At a Glance
Des Moines, IA
Petroleum construction, remodeling, service, and distribution
In 1973, when a 19-year-old college student named Chris Risewick recognized his first big entrepreneurial opportunity, he grabbed it: a petroleum-equipment company he named after Seneca Plaza, which stood near the business’s first offices in Des Moines, Iowa. Gradually, Risewick added petroleum construction, distribution, and service capabilities to Seneca Companies, and he also diversified the company’s portfolio, branching out into electrical-contracting services in 1975, industrial-fluid handling in 1985, and environmental and compliance services in 1988—just to name a few. Today, nearly four decades later, Seneca Companies has nine separate divisions and annual revenues of $85 million, and Risewick still serves as owner and CEO.
President and COO Murray Nelson points to a number of factors that have contributed to Seneca’s continued growth recently. In the last year alone the company grew by 42 percent after acquiring two new petroleum service providers: Littlejohn’s Equipment in Denver and MidSouth Petroleum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Seneca’s workforce, too, has steadily increased; the company currently employees 303 people, up from 250 just two years ago. And quality has improved alongside quantity. “We’ve picked up a lot of top-notch project-engineering talent,” Nelson says. “With so many big construction companies downsizing in the area, it’s been pretty easy for us to recruit.”
Top 5 Strategies Used for the Quad-City International Airport Project
1. Seneca broke the project into four phases to maintain consistent airline-fueling operations while replacing the existing facility with a new fuel farm.
2. Fuel tanks were delivered via strategic haul routes; each tank is 60 feet long and 12 feet in diameter.
3. Temporary shoring was used to support underground utilities and control undermining of roadway during excavation.
4. Environmental remediation was included to remove surface contamination; nearly 600 tons of impacted soils were removed from the site.
5. Traffic control during paving operations—Seneca removed and replaced 25,000 square feet of tarmac—involved daily coordination with airport personnel, the TSA, and the FAA.
The topic of leadership development is perhaps where Nelson’s enthusiasm becomes most unmistakable. He names Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan’s 2002 best-seller, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, as an invaluable resource. With its focus on commitment and accountability, the corporate strategy guide stresses the importance of having the right people in the right jobs. Nelson has helped Seneca adopt a similar approach. “We have very frank discussions and yearly reviews about employee performance and development,” he says. If a manager notices a “high flyer,” that person is given the opportunity to advance his or her career, but Seneca also openly addresses those whose performances are less than stellar. “We demand that our people dig deep and determine where growth is happening annually,” Nelson adds. “We really try to solicit honest feedback and remove the politics. Unless you do that, the thing won’t work.”
For now, the firm’s philosophy has appeared to work pretty well. Last November, the Metropolitan Airport Authority of Rock Island County, Illinois, awarded Seneca a $4.5 million contract for a fuel farm project at the Quad City International Airport—the largest singular project in the company’s history. Seneca is replacing the airport’s current fueling system with three 50,000-gallon fuel tanks made of carbon steel with epoxy liner. Three 8,000-gallon tanks for aircraft deicing fluid are also being installed.
Even more recently Seneca was awarded a $680,000 contract for a turn-key, design-build fuel-farm renovation for the Gulfstream Aerospace South Campus, located at the Savannah International Airport in Savannah, Georgia. The new fueling station will be exclusively for the new $58 million Gulfstream G650 Private Jet.
These projects speak to the continued success of Seneca’s core petroleum business—but the eight other divisions underscore Risewick’s equal-opportunity entrepreneurial spirit. Seneca’s diversification is one reason the company’s professionals are now experts in their fields, Nelson says—and that expertise adds significant levels of value to Seneca’s service. “When you’re growing,” he says, “sometimes you’re wearing more hats than you ought to. … But when there’s pent-up demand, you have to be in the right position to take advantage of it.” ABQ