Back in 2005, Bruce Stoehr and Sue Johnson had growth plans for the North Charleston-based aviation fuel company where they were executives. So they bought Hawthorne Services, then the subsidiary of a local firm that dates to the 1930s.
Over the next seven years, they succeeded, taking the company from about 60 employees to 370 and increasing the annual revenue from less than $1 million to “something under $20 million,” said Stoehr, Hawthorne Services’ president.
By mid-2012, Hawthorne had roughly $100 million in its backlog, including long-term contracts to supply fuel at military bases around the Southeast and rest areas in South Carolina. But they couldn’t seem to win overseas contracts and the owners weren’t getting any younger.
So when Berger Group Holdings, a billion-dollar global engineering firm based in New Jersey, came calling and offered to buy them out, Stoehr could scarcely believe his good fortune.
“To keep this company healthy, we need to see a certain level of growth, and this is a very fortuitous combination,” Stoehr said. “We never expected this good a fit.”
The financial terms of the Dec. 29 deal were not disclosed, but Stoehr, Johnson and all of their employees — about 200 of whom are in South Carolina — will keep working for Hawthorne Services.
The company will retain its name and contracts. It will just have a new owner: Greenville-based Louis Berger Services, which is part of Berger Group Holdings.
“There’s no plans on moving, there’s no plans on rebranding it,” Stoehr said, noting the Hawthorne name dates to 1932 when the company was chartered to provide fuel services at Charleston Municipal Airport. “Everybody stays in place and they’re looking to learn from us, which is another very nice thing about it.”
Hawthorne, which once was part of North Charleston-based Hawthorne Corp., has built service stations and fuels fighter jets, helicopters and other military vehicles at such places as Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, N.C., and the Naval Air Station in Key West, Fla. Stoehr said Berger’s international reach has already allowed his company to bid for a U.S. Navy contract in Crete and will likely lead to bids in Asia and South America.
“We’re basically transformed from a regional company to a company with a global footprint,” Stoehr said. “I think we’ll grow together. I know we’ll grow together.”
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.