Miller enjoys leading Williams Bio-Energy, sees continued growth for ethanol

Williams Bio-Energy president was the longest-serving RFA chair
By | June 01, 2002
If Ron Miller's career had to be summed up in a single sentence, it would look something like this:

Ron is an ethanol man, who used to be an oil man, who went to college to be an engineer, (but like most engineers in the ethanol industry) ended up in business, picked up an MBA along the way, and now leads a division of a major U.S. corporation.

Long story made short, Ron has done well - for himself, sure - but primarily for the people he has served. And that's what counts.

He is today President of Williams Bio-Energy, a division of Williams, a company that moves, manages and markets all kinds of energy, including natural gas, liquids, petroleum, ethanol and electricity. He is ultimately responsible for all ethanol production, product marketing and sales for the company (and that's no small job these days). Ron is a dedicated company leader who has, in fact, worked for just two differnt companies in 31 years - and the one move he did make was the result of an acquisition. He has earned a reputaiton for being dependable, driven, honest and above all, committed - committed to doing business the way it ought to be done.

Williams is a progressive company that proudly says it abides by "enduring values, strives to do the right thing by its customers, employees, shareholders and communities, and has a steadfast commitment to excellence, unyielding integrity, and a handshake that's as solid as any contract."

That said, it's no surprise that Ron is among their top people. His friends in the ethanol industry say he exudes the qaulities Williams admonishes.

Ron's got what he calls "a knack for sales and business," that has undeniably helped him represent Williams Bio-Energy and the ethanol industry as a whole.

Serving five years (1996-2001) as chairman of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), Ron holds the record as the longest serving chair of the ethanol industry's national trade association, a title that he sometimes jokes about.

"I had no intention of chairing the RFA for so long," he says. "I'm just a bad succession planner, I guess."

In actuality, Ron stayed on as chair of the RFA for five years, because the industry was fighting - and winning important battles, political and otherwise, on a national stage.

"As chairman of the RFA , Ron provided strong, steady leadership when the industry was at a crossroads. Thanks in large part to his guidance, our industry embraced a future of dramatic expansion, diversification, and cooperation," said RFA President Bob Dinneen.

Ron handed over the RFA reigns to former High Plains Ethanol President Gary Smith last year, ending an eight year run where Williams Bio-Energy executives held the top RFA seat (former Williams Bio-Energy President Jack Huggins was chairperson of tthe RFA before Ron).

"I enjoyed it very much," Ron says, "It was a pleasure to take on a leadership role with the RFA. . . although," he added, "it is nice to go to meetings now and not have to run them. . . Gary Smith is doing an extremely fine job."

Early years
Ron's "knack for sales" helped him achieve early success after college. A few years after earning an environmental engineering degree from Southern Illinois University in 1967, Ron took a job in 1971 with the company his father worked for - Texaco. For the next 10 years, Ron held a variety of roles with Texaco, largely in sales positions, responsible for certain gasoline and aviation fuel accounts within a large region of the U.S.

He has specifically applied his undergraduate degree only one year during his entire career, he said, when Texaco placed him in a environmental coordinator's position working largely with the EPA on issues such as spills and cleanups. He eventually moved on to middle and upper-level management positions with Texaco.

In 1986, Texaco merged with CPC Internatioanl, Inc. and became Pekin Energy Company. Ron describes Pekin Energy Company as a "nice, independent-natured business that melted together two unique cultures and worked well." Three years later, Ron earned his MBA from the University of Illinois.

In 1995, Williams purchased Pekin Energy and Nebraska Energy (now a 35 mmgy ethanol plant in Aurora, Neb.). Ron accepted a position overseeing the production and marketing of ethanol at the facility, and so began his career in ethanol.

"This industry has gone from early childhood to early adulthood in a very short time," he said. "When I started, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) was seven times bigger than Williams. Next year, they will be only twice as large as Williams (including all ethanol marketing contracts). So we have made significant progress."

In addition to the Aurora ethanol plant, Williams owns and operates a 100 mmgy ethanol facility in Pekin, Illinois. Working with over a dozen independent ethanol producers, Williams will bring nearly 500 mmgy to market by 2003.

On the industry
"There is no doubt that the ethanol industry will triple - or grow even beyond that size - in the next 10 years," Ron said. "I think we will eventually have 3, 4, even 5 percent of the national fuel supply and ethanol will be seen as a standard component of most gasoline.

"To make this happen, I think we need more consolidation within the ethanol iondustry. Right now, we basically have eight major oil companies in the gasoline business; these companies do not want to deal with two dozen ethanol suppliers. They can, but they would prefer not to. The ethanol industry is still very fractionized (contrary to what the media likes to portray about it in regards to ADM). I think we will see more farmer-owned cooperatives consolidating (with major marketers of ethanol) in order to sell their products through major channels in the most efficient and profitable way they can.

"The ethanol companies that survive the long term will be those that have low cost energy, low cost feedstock, good outbound logistics and are prepared to add capacity for growth.

"Down the road, I think the ethanol industry will be balanced between corn ethanol and biomass ethanol, and that's probably the way it should be. The possibilities for growth are virtually endless right now. n