How did you get your start in the propane industry?
I first started retailing propane with a small barbecue and forklift filling station on my used car lot. Myself and one other employee would fill tanks while on the lot selling cars. The business seemed fruitful enough, and at the same time, my father-in-law was running an oil and propane company in nearby Plymouth, Massachusetts.
He explained to me the bright future this industry had, and coincidentally enough, an acquaintance of mine soon approached me, asking if I would be interested in purchasing his small propane delivery route (four customers) and his 1,800-gallon propane delivery truck. I wrote him a check for $12,000, and Paul’s Propane (soon to be DiLeo Gas Inc.) began.
From there I worked as a one-man band, slowly expanding piece by piece for years. After about 20 years, I had grown to having my own bulk storage, a couple bobtails, and another driver. Two of my three sons came aboard after graduating college to help with the growth of the business and my eventual succession plan.
The last seven to 10 years has been a period of growth and acquisitions. This past summer I was able to fully walk away from the business with my sons continuing what I started.
What changes to the industry do you hope to see in the next few years?
I would like to see propane take a step away from the sidelines and stand at the forefront of the energy conversation. It’s time to make the case that propane is a recycled energy, and that renewable propane will play a critical role in our nation’s energy plans moving forward.
Despite it being a time where there is so much industry consolidation, we need to do a better job of energizing and empowering independents to take the fight local and being better brand ambassadors for our product.
Describe some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced throughout your career.
As a one-man band, when the trucks go down, you have nothing. There were a lot of times in my career when I felt like I was on the verge of something great, but also a step away from losing it — all at the same time. I was constantly having to prove myself to the public, showing that I was running the organization with all of the proper permits and insurance. Looking back, it’s crazy all the challenges I had to go through, but it’s from those challenging periods that I became who I am today.
How about great successes?
Any father will tell you their No.1 goal is to provide for his family and to provide better opportunities for his children. Two of my sons — Paul Jr. and Harry — have taken the reins of the company I started more than 30 years ago. Under their leadership, the business has flourished. We had our rough moments during the transition, but I can now look back proudly that the foundation I built has developed into something great because of them.
What advice do you have for a business owner or leader preparing for retirement?
If you can, make it a quick transition. The shorter the time you are in the transitional phase, the easier it will be on you and your family. You are going from being in a position of complete control to having little to none, and that can be a struggle for anyone who has been in a leadership position. Change your phone number — no matter who succeeds you, your customers do not like change.
Tell us the best piece of advice you have ever received.
“If you don’t take care of your customer, someone else will.”
What do you want your legacy to include?
That I was an advocate for the little guy, and my heart was always bigger than my wallet.
What’s up next?
I’m looking forward to spending time with my wife and family. I plan to step into my new role as Grampi full time!