Mike Bryan credits career success to integrity, quality service

BBI International President honed skills at North Dakota ethanol plant, as NCGA representative in St. Louis, Washington D.C.
By | March 01, 2002
Mike Bryan has more than eighteen years experience in the ethanol industry, plus fifteen years in advertising and marketing. He formed BBI International (formerly Bryan & Bryan, Inc.) in 1995 as an ethanol consulting, publication and conference firm. The company has completed no less than 60 bioenergy and ag processing feasibility studies and business plans for public and private clients. As President of BBI International, Bryan has a hand in all aspects of the company, including consulting services, conference planning, publications and international affairs. BBI International is headquartered in Cotopaxi, Colorado with hub offices in Evergreen, Colorado and Grand Forks, North Dakota.

In a steel-sided workshop next to the Arkansas River in Cotopaxi, Colorado, sits an out of use 1957 Chris Craft cabin cruiser. Once royalty among boats, this old vessel is well past its prime but destined to return to its home in the water. Not on the Arkansas, of course, but on the mighty Mississippi.

Had to Have It, as BBI International President Mike Bryan and his wife Kathy have so aptly named the old cruiser, will make a six-week voyage down the Mississippi, from Minneapolis to New Orleans this fall (knock on wood Mike. . . but not too hard). Mike and Kathy discovered the boat two years ago in Minnesota, north of St. Cloud. The 27-foot cabin cruiser was in rough shape but Mike saw some life in her and had the boat towed home to Colorado where, with the help of some very skilled friends, the cruiser will soon be totally refurbished to its original glory. Who says there are no second acts in American life.

St. Louis to Colorado
Like that old Chris Craft, Mike may have been edging past his prime when, at age 50, he and Kathy, a full partner in the business, left St. Louis, Missouri for a refurbishment of their own in Colorado.

When the couple relocated to the mountains in 1996, neither realized just how much their young ethanol consulting firm, Bryan & Bryan, Inc., would evolve and grow. Both had a great deal of experience in the ethanol industry, and the duo was quickly becoming the busiest two-person show in the business. In Colorado, Mike and Kathy expected to keep the firm small, streamlined . . . uncomplicated.

Easier said than done.

"We had no fears moving out to Colorado," Mike said. "The ethanol consulting business was picking up and Bryan & Bryan, Inc. was literally Kathy and myself. Believe me, we never expected this company to grow like it has. The industry just took off around us - and with us. Looking back, should we have chosen this location for our business? No, probably not, but we certainly love it here. Colorado is our home."

The view from Mike's office window isn't bad either. BBI International sits 8,200 feet high in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range of south-central Colorado. On a clear morning, you can see all the way to New Mexico - literally - some 80 odd miles down the Wet Mountian Valley. For a Minnesota kid who spent 27 years on the plains of North Dakota's Red River Valley, a mountain view like this never gets old.

Long journey to ethanol
Mike was raised in Watertown, Minnesota, a small town west of Minneapolis-St.Paul. The youngest of five children, Mike was an affable young man who "was not particularily athletic but did letter in track & field as a pole-vaulter. (You can imagine all the "raising the bar" analogies a former pole-vaulter can come up with as the president of a company).

Mike joined the U.S. Air Force in 1963. He was stationed in North Dakota (near Grand Forks), where he eventually married, raised children and remained for almost three decades. A young entrapenuer willing to try his hand at anything, Mike gained invaluable experience in various agricultural and marketing positions - including radio broadcasting - until finding a strong interest, and a natural talent, in advertising. For a number of years, Mike owned and operated a successful advertising/marketing agency in Grand Forks. In 1983, Mike sold the agency and took a position as Assistant General Manager of Alchem, Ltd, a new ethanol plant in Grafton, North Dakota. It was Mike's first move into ethanol and the beginning of what's become his life's work.

From Alchem to NCGA
"Alchem is where I cut my teeth, so to speak, in ethanol," Mike said. "It was a small facility, and I was able to be involved in almost every aspect of plant operations."

Over the next six years, Mike said, he had a role in overseeing Alchem's ethanol production and marketing, plant operations, purchasing, DDGS marketing and state legislation. It was a strong foundation from which he built his entire career.

In 1989, Mike reluctantly departed from Alchem for an "opportunity he could not pass up" at the National Corn Growers Association in St. Louis. With the NCGA, Mike was the ethanol specialist responsible for international, federal and state projects. He was also a project manager for ethanol and corn sweeteners. During this time, Mike participated in international trade missions to Japan, Korea, France and Taiwan. He spent many days and weeks in Washington D.C. and worked on ethanol issues relating to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, and the subsequent Regulatory Negotiations.

"That was an exciting time in my career when the ethanol industry was quite young and we simply did not have as many friends as we do now." He recalls. "Of course, things are much different now - we have friends in the oil industry today - but back then it was just ethanol producers and corn growers on our side."

With the NCGA, Mike said, he was fortunate to spend a lot of time working in the NCGA Washington D.C. office, helping to coordinate the efforts between D.C. and St. Louis and acting as a liaison between the corn-growing states and the ethanol industry.

"Before joining the NCGA, I had been to Washington D.C. maybe twice in my life. It was sort of like Mr. Tibbs goes to Washington. There was a fast learning curve and I don't mind saying that I knew a lot about ethanol but very little about Washington when I started out. That was my introduction to public policy and it helped shape my career in ethanol. It was a terrific learning experience for me. Working for the NCGA gave me the opportunity to see the world and meet some very interesting people. . . I feel as though it rounded out my professional abilities."

BBI International

In 1995, a wind of change once again took hold of Mike, this time including his wife Kathy, who at the time was working as an ethanol consultant for an enzyme company. The couple set out on their own, first in St. Louis and eventually making the move to Colorado, where the company is still headquartered. Mike and Kathy took on a number projects simultaneously, including the now world-famous International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Trade show (now in its 18th year), as well as The Energy Independent newsletter (now Ethanol Producer Magazine).

The company's first ethanol study was done for the Michigan Corn Growers Association in 1995. Now under the team leadership of former National Renewable Energy Laboratory process engineer Mark Yancey, the BBI Consulting Services Division has completed no less than 60 ethanol feasibility studies and business plans in at least 20 states; a number those projects have come to fruition and are now active ethanol production facilities.

Today, BBI International has a dozen employees working in three offices in the U.S., including Ethanol Producer Magazine's publishing headquarters in Grand Forks. BBI has a growing international presence - especially in the China, India and the Far East. The company's conference services division held the World Fuel Ethanol Congress in Beijing, China last year and is currently helping to plan an international ethanol conference in India. The 2002 Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Trade Show, to be held in Springfield, Illinois, June 25-28, is expected to draw nearly 1,000 participants from around the globe, as well as over 100 exhibitors.

As for the future of his company, "I think BBI will always stay true to its mission of serving the renewable energy industry, but that role has evolved and will continue to evolve," Mike said. "I see us staying involved with renewable diesel, cellulosic ethanol and even wind power generation. Of course, we will remain highly dedicated to the grain ethanol industry."

Mike said BBI International today holds years of practical experience from both the production and marketing sides of ethanol, along with an unsurpassed degree of objectivity and independence that allows the company to maintain a perspective on the industry that is both "unique and valuable."

As for himself, Mike says, "I would like to think the ethanol industry sees Mike Bryan as a guy who has made a contribution - a professional who is dedicated to the industry, dedicated to the growth of renewable fuels, honest and straight-forward. . . that's all I can hope for.

"I have always taken great pride in being an ethanol proponent. I've always felt like I was on the right side of the issue, from an energy perspective, an environmental perspective and a rural economic development perspective - I truly believe we are doing something good for society."

The future of the industry
"I think we are headed into a period of adjustment as we adapt to the likely elimination of the oxygenate standard and prepare for the awesome implications of the renewable fuels standard. There may be some lag-time between when the RFS kicks-in and when the market catches up. We may see a period of slight overproduction in the next two years before we really experience the windfall.

"Of course, the current situation in California will have a short-term negative affect on the industry. Gov. Gray Davis should have followed through on the MTBE ban this year. . .It would have been a relatively smooth transition and the demand would have eaten up a significant portion of the new ethanol production coming online. So we must always be adjusting and adapting - we have to find new markets. The Northeast markets are as big as California, but harder to obtain (because there are several state's to deal with, not just one large market). We need to continually expand our marketplace objectives.

"In the next ten years I see cellulosic ethanol taking off. I am convinced that we will be producing ethanol from cellulose in this country - I don't know when, but it will happen on a large scale. When this happens, we'll all be talking about 40 to 50 billion gallon markets instead of 5 to 10 billion gallon markets."

For now, Mike will concentrate on keeping BBI International on the forefront of the ever changing marketplacece of renewable fuels. Afterall, Mike's not ready to give up the helm of the company for the helm of an old boat. . .not quite yet anyway.