Still something left in the tank

For marine fuel pioneer Jerry Nessenson, ‘retirement’ means cutting back to a 40-hour week as a consultant

When Jerry Nessenson says he is retiring, he’s using the term somewhat loosely. The founder of ValvTect Petroleum Products might be leaving the company, but he will continue as a consultant to fuel and gasoline marketers and distributors with his new firm and plans to maintain a presence in the marine industry.

“I’m too young to stop working totally, and I love the marine industry and the petroleum business, which I’ve been in since 1966 when I joined Texaco,” the 75-year-old Nessenson says.

His consulting company, NESS Petroleum Solutions, is in part a play on his name and in part a reference to a reduction in the number of hours he plans to work. “Physically, that’s what NESS stands for: nights, evenings, Saturdays and Sundays,” he says. “I intend to take nights, evenings, Saturdays and Sundays off. I’ve always been a 50- or 60-hour-a-week guy, so going into retirement I’m going to cut it down to 40 hours a week.”

Those long hours have translated to some big successes during the last half-century. After attending DePauw University on a football scholarship and serving in the Marine Corps, Nessenson began his 50-year career in the petroleum industry at Texaco.

In 1969 he joined Bell Fuels, then a small Chicago heating oil distributor, to expand Bell into the emerging private-brand gasoline and diesel fuel market. As vice president he helped build Bell into one of the largest gasoline, diesel fuel and lubricant distributors in the United States at that time.

Known as an entrepreneur, innovator and marketer, Nessenson developed a multistate network of private-brand gasoline stations, truck stops and car washes at Bell Fuels under the trademarked brands Budget, Save More, U-Save, Bell and Road Pilot.

In 1984, when the Environmental Protection Agency announced the phase-out of lead in gasoline, Nessenson began researching a replacement. In 1986 he began marketing ValvTect — named for valve protection — to Bell’s gasoline distributors who supplied marinas, farms and older automobiles that needed an anti-wear additive to replace lead.

In 1987, although few fuel distributors used additives at the time, Nessenson purchased the fledgling fuel additive product line from Bell Fuels and began marketing the ValvTect Lead Substitute additive to gasoline distributors on a nationwide basis.

Because major brand refiners did not allow distributors to add fuel additives to their branded gasoline, eventually he launched the private brand ValvTect Marine Fuels, which are specially formulated for marine engines.

In 2004, when ethanol was found to cause problems in marine engines, under Nessenson’s leadership ValvTect developed ValvTect Ethanol Gasoline Treatment, which is formulated to prevent ethanol fuel-related problems.

Nessenson’s strategy was to sell ValvTect additives through a network of certified ValvTect distributors who would purchase unbranded gasoline and diesel fuel from refiners and market them as ValvTect Marine Fuels through a network of certified ValvTect marinas. That meant competing against such giant refiners as Texaco, Chevron and Shell. ValvTect Marine Fuel is now marketed in more than 40 states by nearly 100 certified ValvTect distributors and about 750 certified ValvTect marinas.

ValvTect says it enjoys a market share of more than 50 percent in bluewater marine markets, including Florida, New England and the Great Lakes region.

Although ValvTect can help mitigate problems caused by E10, or fuel with 10 percent ethanol, E15 continues to be a problem as the EPA raises biofuel mandates to comply with the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“The blend wall is something that’s not going to go away,” Nessenson says. “It gets more difficult for refiners to meet ethanol mandate requirements. It also impacts the marine and marina industry because in certain parts of the country it’s allowable to sell and use non-ethanol gasoline. That’s been very popular.”

As refiners are required to increase ethanol percentages in fuel it will eliminate their ability to sell E0, he says. “I can see that going away in the near future.”

Nessenson says he will stay active in the marine industry. He will remain on the board of directors at the Association of Marina Industries and says he will continue to assist the National Marine Manufacturers Association on any fuel-related issues that arise.

As part of a predetermined succession plan, Nessenson retired from ValvTect’s day-to-day operations in June 2014 to expand ValvTect through acquisitions, enjoy his passion for boating and spend more time with his daughters, Melissa and Julie.

Last October he led the acquisition of Energy Additives Inc., a lead propane additive manufacturer and propane filtration supplier, bringing ValvTect into the propane/LPG market.

When he spoke with Trade Only, Nessenson said he had just come back from spending four days on his boat and “contributing to the economic viability of the industry” in his small way. He says he looks forward to spending more time on his 60-foot Sea Ray, Miss-Julie, named for his daughters, and plans to complete the Great Loop, a longtime dream. He has always been a Sea Ray fan (this is his eighth) and sums up his loyalty with a Marine Corps saying he adapted by replacing the word “weapon” with “boat” — “If you’re good to your boat, your boat will be good to you.”

“It’s been a great run,” Nessenson says, adding that he feels fortunate to have been as active in and accepted by the industries where he chose to work.

“I hope I’ve been able to provide some positive input.”

After the Trade Only Today newsletter published a story announcing his retirement, Nessenson received about 150 “nice” messages from people in the petroleum and marine industries. “So that kind of makes you feel good after all those years,” he says.

“I’ve never approached business in just a dollars-and-cents way,” Nessenson adds. “I think if you come into an industry and try to provide value, the money will come, and that’s been good on both ends.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue.


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