When Alfonso Arguindegui Leyendecker says he’s carrying seventy-five years of history on his shoulders, he doesn’t mean it as a complaint. The president and CEO of Arguindegui Oil Company isn’t solely responsible for the direction and expansion of a company that shares his name. He and his cousin Carlos H. Arguindegui Jr., are together fulfilling a legacy put in place by their grandfather Peter—who founded the company—as well as Alfonso’s father, Peter Jr., and Carlos’s father, Carlos H. Sr.
Arguindegui often uses his family as a conduit when speaking about the petroleum distribution business. He discusses the humble beginnings of a founder who, with just a high school education, learned a great deal from the stacks of National Geographic magazines he dutifully reflected on and read. He speaks of a father whose ultraconservative ways were often at odds with his youngest son’s more risk-tolerant opportunity seeking.
For Arguindegui, taking over the southwest Texas-based company wasn’t simply taking on a new job. He took over the helm of an organization that everyone assumed would be bestowed upon his older brother, Peter III. However, Peter III instead opted for his independence and maintaining a relationship with the CEO as a father rather than a boss. But that didn’t make the younger Arguindegui the new de facto CEO by process of elimination. “I’ll never forget when my dad pulled me into his office and said, ‘Don’t think for a second that I’m just going to hand this over to you. You have to earn it.’”
Arguindegui’s response is a testament to what has kept his organization growing every year since he assumed the role. “I said, ‘I wasn’t expecting that. Just let me prove myself,’” the CEO remembers. Despite oil prices tanking in 2012, the Arguindegui Oil Company has managed to remain profitable in the boom as well as the bust. More importantly, Arguindegui says the family spirit is alive and well and continues to guide the company as it expands into the international market. The CEO continues to echo the lesson his father taught him early on when concerning the family business: “You can never stop growing. When you stop, it’s the beginning of the end.”
Founder, Developer, Entrepreneur
The upward trajectory of Arguindegui Oil is the result of three very different Arguindegui leadership styles. The current CEO speaks of his father with intense respect while also acknowledging that their ways of doing business were, at times, starkly divergent. “There were some knock-down, drag-out fights between me and my old man,” Arguindegui says, laughing. The father’s relentless pursuit to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s as it applied to risk aversion would often illuminate a generational disconnect between the two—but it also acted as a guidepost for the future CEO. “I was always bringing in deals and opportunities, and I would always hear, ‘I need more information,’ or ‘There’s too much risk,’” Arguindegui says. “It did help me define risk versus reward.”
“When someone looks you in the eye, is there integrity there? You have to believe in that to come here and be part of this family. People have to believe that I’m going to empower them.”
Arguindegui says that his father made some fantastic, steadfast deals that resulted in guaranteed wins for Arguindegui Oil. But his more entrepreneurial ventures have also paid exponential dividends at the company. When Mexico’s state-owned energy monopoly was largely deconstructed, Arguindegui made a move he knew his father probably never would have.
It meant branching out into international operations. “Mexico is tricky, and, in many ways, it’s completely different from how we operate in the US,” Arguindegui says. “But how can I not try to capitalize on this?” The company has since become a strong source of fuel in the area, and as the evolution continues into international markets, Arguindegui also continues to explore new opportunities at home.
The Family Connection
At age fifty-five, Arguindegui says he has started thinking about what comes next for the leadership at Arguindegui Oil. With the company continuing to expand—and that voice in Arguindegui’s head still telling him “You have to keep growing”—the president and CEO isn’t entirely sure what will happen when he does finally elect to bow out. What he is sure of, however, is that there a number of possibilities to be considered, thanks in part to the team he’s built along the way.
“I’ve managed to put together what I call my A-Team,” Arguindegui boasts. “I’ve been blessed to attract these people.” When asked how he managed to accrue a collection of people to which he would feel comfortable potentially passing along his family’s namesake, his answer is firm and to the point: “When someone looks you in the eye, is there integrity there? You have to believe in that to come here and be part of this family. People have to believe that I’m going to empower them. At the heart of it, we’re a family business. That element is as strong as ever.”
Keeping the Community Running
While Arguindegui may always hear his father’s message of “Grow, grow, grow,” it takes on more of a holistic meaning for him. “One of the most important things that I can do as a leader is give back and try to leave some kind of a legacy in the communities in which we operate. Our company can’t do what we do without community,” he says.
“One of the most important things that I can do as a leader is to give back and try to leave some kind of a legacy in the communities in which we operate.”
Arguindegui Oil has always focused on philanthropic efforts toward higher education, including endowments at Texas A&M International University and Laredo College, but the CEO says it’s only one small part of his company’s efforts. The business has created an endowment for veterans’ causes as well as created a more flexible donor fund that allows the company to give to different organizations at different times. “Sometimes we’re donating $500 for a kid’s baseball or volleyball team uniforms,” Arguindegui says. “Sometimes it’s filling up team vans with gasoline. Giving, however we can, is in our fiber here. That’s just how it is.”
Indeed, since its inception, Arguindegui Oil has understood that its work in the community certainly upholds the message that the company is strong and supportive from the inside out. As important is the understanding that the support of their business partners and the trust of the community make Arguindegui Oil stronger. It’s a message begun by Peter Arguindegui Sr.—and it’s one his grandson continues to champion.