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Crafting Success: Insights from John Blanchard, CEO of Odfjell Terminals US

In a recent interview with Storage Terminals Magazine (STM), John Blanchard, CEO of Odfjell Terminals US (OTUS) opens up about the challenges and opportunities in the tank storage industry. He emphasizes the complexities of regulations, the growing prominence of ESG considerations, and the evolving landscape of cyber security. Discover how Odfjell Terminals US stays ahead in terms of innovation, sustainability, and customer satisfaction.

The below article is part of STM’s ‘Top 100 Tank Storage influencers guide 2023’

John Blanchard is the Chief Executive Officer of Odfjell Terminals US (OTUS).

In this role, he oversees operations and all strategic initiatives, including a strong focus on safety, financial performance and growth.

Prior to joining OTUS, he served as President of Arc Logistics Partners where he led the company through significant growth and expansion.

 

STM: Could you please provide a brief overview of Odfjell Terminals US and your role within the company?

JB: OTUS is a storage terminal business jointly owned by Odfjell SE and Northleaf Capital Partners. OTUS operates assets in Houston, TX and Charleston, SC and focuses mainly on storing niche specialty chemicals and petrochemicals; however, we also store various grades of renewables, edible and other high value oils.

Odfjell Terminals US’ position is strictly independent third party terminalling supported by truck, rail, marine and pipeline infrastructure with a core focus on handling our customers’ products as reliably and efficiently as possible with a strong focus on safety, product integrity and minimizing impacts to the environment.


I joined the organization in 2019, when Odfjell SE was changing its global ownership structure and strategy in terminalling. My role was to develop a US based management team, stabilize and build up operations, improve customer service, enhance safety and profitability and subsequently grow the business. We have been very successful in executing this strategy and continue to advance the business on all fronts.
 

STM: What are the key factors that have contributed to Odfjell  Terminals US' success and growth in recent years?

JB: One of the most rewarding aspects of being an executive of any organization is having the business grow and be successful. Clearly, at its foundation we are dependent on our customers to grow in order for us to be successful.

Without a strong and diverse customer base, we cannot have a successful business. We feel very humbled that many customers come to us first when they are considering storage needs, specifically for the more specialized chemicals and petrochemicals. They value our unique infrastructure and operating experience geared to safely handle and protect the integrity of their products. We feel that every customer is our partner and we are passionate about contributing to their success.

However, without question the success of OTUS is linked to its excellent people. OTUS stores many chemicals that are unique to the industry or that very few competitors have the infrastructure to store.

The systems required to store these products are complicated and require strong knowledge and experience to operate and deliver reliable service to customers. OTUS’ staff, from the executives down to the new-hire operators are all critical in making sure we perform for our customers every day. Without the knowledge and capabilities of our staff and their strong commitment to safe operations, we would not be able to experience the success and/or growth that we have had over the past several years.


STM: In your opinion, what are the current challenges and opportunities in the tank storage industry, particularly in the United States?

JB: Regulation has increasingly been one of the main challenges in the tank storage industry. As regulations become more stringent, managing storage assets will continue to be more complex and challenging. Having a strong asset integrity program, a focus on efficient, safe operations and minimizing impacts to the environment will continue to be the main keys to success; and if successful on these fronts, we will be better positioned to adapt to changing market conditions or increased regulations.

ESG has been a growing entrant into the spotlight over the past decade and is a strong focus for our team as well.

We are continuing to develop our ESG programs with a focus on reducing emissions, waste management, diversity and energy conservation.

One of the fast trending and more recent challenges that all businesses are facing is cyber security. Cyber attacks seem to be exponentially more prevalent in the business environment. I believe these attacks will become more sophisticated and new programs for investment will evolve in unison and continue to be a challenge to all companies.

Despite the challenges, I am still excited about the opportunities that continue to develop in the industry. Our business has seen a dramatic change in product flows and tremendous growth that were sparked by the shale gas revolution.

Although this has been occurring for several years, we are still seeing rapid growth in the US chemical manufacturing industry particularly in polyols, nitriles and isocyanates; and we are currently working on opportunities with several customers and/or potential customers that have new manufacturing capacity coming on-line. This growth will continue to need support from the tank storage industry and is a main driver of our upgrade projects over the past few years.

Odfjell Terminals Charleston

 

STM: How does Odfjell Terminals US stay ahead of the competition in terms of innovation, sustainability, and customer satisfaction?

JB: One of the unique aspects of OTUS is our flexibility in storing a diverse range of chemicals and petrochemicals. We are always investing in our assets to better serve our customers in storing their chemicals and/or petrochemicals as they are becoming ever-increasingly more complex to handle. Although we are an infrastructure business at our core, we have focused heavily and have made tremendous strides over the last several years in technology and digitalization.

We are investing heavily in a digital transformation project to better serve our customers through automation of key processes coupled with operational excellence initiatives; and these efforts are resulting in more efficient, safer operations.

Additionally, these investments will improve our customers’ experience, whether it be reductions in modality cycle-times, real-time access to data on our operations and help optimize their production/logistics. This journey of continuous improvement has also increased our employee value proposition via professional development opportunities and improved work-life balance, improved financial performance, and is helping us reduce waste, emissions and energy usage.
 

STM: Could you share any upcoming projects or initiatives that Odfjell Terminals US is working on to further enhance its offerings to customers?

JB: We have spent the last several years focusing on improving the integrity of our assets to allow for safer and more reliable operations. This has allowed us to make great strides in customer service and safety.

Although we are continually looking to improve the condition of our existing assets, these efforts have evolved to include a strong focus on growth, particularly with products that are more difficult to handle such as some varieties of acrylates, nitriles and polyols.

Last year, we initiated a new tank development project that involves building nine new tanks comprised of over 200,000 barrels of stainless steel and carbon steel storage at our Houston Terminal. This project is expected to be complete and fully operational by January 2024.

In addition, we are exploring opportunities to build new tanks to meet our customers’ growing needs on undeveloped land located at our Houston Terminal and the development of a second phase build-out of our Charleston Terminal to meet growing demand for storage. Once developed, these new tank projects could increase our storage capacity by over one million barrels.

We have recently begun targeting assets outside of our existing footprint and are actively looking to develop greenfield projects and pursue acquisitions.

We see significant opportunities to store chemicals and petrochemicals at numerous ports throughout the United States; and our unique commercial and operating experience handling these products provides us opportunities to acquire and grow businesses in areas and with products that many of our competitors are not able.


STM: What are your predictions for the future of the tank storage industry, and how do you see Odfjell Terminals US contributing to its development?

JB: The chemicals that we store support a diverse range of industries; and as new products or technologies are developed in these industries, we expect the chemical feedstocks required to manufacture these new products to be stored at our facilities.

Undoubtedly, we will continue to see higher levels of regulation throughout the entire industry, and if we do not have a solid foundation and are not continuously looking to improve, we can lose out on new opportunities as they arise.

Our diverse permits and flexible assets put us in a coveted, strategic position compared to many of our competitors, as it affords us considerable optionality in the products we store.

Consequently, we expect to continue to evolve as the storage industry becomes more challenging. In addition, our employees are active in the communities and industry organizations/associations that are tied to changing regulations.

We feel that being an active participant in the change of the regulations is not only helping us be a part of the evolution of the industry, but is also allowing us to stay in front of any changes that could potentially impact our business.

We continue to be at the forefront of ESG and I am continually challenging our team to seek alternative forms of energy while at the same time reduce waste and emissions.

For example, we have actively participated in port studies and collaborated with vessel operators to minimize movements between us and other terminals in the Houston area to help reduce shipping emissions.

An experienced team: Sr. Millwright Martin Mondragon Sr., Senior I&E Technician Roman Makosa and Project Manager Ken Zoeller have each worked for more than 30 years at Odfjell Terminals Houston. Here with CEO John Blanchard (second from left) and Chair Laurence Odfjell (right).

 

STM: As an Influencer in the tank storage sector, what advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?

JB: Although it takes a lot of different qualities to be successful in this industry, I think that ownership and empowerment are traits that are absolute necessities.

Owning your decisions and the outcomes (good or bad) will drive you to be better and put you in a position to be more successful. Take advantage of opportunities that are given to you or volunteer for projects. In doing so, make sure you see them to completion, deliver them in a form that you are proud of and add value to your organization.

As your career progresses, empowering others around you will be required for an organization to grow and for those around you to learn and become better, and as a result the organization will become stronger.

Every company in this industry wants to build new tanks to generate new revenue, but there can be many opportunities to maximize revenue/profitability with the infrastructure that already exists.

Evaluate and challenge yourself and those around you to find these opportunities. This can include alternative uses of assets or land, partnering with vendors/ customers on opportunities, or simply evaluating assets and driving more value from them by making slight changes in the way you operate.

Lastly, innovation is also paramount to success. The logistics industry is always facing challenges; and when a customer needs to adapt to market conditions, they will need your help to overcome these challenges.

The tank storage industry plays a major role in its customer’s logistical strategy. In logistics, issues arise frequently, and I find this to be the best time to differentiate your business from the competition.

Always try to go the extra mile when your customer is experiencing an issue to assist them in being successful through these issues. Again, treating customers like partners is a key to both businesses being successful. 

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