November 23, 2011

Booth Waltz Enterprises Acquires Windward Petroleum

In what could be the biggest news of the year in lubricant distribution, Booth Waltz Enterprises (dba G.H. Berlin Oil) announced today that it, together with Stephen Eldred will acquire Windward Petroleum.

G. H. Berlin, headquartered in East Hartford, Connecticut is one of the largest and most well respected lubricant marketers in the region. The company has been in business since 1920 and operates facilities in East Hartford, CT, Canterbury, CT, Nashua, NH, St. Johnsbury, VT, and Dover, NJ.

And for the few in our business who may not know, Windward Petroleum is one of the first and largest private equity rollups in the lubricant distribution space. The company started in 1998 when the private equity group of Halpern, Denny & Co acquired Bailey Distributing as a platform. Within a few years, and with the assistance of mezzanine funding from the private equity group of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co, Windward Petroleum bolted on 18 other lubricant distributors from Florida to Maine to become one of the largest lubricant distributors in North America.

But truth be told, Windward may have grown too fast leading up to the challenging economic times we are now in. As a result, in 2011 they have divested non-strategic assets in the South and refocused their efforts in the Northeastern markets. In addition, as the business downsized there were a number of changes in their senior management team. But to the credit of Brown Brothers Harriman who took control in 2007, they did what they had to do to maintain Windward’s presence in the market. And now they are exiting the space the way many private equity groups do, by selling the business to a strategic buyer. In this case, the strategic buyer is Booth Waltz Enterprises together with Windward CFO Stephen Eldred.

The acquisition already has broad support from the two companies’ major partners, and delivers significant value in terms of brand alignment and product line synergies, according to David Waltz, President of G.H. Berlin. When combined with Windward’s, G.H. Berlin’s product line will include ExxonMobil, Valvoline, ConocoPhillips, Petro-Canada, Motorcraft and others. Waltz notes, “The depth and breadth of these brands and the value proposition of each, positions us to meet the needs of a wider range of customers.”

Although Windward will be wholly owned by Booth Waltz Enterprises, it will be run on a stand-alone basis for a period. “Over time, the businesses of G.H. Berlin and Windward will be slowly integrated to further grow a very successful enterprise,” says Waltz, “but we want to ensure that we make deliberate, thoughtful integration plans that keep the best interests of our customers at heart.” To that end, there will be no changes from a customer-facing perspective in the immediate future until “we can take the best practices from both companies and offer our customers a broader product offering, continuously improving service, and an overall superior end-to-end experience,” Waltz said.

Larry Robinette, the current President & CEO of Windward will step down and Stephen Eldred, Senior VP, CFO will step up as the new President and CEO of Windward. Eldred joined Windward in 2005 and has a proven track record of success as a CFO and CEO in companies focused on engineering, packaging, and gaming. According to Waltz, Eldred “has one of the best financial minds in the lubricants business.”

In Waltz’s view, it’s all about the team. To this point, Waltz adds “When you combine the talent of Stephen Eldred with that of Lou Demaio, Vice President of Sales, Dave Fenderson, VP of Marketing and Product Development, and others at Windward, with the talents of Jeff Dodge, VP Industrial/Commercial, Vince Huschle, Automotive/Commercial General Sales Mgr, and others at G.H. Berlin, you have an A-Team, with excellent Lubricant marketplace knowledge, that knows how to run a business, service its customers, and work with its suppliers.”

And although Dave Waltz is too humble to toot his own horn, JobbersWorld is well aware that he, too, has a reputation in the industry as being a very sharp and confident businessman with the keen ability to think out of the box and make things happen.

“Dave is a proven and trusted industry veteran who has demonstrated the ability to grow his business by focusing on delivering customer value,” Eldred said. “And in fact the combination of G.H. Berlin and Windward is another step toward bringing increased value to those customers. The new company is aligned with the industry’s best supplier partners, and will have a broader reach, increased product offerings, and an improved ability to respond to customers’ needs efficiently and effectively.”

So there you have it. For all those who were wondering what the endgame would be for the private equity group behind Windward, the answer is now clear, they will sell the company to Booth Waltz Enterprises and management. But whereas this may be the end of the lubricants business for Brown Brothers Harriman, it’s a new, exciting, and big step up for Booth Waltz Enterprises and Windward Petroleum. And based on what JobbersWorld knows of both G.H. Berlin and Windward, even though this is a big step, it’s likely viewed as just one more step of many in a staircase its management can and will climb to take them to the top.

By Thomas F. Glenn