2012 Woman of the Year, Kris Mele
The kindest little CEO in town
This year's overwhelming choice for Woman of the Year is Kris Mele of Pierce Oil. The Sun Advocate advertises every year for new candidates and while we have seen several campaigns to nominate a local lady, we've never seen anything like the support shown for Mele in 2012.
"I am completely blown away by the wonderful things these people have written about me," said Mele as she looked over her nominations. "I am so humbled by all of these kind words."
For Mele, being humble is nothing new. Despite her family's ongoing success in both the fossil fuel and chemical markets, you can find Kris, five days a week at her same small desk at the Pierce Oil headquarters.
"This place is home," she said, recalling her past with the company. "It was important to my dad that all of us learned to work at an early age."
Mele along with her brother Jason and sister Kim began cleaning and canning oil from the time they were 12 or 13 years old.
"Back in the 1980s when there seemed to be a million coal mines working in our area, they used a ton of those five gallon hydraulic oil cans," she laughed. "They would go through that stuff like water, I remember there was 27 cans to a pallet. We would go down after school and fill about 400 cans and they would be gone when we got back the next day."
In the late 1970s and early 80s, Pierce Oil was still a small company and Mele along with her family would also deliver the oil to area mines when needed. This early introduction to area miners proved to be invaluable for Mele, who is still dealing with the same companies.
Mele's place in the company began to grow as she finished high school. As her career moved forward, eventually taking over her mother's duties in the office, the Pierce family of companies also grew to include Swifts in Helper and Golden West acquired in the 1990s
Kris moved forward and as her father Ellis was moving Golden West forward, she knew even more responsibility would be coming her way.
"In 1982 when I started in the office, you did everything by hand and there just wasn't as much paperwork," she laughed. "I remember when we decided to get our first computer, I was pregnant with my son, so that must have been 1994. I went into a deep depression because I was so scared of that machine."
Sitting beside her smart phone, it is easy to see that Kris has warmed somewhat to technology. However, many things at Pierce Oil have remained old school on purpose.
"It is important to me to be in that office at Pierce Oil, talking with people face to face and making sure they are happy with our products," said Mele. "That type of communication works out much better in person."
Mele's dedication to both her family and the companies they own, have worked out well for all involved. Ellis now spends a great deal of his time working with his son Jason Pierce and a global sales team for Golden West. Kris is now Pierce Oil's President and CEO.
Prior articles in the Sun Advocate have detailed how attention to detail and solid relationships have allowed Golden West to gain a spot on the global market. The local company services mining operations all over the world from Chile to Australia to China and they do it all with a small, mostly family, workforce.
"My dad knows he can trust me. He knows he can leave and I will take care of things," she said. "We know each other the way only parents and children know each other and that can't be replaced."
Kris' sister Kim Martino now runs Energy Enterprises, a company which handles the trucking for Pierce Oil as well as many others.
Mele is keeping her father's wish to have family close by having her own son Jace McKinnon come to work for the company. Her husband Kevin also recently joined the fold.
According to Kris, she currently splits her time between the needs of Pierce Oil and Golden West.
"I can focus on the growth of these companies because I have such wonderful managers at Swifts and at other locations," explained Mele. "My managers at Swift make it pretty easy to sit back and oversee things. The store runs itself because of the great staff I have there."
In the same way as Kris's father allowed her the space to learn, Mele does everything she can to give her managers the room they need to grow.
"I keep looking at these nominations and I'm blown away by all my Swift ladies and the fact that they took the time to do this for me. Everybody, who did this. This is so amazing," she said with tears in her eyes.
As our interview concludes, Mele commented once again on the family center of Pierce Oil.
"I'm dedicated to my job and when I say that, what I mean is I'm dedicated to my Dad and my Mom. This is their legacy," she concluded. "Now I have my husband and my son and there is a new generation. The fact that I can have my family with me everyday is priceless, I absolutely relish that. I wonder now if that's the feeling my dad got when he would watch us fill those oil cans."