Wolf Lake Terminals Vice President and Managing Director Kip Middendorf has worked alongside family members in the Midwest most of his life, from his first job on his family farm in Columbia, Missouri, to his current position at the family-owned liquids terminaling business based in Hammond, Indiana.
“My job is unique in that we are a privately held family business in an industry dominated by large corporations,” Middendorf said. “Having the opportunity to work with and for family members who are shareholders and officers is a special experience.”
Middendorf’s close connection to the business didn’t spare him the climb up the company ladder, however. “I started as a loader,” he recalled. “Then I worked in the warehouse as an operator and warehouseman. Eventually I moved into sales and marketing and from there became the managing director.”
Wolf Lake Terminals’ liquid storage facility in Hammond offers over 500,000 barrels of storage in 125 aboveground storage tanks, along with value-added services like contract manufacturing, toll blending, rail-to-truck transfer and laboratory services.
Wolf Lake also operates the ISO 9001-2015 Certified Wolf Lake Industrial Center, a complex of three 200,000-squarefoot rail-served buildings, one of which is home to Wolf Lake’s public warehousing company, Post Warehouse Corp. “At Post Warehouse, we offer many value-added services such as drum and tote filling in a food-grade white room, customs-bonded storage and rail-to-truck transfer,” said Middendorf. “Post Warehouse excels at providing special customer-specific services not usually associated with third-party warehouse providers.
“At Wolf Lake Terminals/Post Warehouse, there are approximately 200 rail spots and an in-house switch engine; this allows our customers the fastest turn possible of their rail fleets.”
In addition to these two businesses, Wolf Lake Terminals also operates Tanco Terminals, a 290,000-barrel liquid storage facility located within the Port of Indiana- Burns Harbor in Portage, Indiana, and Tanco Clark Maritime, a 248,000-barrel liquid facility with 15,000 square feet of warehouse in the Port of Indiana- Jeffersonville. Built in 1977, Tanco Terminals was one of the first tenants of the Ports of Indiana and currently operates as a distribution point for liquid asphalt and fuel oil. Tanco Clark Maritime sits directly across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, within one day’s drive of over two-thirds of the U.S. market. Both are accessible by barge, rail and truck.
Middendorf said his primary goal in his position is to continue his company’s almost half-century success streak as a family-owned fixture in the Midwest. “My goals for our company are to continue the success that we were founded upon, growing our business through a conservative and logical strategy, but most importantly, continuing to provide a stable place of employment for our team for the betterment of our employees and their families,” he explained. “We take pride in our 48 years of being a privately held company and in doing business with some of the largest manufacturing companies in the United States. Our company is a small but valuable family business that competes in an industry dominated by large corporations.
“My favorite thing about this industry is how many different products we provide service to and all the different manufacturers we encounter. The most important skill needed in my job is the ability to listen and comprehend the needs or objectives of our customers. Connecting our facilities’ capabilities to those specific needs is what sets us apart.”
Clearing industry-wide hurdles
Middendorf identified the present regulatory environment and impending workforce shortage as the main challenges he seeks to meet head-on in his position. “The liquid storage and warehouse service industries, like most industries in our country, have recently experienced explosive growth in governmental regulation,” he explained. “This has changed the way business is conducted and the amount of effort it takes to stay in compliance. Even the very best of us are challenged to stay in front of the ever-changing regulatory landscape.”
Wolf Lake now employs an environmental health, safety and security manager to oversee all of its operations and to communicate with each regulatory and community organization related to its facilities.
However, the task of hiring, training and retaining new employees may be an even more pressing concern, Middendorf admitted. “There are so many issues influencing our industry right now,” he said. “Low unemployment has put increasing pressure on the job market. Finding and retaining good employees is as challenging as it has ever been during my career. In particular, the national shortage of truck drivers has made finding and training new drivers essential for the continued growth of our nation’s economy.”
Middendorf said the best strategy for addressing these issues involves both strategic investments and fostering a sense of close-knit teamwork in your company culture. “Our success is attributable to the success of our staff,” he said. “We promote a team environment in which each person doing his or her job leads to success for all of us.
“We see our company continuing its steady growth through disciplined business decisions and conservative, logical investments. I try to remember, recognize and be thankful for each new business success, no matter how small. In business, we are continually confronted by challenges or problems to overcome. It is important to acknowledge our successes.
“No matter how hard you try, sometimes things just don’t work. The lesson is to move on from failures and continue to focus on the next opportunity. Experience has taught me that change is constant and being open to what opportunities come next is important. My advice for people just starting out is to be willing to take on different tasks and learn from them. Perhaps there is no greater learning experience than when we’re required to do something we really don’t want to do.”
Learning from every encounter
Middendorf said a significant portion of time in his position is spent meeting with people instrumental to his business, and he tries to extract something valuable from every interaction. “Many of my days are spent connecting with customers and colleagues through conference calls and emails,” he explained. “I establish the service agreements and leases with our customers and review the performance agreements with our vendors. Several times a month, I travel either to one of our facilities or to meetings with customers and vendors. I have tried to learn or recognize particular skills from each person I encounter in business. There are too many memories to list or to pick just one. I enjoy every successful negotiation.”
If industry leaders continue to face challenges head-on and learn by example like this, Middendorf added, “the future of our industry is very bright.”
“Economic growth and continuing demand for third-party storage and service providers has created many opportunities,” he said. “I suspect that the consumer movement to online retail and home delivery of goods will reshape the customer base for services like ours. Fortunately, the need for basic raw material products will be around forever.”
In addition to his work at Wolf Lake, Middendorf seeks to advance his industry by serving on the board of directors of the International Liquid Terminal Association (ILTA), of which he is currently treasurer, and as a regular member of the Petroleum Packaging Council. Wolf Lake is also a supplier member of the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association, whose member companies produce more than a quarter of the nation’s automotive lubricants.
For more information, visit www.wolflakeinc.com or call (219) 937-4300.