From janitor to owner of a multimillion-dollar oil empire, meet Stephen Hightower

Theodora Aidoo Mar 14, 2020 at 05:00pm

March 14, 2020 at 05:00 pm | Success Story

Theodora Aidoo

Theodora Aidoo | Staff Writer

March 14, 2020 at 05:00 pm | Success Story

Stephen Hightower. Photo: Wright State Newsroom - Wright State University

“If you don’t think that you can be great, you’ll never be great,” said President and CEO of Hightowers Petroleum Stephen Hightower.

Hightower is one of America’s top oil tycoons with $434 million in revenue but life wasn’t so smooth for him at the beginning.

His first job was working nights and weekends for his parents’ cleaning business. But, “I wanted more,” Hightower said.

“I started as a janitor. I started cleaning floors and toilets and doing those things that most people would never even dream of doing,” Hightower said on CNBC’s “Blue Collar Millionaires.”

In 1978, Hightower graduated from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio and he started his own small construction company.

Pic Credit: Hightowers Petroleum

While trying to grow his business amidst the struggle with access to credit, Hightower learned about a program to sell gas in Ohio.

Discouraged with the hurdles he was encountering in construction, Hightower developed an oil and transport business, “Hightowers Petroleum Co.” in 1983.

By 1984, he had just one employee, an accountant. The business didn’t immediately grow as expected but when Hightower saw the company’s first $100, he was super excited.

“I remember when our first one hundred dollar bill came in, I just remember our excitement,” he said.

Today, his company buys oil products from refiners and delivers those products to corporate customers such as FedEx and GM all over the country, with 85 employees and sales of 140 million gallons of oil per year.  

From those humble beginnings and through persistence, drive, and determination, Hightower has grown his wholesale fuel distribution business into an energy solutions enterprise.

Today, that enterprise is recognized throughout North America for its customer service, integrity, creative fuel distribution model and expert handling of complex upstream and downstream issues, the company’s website says.

Hightower credits his success to his father whom he says shared some words of wisdom with him.

“As long as you’re honest, and as long as you don’t try to beat anyone, and you do the right thing, then you have the ability to be successful. And that I think is the best advice that I’ve had and that I can give to anybody else,” he said.

Steve Hightower, president of Hightowers Petroleum Co.
Pic Credit: asianentrepreneur.org

“When people ask me would I ever have imagined I would be where I am today? Absolutely,” Hightower, who has always had big dreams, told CNBC.

“Because if you don’t think that you can be great, you’ll never be great. And I knew that I was gonna be great a long, long time ago.”

The former janitor said he didn’t grow up watching soccer, but because he sees the potential to make money by being an investor, “now, I am a soccer fan.” He also owns a stake in FC Cincinnati, a professional soccer club.

His company, which has won over 40 awards with the most recent being the 2019 General Motors Supplier of the Year, has a Joint Venture in Nigeria and an office in South Africa, incorporated as Hightowers Petroleum, SA.

“I still haven’t made it”, Hightower said. “I’m still a very humble individual who’s trying to do the best that they can and actually one day actually make it because I understand what real money is. And the money that I’m playing with, some people use for, you know, exercise.”

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