The oil industry is notably a male dominated industry. Only a few woman-owned businesses exist in this industry and the other women in the industry inherited their business as opposed to starting them from scratch as Liz McKinley did with Pinnacle Petroleum, Inc.
Liz’s journey has been marked with astonishing achievements. Her parents were both academicians, and thus, her interest in business was outside the box. Liz had a keen interest in economics, finance, and how geopolitical events change the value of currencies. She was asked by Koch Industries to interview as an oil trader. Living in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the oil trader position was the closest Liz could get to trading a commodity. Liz was the first female hired by Koch Industries at a commercial level. After working for various trading companies, she left to start her own business in 1995. Currently, Liz owns Pinnacle and serves as the Company President.
A Certified Woman-owned Enterprise Pinnacle is a national provider of competitively priced petroleum products and services. The Company has delivered refined fuels, lubricants and specialty fuels nationwide as a certified woman-owned business enterprise (WBE) since 1995. Pinnacle has a large footprint, making the Company desirable to larger corporations who prefer to minimize their vendors. Furthermore, Pinnacle strives to be a One Stop Shop for all fueling needs, differentiating the Company in the market place. The Company is leading edge at providing inventory management which leverages client’s inventory to take best advantage of market conditions.
Pinnacle is constantly pivoting. Liz likens it to a speed boat in the harbor competing against the ocean liners. Pinnacle is smaller than its competition, which are largely multi-billion and multi-generational companies, while the Company is fierce and nimble. Pinnacle offers flexibility and creativity to its customers. Today, the Company has reached new heights due to its customer centric approach as Pinnacle works within customer’s processes as opposed to forcing the customer to adhere to the Company’s services.
Being a woman entrepreneur, Liz faced many challenges. Initially, getting bank financing was hard-won. When the Company needed the cash, banks were less inclined to work with the Company as they doubted Pinnacle’s viability. For the first line of credit, Liz had to have a male friend accompany her to the bank to vouch for her. Another road block was getting “good ole boys” to accept Pinnacle and do business with the Company. The oil business is inherently a very closed industry with many barriers to entry. Pinnacle’s business depended on other companies to establish the Company’s distribution channel. Many women entrepreneurs face similar challenges in their workplaces. According to Liz, the most frequent challenge women deal with is clients assuming that they are less capable than their male competitors. It is always a learning curve for prospective clients to understand that a woman-owned businesses is not a small business with limited capabilities.
Over the last few years, Liz has been working hard to build her bench and develop talent, so that Pinnacle’s team members can take on more leadership roles. In the near future, Liz is interested in creating an online lifestyle company that would establish micro manufacturer businesses in third world companies using Pinnacle’s excess warehouse space for storage. Liz wants to give back to the community and use her knowledge base to assist others who are less fortunate.
Tenacity is the Key
In the Liz’ opinion, the most important personal attribute every entrepreneur must have is tenacity. She believes that hard work always pays-off, but, it isn’t necessarily a guaranteed linear pathway. As long as an entrepreneur tenaciously and smartly plugs away at a goal, there will eventually be a payoff.
Secondly, a valuable support system is essential for a woman entrepreneur. Liz advises other business women to find a trusted confidant with whom they can consult. She says, “In retrospect if I had had a seasoned business person to consult, I would have been less stressed about my unilateral decisions. I recommend getting involved with peer groups of women who can also support and advise them in their journey i.e. Women’s President’s Organization. In the first few years of my business I didn’t join any groups because I thought I was too busy and I believe I missed out on valuable support.”