The rows of traders who line the massive trading floor at Mercuria Energy Group’s Houston headquarters rely on a string of modern conveniences to execute deals across the globe, but when they are under the gun to deliver oil fast, they call one person: Tim Holan.
That is because Holan, the head of logistics for the trading firm, cut his teeth on moving an even heavier cargo: elephants.
They, along with lions, clowns and other performers were part of the mile-long moving city that Holan spent nearly two decades shuttling around the country as logistics manager for the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Unruly animals, however well-trained, have a way of making the shipping of thousands of barrels of crude oil every day seem a bit less hectic.
“Crude oil is easier,” Holan said. “There is a specific infrastructure built for oil with the idea that there would be repeat business. With the circus, there’s always one-off moves and unpredictability.”
Holan’s own journey, which includes stints removing radioactive dirt from nuclear facilities and coordinating helicopters for airlifts after Hurricane Katrina, began in 1977, when at the age of 14 he ran away from his Pittsburgh-area home.
He got a job sweeping out the trains at Ringling Bros in California, lying about his age on his application to secure work.
“It was a different era,” said Holan, who is now 53. “Everyone knew I lied about my age, and that would never happen now. Looking at it now, I mean, what was I thinking, but at 14 it just seemed like a big adventure.”
Holan’s father, Rich, who once worked in the administration of then-US president Ronald Reagan, said it was painful to see his son run away from home.
“It was a bad thing, but it all worked out,” he said in a telephone interview. “He made some bad decisions at a young age, and he made some great ones.”
Ringling Bros is considered the world’s largest private train operator, running two separate trains of 60 rail cars, each stretching more than 1.5km. Holan thrived in the circus’s apprentice-style culture, working his way up to trainmaster and then general manager, where he was put in charge of coordinating the journeys. He never missed a show during his time there.
During long hauls, such as trips from Dallas to Philadelphia, Holan would have to stop the train to make sure the animals were fed and bathed.
“Whether it was a field in Iowa or a parking lot in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we had to find a spot to unload all the animals from the train,” Holan said. “The train operators would often know in advance where we were going, and they would bring their families to get a glimpse of the show.”
New York was the most challenging destination, as Holan had to park the cars in Queens, with a short window in the middle of the night to parade the animals through the Queens Midtown Tunnel on the way to Madison Square Garden.
“It was always funny to watch the face of someone who walked out of a club in the morning to see an elephant walking the streets,” Holan said.
For much of his career with the circus, Holan’s secret weapon for dealing with the unexpected was a roll of quarters. In the case of a snag on the rails, Holan would scramble to locate a pay phone to contact his roster of contacts when problems arose, using the information gained to chart a different route.
After shows, the equipment had be to meticulously reloaded into the cars, with little margin of error and under deadlines laid out a year in advance.
“Everything was measured within a half inch so it would fit in the cars. The circus is a model of efficiency,” Holan said.
The biggest challenge he has faced during his days at the Swiss trading giant was during the oil rail boom during 2014 and early last year, when space on rails was scarce.
He said rail profit margins are slim, and delays can quickly put a trade in the red.
“The rail operators put too many cars on the lines. That was the problem. They could have moved more volumes, with less cars because speeds would have been higher,” Holan said.
How did he navigate this stretch? By way of his contacts on the rails during his time in the circus, which gave him insight into alternative routes and a network of sources who could provide unique details about unexpected problems. The quarters are gone, though; Holan relies on e-mail and text messages to uncover problems.
Crude rail volumes have dropped significantly in the past year as the economics have favored waterborne imports, leaving a trail of unused tank cars and plenty of uncertainty about the future of the business.
“I think it’s probably fair to say that crude by rail has hit its high-water mark, but I don’t think its gone forever,” Holan said.
The power of rail, he added, is that it can quickly be called back into action when market conditions change, for example during supply disruptions.
That kind of juggling suits a guy who spent his years keeping balls in the air to get circus clowns to their shows on time. Unlike the circus, which only had the train, oil at least has the option of pipeline, rail, ship or truck.
“For a logistics guy, options are a best friend,” he said.
DEVELOPING TALENT: The electronics contractor is looking to recruit people to work in core tech fields and emerging industries like electric cars and robotics Hon Hai Precision Industry Co (鴻海精密), the world’s largest contract electronics maker, has launched a recruitment drive, offering a monthly salary of no less than NT$45,000 (US$1,485) to university graduates. For those with a master’s degree, the starting pay would be NT$52,000 per month at the minimum, while doctorate degree holders would receive at least NT$60,000 a month, Hon Hai said a statement issued early this week. The latest recruitment drive is aimed at attracting talent in core technology fields — artificial intelligence, semiconductors and next-generation mobile communications — and emerging industries — electric vehicles, digital healthcare and robotics, the
MRT TRAVEL FALLS: In February, ridership on the Taipei MRT System fell 8.96 percent from an average of 2.01 million per day in January Scooter sales jumped 13 percent last month as more commuters turned to two-wheelers to avoid public transportation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest statistics showed. Sales expanded to 74,493 units last month, compared with 65,913 units in February, statistics released on Wednesday by Kwang Yang Motor Co (光陽工業) and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications showed. In the first quarter, aggregate sales slid 0.51 percent year-over-year to 186,627 units, from 187,580 units, data showed. Kwang Yang, the nation’s biggest scooter manufacturer, continued to lead the market by selling 24,136 vehicles last month, growing 6.12 percent from 20,785 units in the previous month, while
Asustek Computer Inc (華碩), the nation’s leading PC vendor, yesterday launched its first dual-screen gaming laptop powered by Intel Corp’s latest central processing units (CPUs). The PC manufacturer’s announcement closely followed the US chipmaker’s unveiling of its 10th Generation Core H-series, the fastest commercial mobile processors with speeds of up to 5 gigahertz. Although Asustek’s Zephyrus Duo 15, the highlight of its Republic of Gamers line, is not the company’s first laptop with two screens, it is its first designed specifically for gaming. Nestled between the primary display panel and the keyboard, the secondary display, which Asustek calls the ScreenPad Plus, is angled
NO ILL EFFECT: Last month’s data mainly reflected deals made in February, when the spread of COVID-19 was still relatively mild in Taiwan, housing brokers said Housing transactions in the six special municipalities totaled 19,824 units last month, up 7.8 percent from a year earlier, brokers said, citing government data. Last month’s data mainly reflected deals made in February, when the pinch of the COVID-19 pandemic was not yet evident, they said. Taoyuan posted the largest improvement, with housing transactions soaring 36.6 percent year-on-year to 3,676 units, local government data showed. Taiwan Realty Co (台灣房屋) attributed the pickup to the completion of two presale residential projects in the municipality. Houses in Taoyuan have increasingly gained in popularity in the past few year years due to relatively affordable home prices and