Cyle Newton Weekend MBA alumnus Cyle Newton is managing director at Newton Oil, a third-generation petroleum supplier located in Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by John Underwood)

Fueling Passion

Weekend MBA alum takes family business into its third generation

Although the number of family-owned businesses that survive into a third-generation hovers around only 10 percent, Cyle Newton, managing director of Newton Oil and a 2017 graduate of Krannert’s Weekend MBA program, is helping his company buck the odds.

The petroleum supplier was founded by his grandfather, Cliff Newton, in 1976 in Lafayette, Indiana, and is currently owned by Cyle’s father, Chuck Newton, and his uncle, Jim Newton. Over the years, the company has expanded the services it provides to farming, transportation, manufacturing, services, grain operations and racing fuel, supplying customers across the Midwest and beyond.

Although Cyle worked for the family business during summers while he was growing up, the father of five and US Marine Corps veteran first earned his chops in the energy industry with supervisory and technical roles at Vestas American Wind Technology and BP Alternative Energy.

Cyle officially joined the family business in 2013 as director of transportation and safety, but knew he needed more management skills to help bring the company into future generations. After considering his options for part-time MBA programs that went beyond a purely online format, he discovered one of the best was in his own backyard.

After contacting Don Roush, associate director of Purdue’s Weekend MBA program, Newton says the decision was easy.

“Purdue was it,” he says. “The program gave me the flexibility I needed to continue my job and be with my family, as well as the opportunity for one-on-one interaction with faculty and students from diverse backgrounds and industries.”

Still, earning an MBA as an employee of a small, family-owned business required a different approach than that taken by students who worked for larger corporations.

“In a small business, it’s mostly about keeping good relationships with your employees and customers, which are intangibles you can’t easily quantify,” he says. “For me, getting an MBA was a way to augment my soft-skill experience with more focused skill development in marketing, sales, data analytics, finance, supply chain, operations and brand management.”

The diversity of the program was another positive, he adds.

“My cohort had a broad range of participants,” he says. “Being able to examine a business case from different perspectives and cultural approaches really opened my eyes. We not only developed lasting friendships, but also were able to leverage one another’s professional expertise. It was almost like having free consultants.”

Cyle began applying his new skills even before he completed his degree in May, helping to expand Newton Oil’s fleet of drivers and introduce a new brand of premium diesel fuel.

In his current role as managing director, he collaborates with his father and uncle to create budgets for six divisions of the company, helping reduce expenses and increase profit. He also has launched improvement initiatives to streamline ordering and delivery, negotiated index-based and futures fuel contracts, and created a more cohesive organizational and operational structure. 

“The petroleum market space is consolidating rapidly,” he says. “Big companies are buying small companies and fast companies are eating the slow ones, we are in acquisition mode looking for the right opportunities to supplement our organic growth.”

Currently located on a 10-acre site off Veterans Memorial Parkway near U.S. 52, Newton Oil is seeking to build partnerships with similar and smaller-sized companies who don’t have second- or third-generation succession plans.

“We’re looking for the right synergy, not growth for the sake of growth. Having an MBA from Krannert gives both the family business and me an advantage, but it still comes down to taking care of your employees and customers,” he says. “We’re optimistic about the future.”