Art of the Turnaround

Retired Air Force lieutenant colonel propels small petroleum company into a million-dollar logistics business

Sandra K. Walls (Photo by Trey Clark)

Sandra K. Walls (Photo by Trey Clark)

Sandra K. Walls is on a strategic mission to grow a multimillion-dollar business. “We have a five-year $100 million strategic growth plan in place,” says the president and CEO of AVPOL International L.L.C., a technical and logistics support services company in Memphis, Tennessee. The 61-year-old businesswoman became the sole owner of AVPOL in 2004, and turned the petroleum business into a $12 million company with 43 full-time employees that services federal and commercial contracts, including the Department of Defense, the Department of the Interior, and L-3 SFS Vertex Aerospace L.L.C.

It was the former Air Force lieutenant colonel’s military expertise in depot maintenance, warehouse solutions, logistics, advisory services, and program management that aided her in expanding AVPOL’s services. Going beyond the company’s core business of transporting petroleum products, she broadened its client base to include federal agencies other than the DOD. She then saw to it that the company was certified to do business as a woman- and minority-owned enterprise.

Originally incorporated in 1997 in Texas by retired military logisticians, AVPOL (Aviation, Petroleum, Oils, and Lubricants) worked mostly in the petroleum business within the DOD and provided support services in ground (as opposed to aviation) fuels. Walls had served 22 years in the U.S. Air Force where she managed supply and fuels accounts valued from $10 million to more than $50 million. She retired in 1995.

“We purchased, stocked, requisitioned, catalogued, issued, delivered, shipped, and disposed of varying types of supplies, fuels, and equipment to Air Force organizations and other federal agencies,” she says of her work in the military. “We were Sears and Roebuck to our military customers.” With a master’s in business, Walls notes that her level of responsibility was equivalent to that of many corporate vice presidents.

Walls came on board AVPOL as a partner in 2001. At the time the company employed about 30 people and generated some $1.2 million in revenues. “My experience in the logistics office with the military was much broader than petroleum. It involved logistics in terms of how you provide services or move products or commodities from point A to point B,” says Walls. So, “I started to move the company in a different direction.”

Three years later, her partner left the business. “My business partner and mentor, a company called Trajen, owned 49% of AVPOL. They sold the company to me for $350,000 structured as a loan,” she explains.

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