A 66-year-old Springfield manufacturer is behaving more like an aggressive startup under the direction of a new president.
Since Jerry Nichols came on as chief operating officer of Allen Filters Inc. in early 2012 and took the president’s post a year ago, he’s bought out a large portion of the founding family and is reinventing the longtime filter company.
Nichols’ entry came at a time when President Rob Simon had died, leaving Allen Filters in the hands of his widow and owner, Kathy Allen. While the company relied on a steady stream of oil and gas clients across 60 countries – Shell, Saudi Aramco and the U.S. Navy, for example – Nichols quickly saw another opportunity.
“We had never exploited the private investor market, which is what I’ve spent most of my time on,” he says of the last year.
The globetrotting executive has taken to the air with a new business model in his briefcase. A quarter of a million miles of travel later, he’s created Allen Global LLC to serve as parent company of three core entities with a fourth in development.
New course A whiteboard in Nichols’ office charts the course for the new companies. He sketched it two years ago, but it’s a daily reminder of the interconnectivity of the evolving companies.
Central to Nichols’ redesign is a simplification of operations.
“Basically, every industry in every country in the world can use our equipment. So how do you focus on that?” says Nichols, a 30-year veteran of Springfield businesses such as KO Manufacturing, Barclay Enterprises and the Swisshelm Group.
Together, the Allen companies manufacture fluid filtration and purification equipment for power grids and the oil and gas industries, and sales, installation and maintenance is performed worldwide through key partnerships.
His first step was establishing Allen Filtration in May, followed by a buyout two months ago of all assets from the Allen family except for the traditional filter production. That business remains with Kathy Allen under the Allen Filters brand.
Considered the workhorse of the organization, Allen Filtration manufactures fluid management equipment to recycle dirty oil for reuse in a variety of ways.
Allen Filtration currently is developing glycol and lubricating oil recycling plants, as well as waste oil refineries to clean motor oil, add additives and bottle it. “It’ll come in as dirty oil and go out as quarts,” Nichols says, noting other projects center on diesel and methane purification.
Auckland, New Zealand-based Icefire Ltd. has purchased a recycling plant for the oil mines in Western Australia with delivery expected at the first of the year, says Chairman Peter Taylor.
“In the region we’re currently working in, we get about 40 million liters a year,” Taylor says, reached by phone on business in Perth, Australia. “We’re in the midst of putting in a plant to recycle as much of that as we can get hold of.”
Taylor says he discovered Allen Global in an Internet search a few years ago and then started discussions.
Nichols and Kathy Allen co-own Allen Refinery, the third component under the Allen Global umbrella.
Separating the entities allows the firm to partner with modular refinery maker Chemex LLC and lends international credibility.
“It’s hard when you’re out trying to quote a $2 billion refinery in South America, and they’re asking, ‘Why would I get a refinery from a filter company?’” Nichols says.
He says Chemex builds the core equipment, and Allen Refinery staff adds on parts as needed.
Another spoke in the hub, Allen Laboratories plans to launch in the fall at The eFactory, Missouri State University’s business incubator, where scientists will conduct oil analyses.
“That would support moving our (research and development) over there,” Nichols says. “That would give us a lot more ability on the chemistry side, while it’s being funded by a profitable business.”
Also this fall, Nichols plans to build a world headquarters south of Springfield. Architect Randy Hone currently is working on designs with groundbreaking targeting October.
The companies currently operate a 5,000-square-foot fabrication shop and corporate offices at 210 S. Union Ave. and recently occupied the 15,000-square-foot former Sears distribution center a block north for piecing together the recycling plants before shipping. Nichols says 100 percent of Allen Global’s products are exported.
Small world Within the restructuring, Nichols identified a half-dozen clients and partnerships as underpinnings to the production work.
A couple months ago, Allen Global signed Milwaukee, Wis.-based Rockwell Automation as a partner in engineering the control rooms for plants and providing local distribution, installation and troubleshooting. Others across the globe are Evoqua Water Technologies, formerly owned by Siemens, to work on municipal water supplies to wastewater treatment for Allen Global plants; Baldor Electric Co. to supply electric motors; Viking Pump Inc., the latest partnership formed a couple of weeks ago; and Chemex for the refinery line.
“It’s easier to have a handful of customers and a handful of projects and do a lot of money as opposed to a volume of a commodity,” Nichols says, noting the company targets a dozen customers a year and the deals usually take up to nine months to close. “Now we’re selling things that range from $2 million to $2 billion, at least that’s what we’re quoting.”
Nichols says the company recently has closed on three refineries, including the deal in Western Australia with Icefire division New Life Oil. In August, a $3 million proposal seven years in the works sold in Ecuador, and closer to home, he says Ozark-based Products Plus Inc. agreed to purchase a plant to recycle antifreeze, aka glycol.
President Tommy Ayers says replacing the company’s existing plant will increase product quality and double production.
“Our process we’re currently using creates a 50/50 antifreeze,” Ayers says, noting the 19-year-old company recycles used antifreeze from automotive and trucking service centers in seven states. “This will give us the option to create a 100 percent antifreeze product. It will remove all the water out of the glycol.”
With a 90-day production schedule and delivery by year’s end, he says the new plant is designed to process 4,800 gallons a day, which would expand Product Plus’ bulk resale potential.
Allen Global’s sales goals next year are clear: six plants and $20 million.
To that end, in the last six months, Nichols has met in high-rise glass buildings with Emirate princes, in the middle of the African jungle while eating goat and in bunkers with South American military officials. Now, he’s turning his attention to seven countries in Europe and Scandinavia.
In the middle of big business, Nichols is experiencing what the world has to offer: diving the Great Barrier Reef, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge and visiting Machu Picchu ruins in Peru.
“My bucket list is just going nuts,” he says.[[In-content Ad]]