, Fernando, she mentioned about not just how creative you are, but it’s gotta be a dangerous thing to pair your creativity with your highly technical background. And then of course, the technology and developing talent, you’ve got there quite a skunkworks. You’ve got
Fernando de Aguero (41:18):
Our, our architect. I have to really point to him and give him kudos. His name is William. He kind of C building missile guidance systems for the air force. Really? Yeah. He’s 30 years ago. He’s when he writes stuff, when he designed stuff, it just works. And now, you know why you can start there, you know, you’re not kind of working really long. Yeah. Yeah. So, but we are blessed with a tremendous group of professionals in all areas of the business. Um, I think that really is, and I can tell you when I speak with them, one-on-one, it’s almost exclusively an issue of, we just wanted to be part of this culture. You know, we, we, they like being respected and supported rather than being told, bring me a rock. Right. And I think, uh, you know, maybe we touch on that a little bit later in the discussion, as far as the growth goes, um, growth is the most difficult thing to manage in a business.
Fernando de Aguero (42:15):
And, you know, we were blessed to win, uh, last year, the, um, ACG fast 40 award, uh, we actually were number two in the upper middle market. Nice. So that, that was a nice recognition. We weren’t looking for any awards. They came to us and said, Hey, wait a minute. We were nominated by folks that knew our business and are plugged in with that organization and complete surprise to us. We’ve just been heads down, building, working, solving problems. And we were recognized for the results of that. And they CG is the association for corporate growth, I believe. Right. That’s correct. That’s correct. So it really is. Um, and that’s all industries, you know, healthcare, it, you know, so we were number two. Uh, really our growth has come, as Allison said, by solving problems and using technology. But it’s not just that piece because you can have a business that started on day one with that focus and it could collapse the calculator.
Fernando de Aguero (43:13):
The other component of that is a very disciplined approach in the building of the business. So I’d encourage you. If you have entrepreneurs listening that are maybe looking to build solutions in the supply chain to meet customer needs. You know, we did it with no debt. We never took a loan. We grew within the capital that we earned as we went, we invested everything that we earned for the first five years back into the business and took very little out very little. And, and that is a long view of the business. Uh, whenever I meet with people who are starting businesses, I seem to hear the same kinds of things, which are, are not consistent with a long view and with how much work it takes to actually get there. But if you can make that commitment, it does bear fruit. And our growth part of, part of it was fueled by the way we built the company.
Fernando de Aguero (44:02):
And part of it was fueled by what we did with that company in the marketplace. And the third part is we really invested in people and brought into sharp knives that I equal four or five Dell knives. Right. So, uh, I think that, you know, that’s the kind of secret sauce it’s really combination of those three easily stated kind of hard to rep to, to build and replicate in another business. Um, yeah, so hopefully that helps kind of it, right. And if you’re a corporate buyer, you know, our growth is from, from a buyer’s perspective and supply chain. We’re just, you know, we’re one of the suppliers that happens to come in and look to partner with a buyer versus just telling them how great we are and come buy our stuff. We really strive to know, to meet and know, and build relationships with responsible managers and buyers in organizations so that we can better understand their pain points and solve that this is not a new formula. Uh, this is a very, you know, explicit set sales style and that that’s been our approach
Scott Luton (45:06):
Void the transaction ality. I’m a makeup board here at transactionality that, that goes on so much across industry, but really drive relationships and really getting to know beyond just the transaction, what are their other needs, whether the other problems I love that let them revalue. All right. So for the sake of time, let’s, let’s shift gears. Let’s, let’s go broader, right? I’ll tell you why. I think one of the, one of the things we’re talking about here that the silver linings in this historically challenging year is all the innovation that’s taking place. The lessons, the business lessons learned in a variety of sectors across global supply chain. That’s going to make all the industry stronger. And it’s also going to allow us to handle the next curve ball. I hate to use this word resilience, but I mean that in a really meaningful way. So we’ll be able to handle that next curve ball in a more resilient manner. And right. And we’ll, we’ll, we’ll have less, hopefully knock on wood. We’ll have less blind spots that have been, that have surfaced here in the last eight to 12 months, especially here in the States, as you survey global supply chain beyond the fuel supply chain industry, uh, Alison what’s one thing that you’re tracking more than others here right now,
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (46:16):
For me, it’s, it’s just that it’s that ability to move quickly and pivot on a dime when you see that the needs, the needs of every company have, have seemed to change by and large, uh, where people are not traveling as much. They’re not putting as much of a focus on being out in the market and everything is, is just shifting back. The supplier has to pivot as well. So our focus has to go to, um, where can we best support the industries that are in need? How do we make sure that the food distribution companies are, are going to be able to deliver her food? You know, we’re just one of the things that I know about our company and in making those changes, we initiated this company to be able to be very flexible from the onset. So we can do our job, whether we are out on the road or if we are here in the office, in our home space. So for us, the transition was not difficult when things went on lockdown and everything changed. Just all of a sudden, we were able to tell our people, Hey, just keep doing what you’re doing. You’ve got the equipment, you’ve got the tools, you do your thing, and let’s look and see where the customers are hurting and we’ll meet them where they’re, Fernando’s
Scott Luton (47:30):
Got some really great stuff to share our list. I’m going to actually turn this over to sure, absolutely. So for Fernanda, you know, piggybacking what Alison just shared, what else would you add in terms of what you’re tracking globally?
Fernando de Aguero (47:42):
Before I jump into that, I just didn’t want to say, I think Alison hit on something that was important and it has a more global, uh, I think result. We were always built to be nimble. We were, you know, a Microsoft beta customer in the Azure. And so, you know, we’re on the front end, literally the cutting edge on technology. So when something like a COVID pandemic hit, where we had these inability to travel, to see customers and the ability to you can travel to an office or meet with suppliers, we didn’t miss a beat because we were already fully virtualized. Uh, we were already under a hardened infrastructure. In fact, we just had a staff meeting one day and said, all right, guys, everybody worked from home, nothing had to be purchased, nothing had to change. We just kept jobs. And the other component is because of the technology that we own.
Fernando de Aguero (48:30):
We can literally have our operations team on a, on a remote device, like a tablet or a phone supporting customers, right. Dealing with order processing and so forth. So it’s, and so that’s our experience. And I think what we’re seeing already and what we will continue to see for the next, you know, probably two years is lots of organizations making that transition rapidly. And even the largest organizations I’m already hearing from, you know, real estate professionals. They’re not going to be renewing the big towers. They’re going to cut their office spaces and start being more nimble. So the model we’ve flourished under is actually a model. I think everyone in the supply chain, whether you’re a buyer or a seller, you know, supplier, uh, is shifting towards now, as far as trends in the supply chain, I’ve been looking for one golden goose for years. And it, I don’t think we’re quite there yet. Just a lot of conferences and PowerPoints, but blockchain implementation in the fuel industry in particular would be a game changer. And if you think back to the commentary I made, when, when laying out the, uh, picture of what the supply chain looks at, we could eliminate a lot of, uh, inefficiencies in the supply chain
Scott Luton (49:48):
And bake more trust into the whole end to end supply chain.
Fernando de Aguero (49:51):
That’s right. It’s controls, right? Better controls, uh, rapid, rapid, it’s going to accelerate the exchange information. It’s just a game changer. And so that’s one of the big things that I’ve been looking for is it’s not that we don’t know how we could actually build blockchain into customer products today. The problem is there’s no unified standard in our space and there’s no. Uh, so by definition, because it’s not unified, you don’t have acceptance of it across the supply chain, whether you’re a buyer or a supplier. So, uh, that, that I think is one of the big transformational events that will occur eventually when I can’t predict that today, the other is I think, a refocus as a result of the pandemic on supply for resiliency. And historically, just look at that as a buyer from a financial perspective, but you can be a very large company and be ill-equipped for dealing with these disruptions and fail in your mission to serve that customer.
Fernando de Aguero (50:57):
So I think a renewed focus on infrastructure on supply, the suppliers own supply chain depth is key, particularly in a commodity business, like the one we’re in, where we don’t actually manufacture the, the refiners manufacturing them. Right. How many supply sources do you have in each market that you’re going to serve me in is a question I would ask to them a buyer, how many delivery assets do you have access to? How many trucks in our particular instance, can you bring us product on? Because we saw the trucking companies started becoming thinner and thinner during the process because of COVID, they would have to quarantine, they didn’t have enough drivers, they had the trucks, but not enough drivers, right? So these are details, but generally speaking, I think resiliency in the supply chain from suppliers and their supply chains and infrastructure should be a, a renewed focus and maybe a deeper focus than buyers typically, uh, you know, put in that area. I think those are the big ones, as far as traditional supply demand. Uh, it’s going to do what it’s going to do. OPEC is going to do what they do in our particular vertical. There’ll be consolidation across many industries that we’re already seeing. Uh, I think those are kind of normal shifts in the landscape. I don’t think they’re game changers. They’re just the S and flows of the cycles. Uh, the real game changers are technology-based blockchain and resiliency in the supply chain.
Scott Luton (52:20):
I really have enjoyed getting my fuel supply chain certification over the last hour and some change. And I really appreciate y’all sharing on the front end, you know, kind of allowing our listeners to connect with your, your journey and your point of view and, and, and the lens that you view, uh, not just business, but, but life through that. I always find that real fascinating. So let’s make sure our listeners know how to connect with each of you and, and learn more. So Alison, to start with you, how can folks connect with you?
Allison Sheffield de Aguero (52:48):
They can certainly connect with me on LinkedIn, Alison DIA Cuero. And, um, we have our website diversified energy supply.com.
Scott Luton (52:57):
It’s just that easy. I love that. And Fernanda,
Fernando de Aguero (52:59):
I would echo the same thing, Fernando, the [inaudible], uh, you can look up diversify the energy supply on LinkedIn and find, uh, most of us there please connect with us. And we would love to speak with you and understand, you know, be, have needs, how we can help. And if you just have questions on what we do, and some of the comments we’ve made, we expand on this with you, our contact us page, we get back to any contacts, you know, within 24 hours. Uh, so please feel free. That’s easier to just
Scott Luton (53:26):
Pass your information along and we’ll connect with you that way, love that. And speaking of easier, we’re going to make it the one-click rule. We’re going to have a LinkedIn profiles and the company site in the show notes to really make it easy for our listeners to connect and learn more. So really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you both. We’ve been chatting with Alison Sheffield, [inaudible] president CEO at diversified energy supply and her, her partner and husband, Fernanda de Guerra chief operating officer also with diversified energy supply. Thank you both wonderful conversation. And we look forward to reconnecting real soon. Thank you for the time you bet to our listeners. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this unique conversation as much as I have. I love both parts, both the, the journey, and then diving deeper into at least in my, in my purview of blind spot I had in my global supply chain experience. So if you enjoy this conversation, you can learn more and find more episodes of supply chain. now.com. Of course, you could find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from, uh, on behalf of our entire team, Scott Luton signing off here today. Hey, challenge you like we challenge ourselves, do good, give forward and be the change that’s needed.
We’ll see you next time here on Supply Chain Now.
Would you rather watch the show in action? Watch as Scott welcomes Allison Sheffield de Aguero and Fernando de Aguero to Supply Chain Now through our YouTube channel.
Allison Sheffield de Aguero is the president and CEO of Diversified Energy Supply. She is a third-generation petroleum fuel businesswoman. Upon completing her undergraduate education, she entered the workforce as an international sales representative selling engineering equipment and software in the Latin American market. She completed her graduate work in 2003. Beginning in 2004, Allison and her husband pursued entrepreneurial ventures in retail energy (both power and natural gas). During the period between 2011 and 2014, she focused on marketing efforts to build Diversified Energy Supply into a nationwide wholesale petroleum, electric power and natural gas supplier.
During 2014 she assumed the role of CEO and sole member and has further shaped the strategic direction of the company by expanding its fuel supply business line and scaling the operational platform into 40+ states. She is married and the proud mother of four children.
Fernando de Aguero is the Chief Operating Officer of Diversified Energy Supply. He possesses a broad energy industry experience ranging from petroleum commodity supply to regulated utilities to deregulated merchant and retail energy. He has launched six privately held energy ventures, was Chairman, CEO and President of a deregulated retail natural gas marketer, Manager and CEO of a deregulated retail electric provider, Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of a leading smart grid-enabled prepaid utility solutions and software development company and held various leadership roles spanning strategic planning, finance, business development, commercial operations and trading at AGL Resources (Atlanta Gas Light, Virginia Natural Gas, City Gas of Florida, Elizabethtown Gas, Chattanooga Gas, Pivotal and Sequent Energy Management), Mirant Corporation and Southern Company (Southern Nuclear and Southern Company Services). Mr. de Aguero built and launched Mansfield Power and Gas, the power and natural gas company affiliate to Mansfield Oil Company. Mr. de Agüero previously led the team that designed and built the first prepaid retail natural gas billing platform in North America, the first smart-metered prepaid electric billing platform, as well as other software based solutions in the utility vertical. He has been involved in several power plant development projects and corporate acquisitions with negotiated valuations totalling over $10 Billion in both the natural gas and electric industries. Mr. de Agüero started his career with Southern Company in 1993, working in nuclear plant design engineering and safety as a nuclear engineer and mechanical engineer, as well as a health physicist. He earned a Bachelor in Nuclear Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He speaks Spanish fluently, has a history of political and community involvement, and invests most of his personal time with his wife, four children and church family in Roswell, Georgia.
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