EXECUTIVE ACHIEVEMENT Len Gelosa, President & CEO, Drew Marine

By MarEx 2011-04-03 16:57:14

EXECUTIVE ACHIEVEMENT - Len Gelosa, President & CEO, Drew Marine

Maritime solutions-provider Drew Marine is thriving under new ownership and the steady hand of CEO Len Gelosa. 

By Nichole Williamson

The distance from Boonton to Whippany, New Jersey is only about six miles. In fact, the drive takes ten minutes at most. But its significance was big for century-old Drew Marine last September when it celebrated its first year under J.F. Lehman’s private equity ownership by christening its new Whippany headquarters. The new facilities, complete with offices and laboratories, were a shining symbol of the company’s new standalone status.

The celebration marked the culmination of a year in which the company transitioned successfully from Fortune 500 ownership to having its own dedicated infrastructure and management systems, while at the same time building sales and maintaining customer loyalty. “Despite a global recession which severely impacted the maritime industry, Drew Marine achieved strong results in its first year of independent ownership,” noted President and CEO Len Gelosa.  “Our brand, our people, our service and our product quality enabled us to deliver the superior performance our customers have come to expect in the 65 countries and 900 ports where we do business.”

The Back Story

It was in 1907 that J.F. Drew founded Drew Chemical. The company started out in the vegetable oil business but soon added a water treatment line, focusing on the major problems of the day, which were in boilers. It wasn’t long before the company began to notice the need for the same solutions onboard ships. Marine engineers were hired, and the newfound niche grew rapidly. By 1928 a separate marine division was launched, focused exclusively on the maritime industry. Drew Marine and Drew Industrial, the two parts that comprised Drew Chemical, grew side by side over the years and were eventually acquired by Ashland Chemical in 1981.

Interestingly enough, Len Gelosa had left Ashland the year before it acquired Drew. He returned 11 years later as head of marketing for Drew Industrial. Two years later he was running that division, and in 2004 he was put in charge of Ashland Water Technologies, which included Drew Marine.

Looking back over the company’s history, Gelosa observed, “We have consistently adapted to our customers’ needs with new products and evolving technologies. For instance, when the Arab oil embargo struck in the 1970s and sent bunker prices soaring, we launched a full fuel treatment product line to enable our customers to manage their fuel requirements as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.” Welding and refrigeration products were added in the 1980s. When customers started having problems with ballast tank coatings, Drew acquired a company that specialized in coatings. More recently, it added onboard testing devices, fuel homogenizers, and fire safety and rescue products. Gelosa notes, “We have evolved by focusing on the acute problems the industry is facing and focusing on operating efficiencies, the longevity of the vessel, and the equipment onboard.”

Enter J. F. Lehman

At the end of 2006 Gelosa retired from Ashland, having done all he could to develop the water treatment business and seeking new challenges. He had no desire to take a top job with another big corporation but wanted to stay in the swing of things, and so he started a management consulting business to keep in touch with his clients. He also found time to do some of the things he’d always wanted to do, like coach an American Legion baseball team for boys aged 16 to 19. The long-time Yankees and football Giants fan also found himself attending more games than usual during this period and cheering his home teams on. It wasn’t long, however, before J. F. Lehman came calling.

Ashland was in a period of reorganization and gearing up for a big acquisition. Drew Marine didn’t fit its changing strategy and so it was looking to sell it. J.F.Lehman, an investor in mid-market companies in maritime, aerospace and defense, whose namesake Chairman is the former Secretary of the Navy, was interested and enlisted the help of an expert on the subject, Len Gelosa. Following the completion of the deal in September 2009, Lehman asked Gelosa to serve as CEO, and he accepted.

The Making of a Leader, and a Company

Gelosa is a New York City native with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in chemical engineering from CCNY. “Very early on I learned about water and fuel treatments,” he says, “and those are the two technologies that I’ve always remained very interested in.” The pairing of Gelosa with Drew Marine was a natural from the very beginning, since water and fuel treatment are Drew’s two biggest businesses.

After some time on the technology side of things, the would-be engineer discovered a flair for business and moved on to marketing and sales, and then general management positions with several Fortune 500 companies, including Allied Signal and U.S. Filter. Gelosa says his sales and marketing experience made him “very customer focused and very appreciative of the fact that, in order for us to be successful, we had to supply value to our customers to help them be successful.”

This regard for the customer’s needs is embedded in Drew’s culture with a particular focus on changing government regulations. The Clean Water Act, for example, gave Drew the opportunity to guide its clients through the compliance process using its patented products and services, including DREW WATCH™, a software application that monitors shipboard water treatment systems and makes recommendations on corrective actions as needed. Similarly, the company’s diesel performance and emission monitoring systems identify problems and enable customers to take corrective action to ensure air quality standards are being met.
The introduction of low-sulfur fuel and its mandated use in Emission Control Areas around the globe opened up another whole area of opportunity for the company, and Drew was the first to offer its customers a full range of low-sulfur fuel services. “Low-sulfur fuel brings with it a whole new set of challenges for the operator,” notes Gelosa, “so we provide sampling, analytical, consultative and treatment services along each step of the way to make sure the customer is burning the fuel as efficiently as possible. And while we don’t supply the fuel, we do just about everything else to help the customer avoid potential problems.”

“Best Outcomes Business”

Gelosa says the company is in “the best outcomes business.” The outcomes may include oily water discharge compliance, protecting a vessel’s boiler or engine, monitoring heat exchanges and clean exhaust spaces, or ensuring crew safety. The array of applications, products, training and monitoring systems makes Drew Marine a full-service provider. The company has an unerring ability to diagnose the problem, identify the solution, and then provide the proper products, service and training to ensure that the problem is resolved. In a world that is becoming increasingly green, Drew Marine finds itself in the sweet spot. Gelosa says it is the combination of products and services that creates a solution that’s very specific to each customer. The focus on quality and results is something that hasn’t changed much since the business was founded more than one hundred years ago.

When asked what the most satisfying part of his job is, Gelosa says, “Working with high-level professionals who are really excited about the opportunity of Drew Marine. It translates into providing value to our customers.” He sees his role as assembling the very best team possible, setting the direction of the company and then letting people do their jobs. The enthusiasm and professionalism of the 350 people who make up Drew Marine reflect the type of service a customer can expect from this organization. The respect and appreciation Gelosa has for his people are mutual. If the CEO defines a corporation’s culture, then Drew’s culture is one of respect and great passion – for employees, customers, and the company’s future.

“We have consistently adapted with evolving technologies to changing regulatory requirements,”Gelosa says. The company has gone from supplying not just materials but whole solutions. The ability to continually adapt will be the key to Drew’s future success as well. Gelosa says the company’s new ownership has given him the freedom to realize its full potential – something he was unable to do at Ashland, where the competition for capital among the various divisions and other big-company strictures limited his ability to get things done.

The future for Drew Marine indeed appears bright. Len Gelosa calls himself an engineer at heart who applies many of the “principles and mindsets of an engineer to the running of a business.” He adds, “I believe that all aspects of a corporation, from finance to manufacturing, are really a series of processes and very much driven by numbers. I take that approach, and it seems to work well.” We would have to agree. – MarEx

Nichole Williamson is Assistant Editor of The Maritime Executive.