Hightowers Petroleum Co: 2013 Industrial/Service Company of the Year
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

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Stephen Hightower, president and CEO of Hightowers Petroleum Co.

Stephen Hightower has never accidentally been in the right place at the right time. He’s always made sure he was  prepared for any opportunity.

In 2009, at the peak of the Great Recession, GM was in the throes of a government-assisted bankruptcy. And the president and CEO of Hightowers Petroleum Co., a licensed wholesale distributor of petroleum-based products, was prepared to sell to the battered auto manufacturer. He had to be ready to  provide “initial fills,” or place fuel in cars coming off the GM assembly line.  Although it only took two years to gain product certification and approval from GM to produce a top-tier branded product with stabilizers that helped the fuel last longer, it took five years total before he was given a contract; three of those years were spent convincing all participants in the supply chain, from buyers to the CEO, that his team had the expertise and capability to perform on time.

During that time both a vice president and a supplier diversity executive who had championed Hightower left the company, so he had to start the relationship-building process all over again.

“What got me back on track was an automotive summit, hosted by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition,” says Hightower. “They put me back in front of the CEO of GM, [who introduced us to] Barbara Whittaker, a senior procurement manager.” She went back to the buyers and told them to move forward with Hightowers Petroleum, giving the company a shot at the contract. This was historic. Hightower says no other company aside from BP had ever handled initial fills for any auto manufacturer in the U.S.; not Exxon, Chevron, or Sunoco, nor any jobbers–those who buy, sell, transport, and store fuel.

“Bad times are great times for small, innovative, and emergent businesses to take advantage of instability in the marketplace,” says Hightower, who says the company does not have an 8(a) federal designation but is registered with the National Minority Supplier Development Council and has a minority business enterprise (MBE) in select states. “GM gave us the opportunity with 48 hours to implement it … nationally. We had carriers step up and we outperformed our suppliers. We worked 24 hours for two to three weeks but we never let any plant run out of fuel.”

GM got the benefit of witnessing the promise that Hightowers makes to all of its customers: “You come first, every time.” Every drop of fuel that Hightowers delivered met the required specs and was delivered on time, which is the most important part of the job.

“There are great financial penalties for shutting down an assembly line to any supplier to the automotive industry. That would have been the end of our career with General Motors,” says Hightower.

Since that time, Hightower says, every car that comes off a GM assembly line throughout the U.S. and Mexico runs on Hightowers gas. The company now delivers 14 million gallons of fuel to GM every year. Hightower says nobody aside from BP has these kinds of contracts, which in GM’s case is a contract in the neighborhood of $50 million and growing now that the industry has rebounded.

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, SocialWayne.com chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining BlackEnterprise.com as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and BlackEnterprise.com helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.

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