Business Monday

A leadership duet at World Fuel Services

World Fuel Services Chairman and CEO Michael Kasbar at the company offices in Doral on Thursday, March 12, 2015.
World Fuel Services Chairman and CEO Michael Kasbar at the company offices in Doral on Thursday, March 12, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Michael Kasbar and his longtime colleague Paul Stebbins worked their way to the top of Doral-based World Fuel Services after building a successful business that World Fuel acquired, along with their managerial talents, in 1995.

Kasbar is a Brooklyn native whose love of outdoor activities led him to earn a degree in environmental science at the State University of New York in Plattsburg. The freshly minted college graduate had no particular career in mind when he returned home to Brooklyn but he was anxious to start earning a living. "I didn't have a plan," he said. "I was going to interview for a job as an assistant baker. I didn't care. I just wanted to work."

After his mother vetoed the bakery job idea, Kasbar saw a New York Times advertisement for a job opening at an oil company, which inspired him to hunt for similar job openings. "I called up every single oil company in the Yellow Pages," Kasbar said, and he landed a position at a marine fuel brokerage called KPI, where he worked for five years. "I got a great basic training there."

He quit that first job to set up a fueling operation for another company, but internal problems derailed his second employer. "They had a less-than-perfect reputation, as I discovered," Kasbar said without elaboration. "We cleaned up the mess. I hired Paul Stebbins at the time. He became my lifelong partner."

Stebbins left a job with a marine fuel supplier called Gray Bunkering Services Inc. to join forces with Kasbar, and the two soon decided to go into business for themselves, so they recruited outside investors and started a company called Trans-Tec Services to sell marine fuel to shipping companies. "We found some Greek ship owners to back us in September of 1985 and built that up to be the largest marine fueling company in the world," Kasbar said.

In January 1995, Kasbar and Stebbins sold Trans-Tec for $14.5 million to Miami-based International Recovery Corp., the original name of World Fuel Services. Kasbar and Stebbins signed employment agreements and continued running Trans-Tec as a World Fuel subsidiary. The acquisition of Trans-Tec put World Fuel in the marine fuel business and expanded its geographic scope.

"The company was called International Recovery then," and in addition to the aviation fuel business, "they were into oil recycling," Kasbar said. Overall, however, "it was a bit of a mirror image on the aviation side to what we were doing on the marine side" at Trans-Tec. Shareholders voted to change the name of International Recovery to World Fuel Services in August 1995, eight months after the pivotal Trans-Tec acquisition. (The renamed corporate parent, a New York Stock Exchange-listed company, retained its original ticker symbol, INT.)

Kasbar and Stebbins became executives as well as directors of World Fuel in 1995 after they sold Trans-Tec. Kasbar served as chief executive officer of the company's marine fuel services segment and Stebbins as president of the segment until his promotion to president and chief operating officer of the parent company in 2000. Kasbar succeed him as president and COO in 2002, when World Fuel promoted Stebbins to chairman and CEO.

For the directors of World Fuel, succession planning has required a rethinking of corporate governance.

In January 2012, World Fuel's board decided to split the roles of chairman and chief executive officer between two leaders. As a result, Stebbins surrendered the CEO mantle and got a new job title: executive chairman. Kasbar, in turn, got a promotion to chief executive officer.

In April 2014, World Fuel's board of directors decided to reunite the roles of chairman and chief executive officer. When Stebbins retired as executive chairman and became a non-employee director on Jan. 1 of this year, Kasbar was appointed to serve as chairman of the board as well to president and CEO.

World Fuel has flourished as a revenue generator under the leadership of Kasbar and Stebbins in their multiple managerial roles since 2000. World Fuel first appeared in Fortune magazine's annual census of America's biggest companies in 2001, when it ranked 994th on Fortune's list of the 1,000 largest U.S. companies by annual revenue. By 2005, World Fuel had ascended to the national business magazine's famous Fortune 500 list, and for the last three years, World Fuel has been a member of the exclusive Fortune 100, rising in rank from 84th in 2012 to 74th in 2013 to 71st place last year.

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