A Decade Deep: Positioned, Poised & Prospering

Rocked by the financial collapse of 2008, the son of a Boston bus driver and plumber who had no commodity or trading experience, and just a high school education, took a chance on becoming an entrepreneur in the biodiesel space. And it paid off.
By Jamie O’Brien | August 09, 2018

After 11 years spent in corporate America, in 2005 I left at the age of 28 and took a chance to become an entrepreneur. I was operating a real estate development and marketing business in Boston and Costa Rica. Shortly after the financial collapse in 2008, my business also followed. I lost everything saved and gained and was broke, bewildered and without a plan. My then-partners and I looked at each other and thought, “What next?” I said, “You build me a biodiesel plant, I’ll build it to succeed.” The words of Sir Richard Branson—“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes, then learn how to do it later”—resonated with me. 

It was here the son of a Boston bus driver and plumber sat, with barely a high school degree and no commodity, energy, trading or logistics experience. With an aggressive 50-plus country world travel resume and 11 years’ experience in sales, operations and marketing within Fortune 500 environs, my career in biodiesel was born. Our plant in Tennessee was built, feedstock streams were established and biodiesel offtake agreements were plentiful. The business and plant were running as advertised. I discovered that there was an abundance of opportunity in the overall market, and Universal Green Commodities was born in 2010. An ex-partner of UGC gave me $100,000 to get the company off the ground. I paid back the loan within a year and grew the business organically from there.

I remember the first account I secured for UGC. It was a group of Ukrainians from Brighton Beach in Brooklyn gung-ho to take over the NYC used cooking oil (UCO) collection industry. Picture a big Boston Irishman now living in the Hamptons, driving up the Long Island Expressway into Brooklyn to meet this group at 4 a.m. with a certified bank check for $8,000. Back then, risk management procedures for new suppliers was just being there to watch the tanker get loaded with actual UCO from a mountain of 275-gallon totes, and not water from a garden hose. Yep, that was my life for the first five years in business. Traveling the country to different types of characters trying to seek out the credible and gain credibility in a Wild West environment. I’m happy to report that a derivative of that Ukrainian group is still a proud and loyal supplier to UGC today.

Moving on to today. Doesn’t this magazine feel thinner? You bet it does. That’s because since biodiesel in the U.S. first became commercially viable in 2006 only the strong, righteous and smart have survived. The fly-by-nights, the splash and dashers, gold rushers and criminal elements in the space are, and should remain, a thing of the past. The bipolarity of the burgeoning biodiesel industry and all its inefficiencies, grey-players, legislative challenges and anxiety-attack-inducing market dynamics were, at the very least, crippling and overwhelming for most. Survival in this space requires testicular fortitude and a certain level of crazy, plus the ability to thrive in complicated environments. I congratulate and will forever respect and be amazed by the entrepreneurs who fought a good fight, and for those who are still fighting today.

So now we enter a new era, one where the lean and mean embark on another market evolution towards the next decade. Can’t beat us, join us? Yes sir. Coprocessing. When the biggest names on Wall Street send their representatives that look like the Monopoly guy to little biodiesel feedstock events like The Jacobsen Conference in Chicago this year, you know change is coming. When Big Oil is reaching out to my boutique trading company to look for guidance, consult and near-future alignment, you know times are changing.

Not only is UGC a comprehensive full-service biodiesel company, but it has focused the past 10 years on developing, shaping, evolving, exploiting, capitalizing and managing the feeding of the machines with low carbon-intensity feedstocks. We have transacted with just about every significant remaining low carbon-intensity feedstock manufacturer in the country. We have the reputation and operational know-how. We have mastered the feedstock furnishing business so the biodiesel manufacturers can focus on their core business and aspirations.

In closing, UGC isn’t perhaps the most successful, best capitalized, highest market intellect or the largest volume renewable feedstock trading and logistics firm in biodiesel history. However, our network is robust. Our track record is flawless. Our logistical know-how is refined. Our vision is sharp, our mission is clear, our values are pure, our culture is defined, our entrepreneurial spirit is alive and our market savvy is plug and play. We are the horse you want to back. After a decade in this space, UGC is perfectly positioned for the future of biodiesel feedstock supply solutions and the logistical management associated with getting the commitments we make done.

We look forward to the next 10 years of success with our partners, clients and vendors and wish success to all fighting the good fight to sustain and remain relevant in this complex and ever-changing landscape of biodiesel.

Author: Jamie O’Brien
Founder and President, UGC

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