A self-described country boy and family man, Kris Patrick grew up on a small farm near Pelahatchie, Mississippi. His parents and most of his extended family were educators, and his sister decided to stick to the family tradition of teaching. Kris, however, was a bit of a black sheep. “I was not one of these kids that knew exactly what they wanted to do growing up, but I had an affinity for math and chemistry,” he explained. “It’s probably genetic since my mother taught sciences and math.”
Mentors Help Lead the Way
Kris had a chemistry teacher — one of many mentors who invested in him along the way — who took an interest in his future. “He kept asking what I wanted to do in life, and I kept answering ‘I don't know,’ until he finally said, ‘I think you'd make a really good chemical engineer.’ That was all the motivation I needed, and I enrolled in chemical engineering at Mississippi State University (MSU) after graduating from Brandon High School in 1995.”
While still at MSU, Kris had a chance meeting with Jimmy Rasco, who recently retired as Ergon’s Vice President of Global Base Oil Technology. Jimmy told Kris Ergon Refining was considering a co-op program for chemical engineers and asked if he would be interested. The rest is history.
Ergon’s First Chemical Engineering Co-Op
Being the company’s first Chemical Engineering Co-Op, Kris has always been proud of the investment Ergon makes in its employees. The program has grown over the years, with 12 to 15 Co-Ops currently rotating through three cycles at any given time.
Growing Up at Ergon Refining
Kris graduated one Friday in May of 2000 and was at work the following Monday morning. His first role at Ergon was Process Engineer, and he worked his way through all the different processing units. “This role does everything from optimizing and finding ways to make products better and more efficiently, all the way to troubleshooting in the plant,” he explained. “Figuring out exactly what wasn’t working and how to fix it occupied a lot of our days.”
Again, Kris happened to be in the right place at the right time. “I was fortunate to be working in Vicksburg just as the fundamentals of the business were changing. We were changing crudes, and the whole business model was changing,” he said. “A lot of the design work and strategic thought centered around how to get from where we were to a better scenario.”
He was also in Vicksburg when one of the most significant investments in Ergon’s history was made, as the startup of Ergon Refining’s second hydroprocessing unit, propane deasphalting unit, and a third hydrogen gas plant increased the refinery’s capacity and made ERI the world’s leading naphthenic producer in 2009.
Kris served with Chad Stewart, Drafting and Design Supervisor, to manage implementation of these projects. “It was a really interesting experience getting to see a capital project implemented from the execution side, and I gained some valuable exposure,” he said. “This experience helped me to be more well-rounded and a better employee. It is just another example of how Ergon has always invested in employees. I got to grow up in Ergon in that environment, listening and learning and soaking up knowledge,” he explained. “There was no better place I could have been at that point in my career. I got to work with some terrific people, and the Vicksburg plant still feels like home when I’m there.”
That same year, Kris was pulled from capital projects and reengaged with process engineering to help solve a corrosion issue in the vacuum tower in the crude unit. “I have a lot of gray hair to this day because of that stressful time,” he said. “Catalyst that was supposed to last four years was lasting about one month, and we were looking at millions of dollars in expense and lots of downtime. Fortunately, we were able to solve that issue.”
On to the Corporate Offices
In January of 2010, Kris started working with Don Davis, former President of Ergon Refining & Marketing, and Craig Busbea, Ergon’s Vice President - Business Development, on economic payout projects and short- to mid-term planning. In 2012, he moved into the role of Planning & Economics Manager and started getting some exposure to the people and processes at the Ergon - West Virginia refinery. He was named Vice President of Refinery Planning & Economics in 2014 and then held various Senior Vice President positions related to Economics, Refining, and Planning & Supply, until he was named President of the company’s refineries — Ergon Refining and Ergon - West Virginia — in January of 2018.
Putting the Puzzle Together
When Kris was named to the Operating Committee in 2014, he began to learn more about all the different Ergon companies and how they work together. “That’s when I really developed an appreciation for the profound wisdom Mr. Lampton had when he built these companies,” he explained. “It’s pretty easy now to sit back and see how they work together, but it is amazing how he put the different pieces together. You can see his fingerprint on the intelligent design of all of the Ergon companies.”
One of Mr. Lampton’s greatest lessons for Kris came just after he completed his MBA with a specialty in project management and the Leading Global Business program at Harvard Business School. “I had all these great academic ideas, and we were developing some profitability targets and goals when Mr. Lampton walked in my office,” Kris said. “When I explained what we were doing, he asked me if these plans were around how much money we were going to make. After some discussion, Mr. Lampton said, ‘Let me tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to work hard, we’re going to do things with the customer in mind, and if we do all that stuff right, we will make money in the end.’”
When Kris moved into the role of Senior Vice President – Refining, Planning & Supply in 2016, he started working closely with Jimmy Langdon. Kris admired Jimmy’s ability to guide employees in subtle ways without being too critical or intimidating, pointing out areas for improvement without the need to tear someone down. “I will be forever grateful for that period from 2016 until Jimmy’s untimely passing and the opportunity to get to know him like I did. His loss was tragic for the company and tragic for so many people here personally.
“I've been so blessed throughout my career,” Kris continued, “but one of the greatest blessings has been working with people like Mr. Lampton, Jimmy, Don, Ed Hudgins, Ken Dillard, Ricky Allen, Bill Jones, Lance Puckett and Craig Busbea. This group was willing to invest in somebody who was young, and they made a concerted effort to help me develop. I'm so grateful for the investment they made in me, and I have no doubt the impact that they made on me personally and professionally is immeasurable. One of my hopes is that I can make that sort of investment in the people I work with today.”
Transitioning to COO
The Ergon family was fortunate to be able to rely on Kris Patrick through a time of transition — following the unexpected loss of the company’s Chief Operating Officer Jimmy Langdon in 2018 — to help maintain stability and continuity in our business operations.
“His experience with Ergon, coupled with his strong management and leadership skills, made Kris the obvious choice to fill the role of Chief Operating Officer,” said Emmitte Haddox, Ergon’s Chief Executive Officer. “Our Board had no doubt that Kris would honor Jimmy’s legacy and build upon Ergon’s strong foundation, leading to continued growth and future success.”
Kris expressed his appreciation to Mr. Haddox and the Lampton family, as well as all the employees who have accepted him in his new role as COO since August of 2018. “I can’t say enough about how the companies have helped me understand each business — particularly Ergon Asphalt & Emulsions,” he explained. “The company has had very intelligent growth over the years, and I am impressed with the way they think about their customers and the service they are providing.”
His immediate plans call for building on Ergon’s strong foundation. Kris says one of the challenges with growth, regardless of business strategy, is reaching a complexity and scale where systems and processes are needed to support that growth. “Across Ergon, not just relative to Ergon A&E, we will be working to maximize the return on our current assets, leveraging the fantastic acquisitions that we've made,” he added.
“We've got some really strong business segments, a great management team and outstanding business strategy,” Kris commented. “They have been operating somewhat autonomously. I think it's a good time for us to look at what we do together and evaluate that space in between what we do where we have natural growth opportunities. It means working together again, much like we did during the early years when Mr. Lampton was building the Ergon companies.”