AMSOIL looks ahead for fast-track growth
BUSINESS: Al Amatuzio, founder of the Superior-based synthetic lubricant maker, says the company will double in size in the next five years.
BY JANE BRISSETT
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
AMSOIL, the Superior company that manufactures synthetic motor oil, will announce to its dealers today a new management team that's expected to lead the company to more than double its size during the next five years.
Al Amatuzio, the company's founder and chief who unabashedly claims "we make the best oil in the world," sees that AMSOIL will need more expertise and energy at the top to grow. He has turned over many of his responsibilities to his son and son-in-law.
Now they'll have a team to help them.
AMSOIL, which calls itself the largest independent manufacturer of synthetic lubricants in the world, will introduce seven new vice presidents and directors to 225 dealers meeting in the Twin Ports.
The company has been preparing for a full-throttle expansion for the past couple of years. It expanded its physical presence with the purchase of the 8.5-acre warehouse at the base of the Bong Bridge once owned by Fleming Cos., a grocery wholesaler. It has about 250 employees.
"The company will become a giant corporation one of these days," predicted Amatuzio, the company's charismatic president, CEO and founder.
Amatuzio, a former jet fighter pilot, founded the company after observing characteristics of synthetic oil in jet engines -- reduced engine wear, good performance in extreme temperatures and long life. He thought, correctly as it turns out, that synthetic oil also could be used in automobiles.
He is considered by some to be a pioneer in synthetic motor oil.
Amatuzio is a native of Duluth's Raleigh Street. He served 25 years in the Air Guard and built the company after retiring from the military. Since its founding in 1972, Amatuzio has received numerous awards for his leadership in the industry.
Now at age 82 he spends somewhat less time at the office, leaving much of the company's leadership to his son, Alan Amatuzio, executive vice president and chief operating officer; and son-in-law, Dean Alexander, executive vice president and general manager. The elder Amatuzio will retire "when I hit 100," he said with a laugh.
The company is built on a multi-level marketing strategy, similar to Tupperware or Mary Kay Cosmetics, in which much of the selling is done through person-to-person contacts. AMSOIL claims 90,000 dealers around the world, some of whom are purported to be millionaires.
Officials don't disclose the company's annual revenue, but Al said it is more than a business directory's estimate of $50 million to $75 million. AMSOIL has seen annual double-digit growth since 1990, Alexander said.
All manufacturing and laboratory development takes place in Superior. Within two or three years, it is expected be located at the warehouse building, now called AMSOIL Center. AMSOIL has invested about $500,000 in the building to date, Al said.
The synthetic lubricants banner has been taken up by the big oil companies such as ExxonMobil or Shell, for which AMSOIL is no match in size. Al said his company, an independent, beats the big ones on quality, however.
"Synthetic is a term that means different things to different people," said Dennis Bachelder, senior engineer in oil licensing at the American Petroleum Institute. API has set standards for motor oils in conjunction with major automakers since the early 1980s, he said. Some of Amsoil's numerous products are API licensed.
AMSOIL uses a synthetic base for its oil, but some synthetic oil manufacturers use highly refined oil, Bachelder said. AMSOIL, Bachelder said, tends to use "very high-quality base stock."
The company does its own lab testing and field testing, Alan said.
Al told his dealers in a company magazine that Texaco once offered to buy him out. He turned down that bid and his son said he sees no way big oil could put AMSOIL out of business. "The only way they can shut us down is to compete against us and beat us, which they can't do," Alan said.
Instead, the company will continue to grow in Superior with the help of its new team, Al said. The location, though, can be a hindrance to recruiting.
"Bringing industry people to this area is a challenge," Alexander said. The severe winter weather and remote location aren't for everyone, he said.
AMSOIL is one of the top five locally owned employers in Superior, said Andy Lisak, executive director of the Superior-Douglas County Development Association.
It's one company that provides jobs for highly educated people -- with degrees in accounting, chemistry or finance, for example, Lisak said. "They don't get a lot of fanfare, but they're creating jobs year by year and they're sustainable jobs."
Although the company is quiet in its home community, it aggressively markets its products and is extending the fanfare this week to AMSOIL University, the meeting of dealers who are in Superior and Duluth attending classes to learn more about their products.
On Wednesday evening, the dealers and other guests were invited to a dinner and a surprise movie premiere. It turned out to be a 90-minute, $100,000 documentary-type production about Al's life as told by family, friends and associates.
The film is called "Albert J. Amatuzio: An American Success Story."
Al is an icon to company dealers, associates say. His son-in-law put it succinctly in the film: "To the AMSOIL dealers," he said, "Al is like a rock star."