Forbes Magazine Features Kathy Lehne in Entrepreneurial Stories of Women In Their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s

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Over the past 23 years, Kathy Lehne has built SunCoast Resources–a distributor of petroleum products in Houston–from a start-up to a $1.2 billion (sales) company. Now 46, she has received numerous offers from prospective buyers but has repeatedly chosen to maintain ownership and keep growing.

Deciding whether to sell or hold on is one of the key challenges for entrepreneurs who have successfully built a company over several decades.

The eastern Texas native, who has three children, has shown pluck since SunCoast’s beginnings. Lehne had followed her employer, also a petroleum-distribution company, to Houston from her hometown of Jasper. When her employer decided to return to Jasper, Lehne, who didn’t want to move back, founded SunCoast with $2,000.

With advice from a former co-worker, who ended up working for Lehne, she created a marketing strategy and set about securing lines of credit from banks. Her first bank meeting “was very intimidating,” she recalls. She didn’t get a line of credit that time but subsequently hired a consultant who secured one for her.

Over the years, growing regional demand for lubricants, diesel fuel and gasoline led Lehne to increase her fleet of truck drivers to 250, hire more sales staff and focus on customer service.

As SunCoast has grown, so has Lehne’s confidence in herself and her employees. “I delegate a lot more now than I did in my 30s,” she says.

But she’s quick to respond to change. When the economy began to contract in 2007, she cut her staff by 25% and installed accounting software to cut costs.

Lehne says she isn’t ready to give up ownership of SunCoast anytime soon. Despite the current weak economy, she’s planning to keep expanding to other states and may acquire some other petroleum-distribution firms. “I haven’t sold SunCoast because I’m not completely finished with what I want to do with it,” she says. “I still like what I’m doing.”

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