Marathon Energy’s Jerry Drenis ‘Strikes Oil’ in Business
by Eleni Kostopoulos
How does the president of not one, but two, lucrative businesses maintain success? For Jerry Drenis, co-founder and president of Marathon Energy and president of MEGA Building Management Corp., the formula is unequivocal: work hard and prioritize your customers. Bolstering that approach, a strong family foundation and solid management team have served as building blocks to Drenis’s thriving companies.
Drenis’s entrepreneurial spirit surfaced in the 1990s when he adopted the day-to-day operations of his family’s real estate business. His father, Athanasios, who together with his mother Stella, migrated from Megara, Greece to the United States in 1970, was an electrician by trade. His parents also took on roles as superintendents, compelling them to become enamored with real estate; in the early 1970s, they began buying properties in New York.
“[Marathon Energy] is my main focus, but real estate is my passion,” said Drenis, who credits his sisters for recently stepping in to play a more integral role in the daily operations of the family-owned real estate business. “This is a business that I hope to pass down to my children.”
It was in 1996 when Drenis, who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, aimed to maximize cost-savings for his real estate business; he quickly realized that the one expense he couldn’t contain was the cost of fuel. Subsequently, together with his brother-in-law Bobby Beys, who previously worked for Petrola Hellas, SA in Greece, Drenis started Olympic Flame Fuel Oil. The business grew steadily every year, generating profit for the duo.
“We were doing very well, and as our growth came up on the radar screens in the mid-2000s, we got a letter in the mail from the US Olympic Committee demanding we change our name due to trademark infringement!” said Drenis. Following the name dispute with the Olympic Committee for a couple years, the company settled and decided to rebrand as Marathon Energy. “It was a bit of a challenging time, but our customers remained loyal,” he said.
Following much success with the heating oil business, Drenis and Beys began to look at other avenues in the energy supply sector. In 2009 the company started selling natural gas as deregulation in New York enabled third-party companies to supply commodities. “We buy natural gas and sell it to the customer at a less expensive rate than what the utility sells it for, or we can lock the rate in for a fixed price, which a utility (that is regulated) cannot do,” he explained.
The great success that came from high demand of gas enabled the company to cross-market to its customers. In 2011 Marathon Energy announced the expansion of its energy services offerings and started selling electricity in the New York and New Jersey markets. In addition, with the formation of Marathon Mechanical LLC, the company broadened its heating oil and boiler maintenance products to include commercial boiler installations, oil-to-gas conversions, cogeneration and energy efficiency solutions (including no-charge energy efficiency audits). It was then that Marathon brought current partner Gus Sfakianos on board to serve as the vice president of the company’s mechanical services segment.
Today, Marathon Energy has a combined total of more than 10,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers. “For our natural gas and electricity segment, we service all of New York, all of New Jersey, and we just recently expanded into Pennsylvania,” said Drenis. “Our heating oil business covers all of New York City and parts of New Jersey. Our plan is to gain greater market share in the states we currently service and eventually expand into other states.”
[sws_blue_box box_size=”620″] “Our success is based on our great relationship with the Greek community; if the community didn’t support us from the beginning, there would be no foundation to build upon. To this day, we maintain most of our customers, with the exception of very few that have moved. We still serve many of the same customers we served 20 years ago.” [/sws_blue_box]
Also in 2011, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection implemented regulations to balance near-term pollution reduction with minimizing costs for buildings, prompting Marathon to add clean, green ultra-low sulfur Bioheat to its offerings. “We always recommend that customers keep a unit that can burn both commodities (i.e. oil and gas),” said Drenis. “Heating oil has dropped dramatically and very quickly over the past year, but the opposite can happen with natural gas. Historically, prices are very cyclical, so we don’t encourage our customers to convert to a one-commodity burner. “
This concern for his customers’ wallets has become a priority for Drenis, who said he believes the key to running any successful business is supporting those who support you. “Every customer counts; every customer is just as important as the next customer. You can’t ever afford to lose a customer, and you can’t afford to not have every customer satisfied. Obviously, you can’t make everybody happy, but you start to lose your identity when you start to forget about the smaller customers. I’ve learned that lesson over the years; it’s apparent that you can’t take any one for granted.”
Besides providing top-notch and easily accessible customer service, Drenis said that Marathon has been able to stand out against its competitors due to its ability to market itself as a one-stop-shop. “We have competitors that are larger than us in one particular area, but most of our competition doesn’t offer all the services we offer,” he explained. “Of all the companies in New York City that supply heating oil, natural gas, electricity and equipment service, all in one, we are in the top three or four in terms of size. Most importantly, our success is based on our great relationship with the Greek community; if the community didn’t support us from the beginning, there would be no foundation to build upon. To this day, we maintain most of our customers, with the exception of very few that have moved. We still serve many of the same customers we served 20 years ago.”
Drenis’s appreciation for the Greek community hasn’t gone unexpressed. In 2013 Marathon Energy established Marathon Cares, a program dedicated to helping those less fortunate. For every new customer that enrolls either online or by phone with a one-year contract, Marathon Energy donates $40 to Project Hope for Greece, a fundraising effort to support a wide range of institutions in Greece affected by the financial crisis. “We’re a company that appreciates everything that the community has done for us, and we give back in every way that we can,” said Drenis. “Our heritage is what defines us, and what has defined our company. The support we have gotten from the community has really propelled our success. As first-generation Greeks, the country and the people are very important to us. My partner and I try to go to Greece every year; we try to teach our children the culture and values that were instilled within us.”
With more than 20 years of success under his belt, Drenis isn’t ready to slow down. He said he has high hopes for the development of both his businesses, and the means of getting there is no big secret: “Same thing I tell my kids: it’s hard work. Anything you do in this world requires hard work. It doesn’t matter who you are, and what type of foundation you have to start with, if you’re not willing to put in the sweat equity, it doesn’t matter. You just have to work hard.”