With more fuel-efficient vehicles and fewer miles driven, how does Taylor-based Atlas Oil Co. propel a 25-percent growth rate year over year?
Sam Simon, chairman and CEO of Atlas Oil Co. in Taylor, is aiming to be the largest provider of emergency services in the country.
Photograph by Kristi Gnyp
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Sam Simon will never forget the phone call. Like most everyone in the Midwest, he was monitoring the progress of Hurricane Sandy as it moved up the East Coast in late October 2012, but he wasn’t giving it any serious thought.
The Category 3 hurricane — with winds up to 130 mph — was expected to move inland from New Jersey and New York before losing strength in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio. The storm, which eventually caused $65 billion in property damage — destroying power lines, along with thousands of homes, offices, stores, and vehicles — proved to be the second costliest storm in the Atlantic United States, according to the National Hurricane Center (in 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused $108 billion in property damage).
As Sandy approached the East Coast, Simon was putting the finishing touches on a new corporate office in downtown Birmingham. His fuel service business, Atlas Oil Co. in Taylor, was delivering gasoline and diesel fuel across 26 states. He also was preparing to launch a new line of service stations, while ramping up distribution of crude oil.
His parents, escaping persecution in Iraq, arrived in metro Detroit in 1973. Simon’s father, Ramzi, found work in a gas station and bought the operation within two years. From there, the company grew to 30 service stations, which Simon began to manage in 1980 while he was still a junior in high school. Five years later, he acquired a fuel truck for $30,000, using a cash advance from a credit card, and launched Atlas Oil. Today, the company distributes 800 million gallons of fuel annually, with 2 billion in long-term contracts, to end users such as BP, Marathon, Clark, and Valero.
“So here comes Hurricane Sandy, and I get a call from a company with a contract with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), and could we help with supplying trucks and fuel to some of the hardest-hit areas?” says Simon, chairman and CEO of Atlas Oil. “So we assemble 80 of our team members and we send 65 fuel trucks to New Jersey.
“Then we find out we’re managing a network of 368 trucks, so we set up a supply line and (bring) in RVs so our drivers and our operational personnel (can) spend the night, which turned into weeks. It was a logistical nightmare at first, but it became abundantly clear that proper planning would have alleviated a lot of the early confusion. And that’s when I saw opportunity.”