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November 1999

The Business Brotherhood of Don and Reg Newman

by Maria SCRIVANI

Family is a priority for Reg and Don Newman—and not just because the brothers are in business together. In fact, NOCO Energy Corp., founded by their father six decades ago, owes its genesis to a growing family’s needs. In order to provide for his wife and son (the newborn Donald), Reginald B. Newman left a job that paid too little to start his own business.
A bill of sale dated July 8, 1933, tells part of the tale. Reg Newman Senior borrowed several hundred dollars to purchase a coal-delivery truck. The invoice mentions the State Trust Company, a predecessor of Marine Midland, now HSBC—still banker to the Newman enterprise. Reg Senior, calling his business the R.B. Newman Fuel Company, started delivering coal door-to-door in the City of Tonawanda. In 1939, when more homes were being converted from coal to heating oil, he added the latter product to his inventory. By then Reginald B. Newman II had been born, the second son in what was destined to be a family of successful business owners.

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Reg Newman Sr., 1938. R.B. Newman’s first fuel oil truck, 1939.


“Our dad drove the truck himself—he had maybe four or five employees,” Don, the family historian, relates. Heating oil cost eight to ten cents a gallon. As boys, he and brother Reg hung around their dad’s business, then located on Niagara Street in the City of Tonawanda. They both worked there after school, Reg admitting, “I didn’t love it,” but Don was fully engaged. “I learned to fix furnaces and trucks,” he recalls.
By the time Don graduated from high school in 1950, the company had branched out, selling gasoline and lubricants to small businesses. The company began a relationship with Mobil that continues to this day. Don, armed with an engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon University, went to work full time at NOCO in 1954, pausing just once for a two-year military stint in the mid-1950s. “Dad still put me to work whenever I was home on leave,” he says. While in the service Don met the colonel’s daughter, Barbara Lutz, who became his wife in 1957.
During this time brother Reg was studying business administration at Northwestern University, dreaming of a future that might not include NOCO. “I wanted to be in a company with some size,” he recalls. After graduating, he went to work for the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan for a year. In 1960 two momentous events occurred: Reg married Carol Eggerss and he brought her back to Western New York where he rejoined the family business.
This time he found his niche, becoming, in the words of Don, “the ultimate salesman; a one-man sales team for NOCO.”
Don was still doing the dirty work, fixing furnaces and delivering fuel. Both brothers were happy and business blossomed in the booming 1960s. NOCO was acquiring smaller distribution companies and selling fuel to commercial fleet customers as well as heating oil to steel companies and manufacturing companies. “It meant a lot of long hours and hard work for us all,” Don says.

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Reg and Don Newman, 1945. Reginald B. Newman II, sister Kathryn Newman Feld and Donald F. Newman.
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Reginald B. Newman, Sr. and Ethel Newman, 1978. Tom Newman - Telecommunications field; and NOCO’s future: Mike Newman - Manager of Dealer Relations and Real Estate, Jim Newman - Executive Vice President and Bob Newman - President of NOCO Express (a subsidiary), 1996.


Early on, the Newmans owned a retail gas station in the City of Tonawanda where they also sold tires and repaired cars. At night the brothers took turns manning the gas pumps. This was the forerunner to the company’s current chain of 50 retail gasoline shops. In a recent interview for a business journal, Don noted, “We have continually diversified and expanded. But, unlike so many others in our business, we have done it by staying within the petroleum industry.”
In 1973, NOCO acquired a terminal on Grand Island Boulevard from the Gulf Oil Corporation, putting them in the liquid warehouse business. In the mid-80s, Don notes, “We went full-bore into the distribution of lubricants.” It was in 1985 that the Company name was officially changed to NOCO Energy Corp., which is now Western New York’s largest independent supplier of energy and petroleum products.
NOCO operates throughout New York State. Several years ago a joint venture in Toronto resulted in the establishment of NOCO Canada, an affiliate of NOCO Energy.     
Reginald Newman Senior lived long enough to see the fantastic fruits of his labor. He died in 1978, having earlier signed over the business to his able boys in anticipation of the company’s growth. A daughter, Kathryn, who now lives in North Carolina, was provided for with a trust fund.
In 1985 their beloved mother died. “Dad and Mom taught us the importance of family values,” Don says. “Our dad believed in supporting the community. For years he was involved with the old Community Chest (precursor to the United Way), the Boys’ Club, etc. Reg and I have continued that tradition...Now we have many friends in common. We have not had to deal with personal jealousies.”
Since their partnership was, in essence, made in heaven, their relationship is marked by an easy camaraderie. Despite their success, noted in the national arena when NOCO was featured in a PBS series on family businesses, the Newmans remain modest. In the big picture of big oil companies, they note, NOCO is a small fry. “As far as I can see,” Reg says, casting a fond glance at his big brother, “his hat size is the same as it was 50 years ago and mine absolutely is.”
Their children and now grandchildren, are equally well-grounded. Reg’s two live out of town. Wendy, mother of three, is a former advertising sales rep. Son Clark is a private pilot for Rich Products. Don has four boys. Tom works in telecommunications. The other three are scions of what has become the NOCO dynasty. Bob is responsible for the NOCO Express retail operations. Mike oversees the company’s real estate portfolio and dealer relations. And Jim, executive vice president and chief operating officer, is being groomed by Uncle Reg to take over the reins one day.
Don, taking a page from his father’s book, officially retired at age 65, although an owner never really retires. He’s still around to advise, to serve on a boatload of boards ranging from the American Automobile Club of Western and Central New York to the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association, and as president of such organizations as The Country Club of Buffalo and The Buffalo Club. “Our dad was a good cheerleader for us when we took over the business,” he says. “That’s what I hope to do now.”
Reg has plans to step down in a few years when he reaches the magic age of 65. He, too, has spent much time in committee meetings and board sessions for many organizations— charitable, educational, social, etc. He recently chaired the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. The benefits run on a two-way street, he says with typical candor.
“Since we were kids we’ve spent a lot of time doing things in the community, both personally and in a corporate way...In return, people are pleased to do business with us.” Now that the boys are in great demand to serve on various boards, he sees part of his mission as guiding their community involvements and passing down some of the work for groups traditionally supported by the Newmans.
Though both have vacation homes in Florida, Don and Reg are solid Western New Yorkers. “If I had to choose one place, there’s no question it’d be here,” says Don. “All of our friends are here.” As far as business goes, the roots are firmly attached, despite the lure of less-taxing states.
“The bureaucracy, regulatory and tax situation in New York State is very anti-business,” Reg says. Despite what he sees as a discouraging political situation, he insists, “We love Buffalo. We love its friendliness and believe it or not, the climate!”
After 66 years in business, now with 600 employees and a third generation of Newmans set to run the company, NOCO is ready for the 21st century. Two brothers, following the lead of their father, have seen to that.             


Maria Scrivani is a freelance writer.

 

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