2017 Powered by Women
From reader nominations, DBusiness selected eight professional women who are driving growth in Michigan, the nation, and the world.
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Terri Harwood // Katie Bowman Coleman // Amy B. Robinson // Monica Martinez
Lilly Epstein Stotland // Christine Sitek // Tricia Ruby // Sara Blackmer
Lilly Epstein Stotland
President • Vesco Oil Corp., Southfield
Employees: 200+ • Revenue: $175M
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Lilly Epstein Stotland, a recent Harvard University graduate, was at her desk working as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs when the horror of the World Trade Center attacks a few blocks away changed her life forever.
As dust and debris from the stricken towers filled her office, she fled into the street and ran arm-in-arm with a colleague to safety. “I was one of those people you would have seen on TV covered in dust,” she says. “We ran through the dust cloud and it was a very scary, transformative moment for me personally, and for so many others. It really was a turning point in terms of the direction of my life.”
As she took stock of the disaster around her, she thought about her family in metro Detroit and the business, Vesco Oil Corp., which her grandfather, Eugene Epstein, and two partners (since bought out) founded in 1947. It was then that she realized it was time for her to go home.
“We had a family business that I always had an interest in joining, but 9/11 was the push that I needed to pursue my dreams to find work that gave me a real feeling of history and a sense of purpose,” she says. “It was that overwhelming experience that pushed me in the direction that I always knew I would go.”
Fast-forward 16 years. Epstein Stotland is now president of Southfield-based Vesco Oil, one of the country’s largest distributors of automotive and industrial lubricants. She and her sister, Lena Epstein, previously shared the titles of co-owner and general manager of the company.
In May, Lena, who was co-chair of President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Michigan, announced her candidacy for the United States Senate. On June 22, Epstein Stotland took over as president from her father, Donald Epstein, who serves as Vesco’s CEO. Her mother, Marjory Epstein, is vice president and chairman of the board.
Epstein Stotland says working in a tight-knit family business is fulfilling. “There’s so much history here — family history, and so many generations in Detroit. I was yearning for that in my life, and I was thrilled to be back in Detroit and have the opportunity to work here,” she says.
After her grandfather’s death in 1985, his son, Richard, took over as president and CEO. A decade later, Richard unexpectedly died after a serious illness and was succeeded by Donald.
Epstein Stotland says the family is always aware that within the industry, Vesco Oil has been a target of private equity raiders. “That has been going on for a number of years,” she says. “We feel like we have a unique story to tell in that we maintain ourselves as a family business, with all the family atmosphere and culture that comes along with that. Private equity can’t duplicate that element.”
To keep the company moving forward, the family has been making strategic acquisitions of similar-sized competitors in Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; and Pittsburgh.
"We’ve been making acquisitions in the region of other family-held businesses, and we find that many of these businesses have a culture and operations that fit and are very complementary to ours,” Stotland Epstein says. “We’ve given those owners the opportunity to remain involved in their business and continue with their legacies.”
Vesco Oil distributes Exxon Mobil and Valvoline lubricants, as well as those of Castrol, Perkins Products, Motorcraft, Quaker, and other brands. In addition to its headquarters in Southfield, the company operates warehouses in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Zilwaukee, and Mancelona. The company also handles bulk windshield washer solvent and antifreeze, and has been honored for its environmental stewardship.
One achievement she is proud of is the company's certification in 2014 as a national women’s business enterprise by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Another achievement Epstein Stotland is proud of is Birmingham’s memorial of 9/11 which features a remnant of steel from one of the fallen World Trade Center buildings. “I wanted to make sure that we had something locally that would teach students about what happened on 9/11, so I worked with the city of Birmingham and donated the display, and helped to bring the city this remnant of steel for permanent display at the Birmingham Fire Department.” — Norm Sinclair