It’s easy to see how Flyers Energy got its name. The company’s headquarters is situated right alongside Auburn Municipal Airport, which makes it convenient when Flyers’ executives need to take a business trip on their private corporate jet or fly one of their vintage airplanes that are housed in a modern hangar with a conference room that overlooks the runway.
The four Dwelle brothers who founded Flyers back in 1979 — Tom, Steve, Walt and Dave — are all accomplished pilots.
Tom and Steve were both fighter pilots for the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War and Steve was also a solo pilot for the Thunderbirds, while Tom performed at the National Championship Air Races in Reno.
Oil is also in the brothers’ blood. Their grandfather, Walter Allen, started Beacon Oil Company in 1931. Allen’s daughter Marjorie married Tom W. Dwelle, a pilot who became an oil distributor. Beacon, based in Hanford, grew into the largest independent oil refinery in California, but because Walter Allen didn’t do estate planning, the company had to be sold in order to pay the high estate tax.
His four grandsons (the Dwelle brothers) decided to continue the family business by buying seven gas stations in the Sacramento region. They called it Nella Oil (Nella is Allen spelled backward) but changed to Flyers Energy in 2011. Since then, Flyers has grown into a major business that supplies between 750 million and 850 million gallons a year to more than 13,000 trucking fleets and businesses in 22 states.
“Here we are, 42 years later, and we’re larger by any measure than Beacon ever was, and that is astounding,” says Ken Dwelle, who served as chief operating officer the past 10 years and recently became president of its renewable energy division, Flyers Sustainable Energy. He’s the son of founder Tom A. Dwelle (and grandson of Tom W. Dwelle).
“The kids went off to follow their dreams and gain knowledge from careers in other industries. They have come back with particular experiences that have brought new insight and vision to the company.”Tom A. Dwelle, founder, Flyers Energy
Flyers Sustainable Energy represents the company’s move into renewable energy by owning two ethanol plants, a biogas production facility, a cattle waste biodigester and 87 solar power projects.
Five other members of the Dwelle family currently work at Flyers. “The kids went off to follow their dreams and gain knowledge from careers in other industries,” says founder Tom A. Dwelle, 84. “They have come back with particular experiences that have brought new insight and vision to the company.”
Ken says Flyers credits part of its success to listening to voices outside the family, including Rick Teske, its chief operating officer for 20 years (Teske is now chairman of the board) and Tom Di Mercurio, the current CEO. Flyers is now three different businesses: the original fuel company, Flyers Energy; Flyers Sustainable Energy and more recently, Nella Invest.
Ken says the move in California and nationally to transition from gasoline to electric energy has Flyers diversifying into other businesses. Flyers now also owns office buildings in Roseville and Folsom, a hotel in Roseville (Hyatt Place Roseville), 12 mobile home parks in four states and is invested in 18 Quick Quack Car Wash locations.
Flyers’ founders are now in their 80s and remain limited partners who attend monthly board meetings. Ken wants to protect the family legacy and doesn’t want to make the same mistake his grandfather made by not estate planning, which is now an ongoing process at Flyers. “I feel this company is the family tree that feeds our family,” says Ken as he sits in the conference room overlooking the runway with his sister, Chris Haven, Flyers’ marketing manager.
Ken also served in the Air Force and is a former United Airlines pilot. “We’ve made it this many generations and I want to make sure that the company is profitable and successful, and that we evolve as the business needs to evolve.”
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Comstock’s president and publisher considers the many shapes and sizes of family businesses in the Capital Region.
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