Posted By Lyndsey Kleven, Communications Coordinator,
Monday, February 29, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, March 2, 2016
The member spotlight series features legacy OOGA members who have been a member of the Association for at least 10 years. If you would like to recommend someone to be highlighted, please contact Lyndsey Kleven: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Miller was born in Gilmer county West Virginia; his family moved to Windham (Portage County Ohio) when he was two years old. He graduated from a small town high school in a class of 80 students. John’s father always had aspirations of being a schoolteacher, as many of the Millers in West Virginia were, but decided to forgo college and moved to Ohio for employment to support his wife and five children. As the middle child and only boy in the family, John was active in high school sports—wrestling, gymnastics, and track—and had a superb group of coaches that inspired him to also want to become a teacher and coach.
Following his high school graduation in 1966, John worked for a year to save money for college. In 1967 John enrolled in Kent State University to pursue a teaching degree. After three quarters at KSU John ran out of money and left the university to go back to work and save more. During these times it was easy to get a job and John was offered a position at Wheeling-Pittsburg Steel located in Warren, Ohio. Following his decision to leave college John was drafted into the United States Army and began serving in September 1968, in the wake of the Tet Offensive.
After being drafted John was convinced he would be deployed to Vietnam where most new recruits were being sent. However, he was not sent to Vietnam but rather to Heidelberg Germany where he was part of the 529th MP Honor Guard unit, and as he put it, “I got to march around Germany for two years.” He said “going to the military was one of the best things to happen in my life with the most important thing being accepting Jesus Christ as my savior and marring my wife Carol”. The military matured him and brought him back to the U.S. a different person.
Following his military time abroad, John returned to KSU to finish his degree while working full time at Wheeling-Pittsburg Steel. During this time he married his wife Carol in 1974 and had his first child, Jonathan in July 1975. It was also during this time that he came to the realization that teaching jobs were scares and that majoring in business would be more practical. In 1975 he graduated from KSU with an accounting degree and was recruited right out of school.
John’s career aspirations were to start working, become a CPA, and transition into industry. He was hired by a small CPA firm in Beachwood Ohio and had his own clients within six months, gaining great experience. He work at the CPA firm from 1975 to 1977 because two years public accounting experience was needed to become certified. John passed the CPA exams in 1977. Because he was working so many hours as a CPA he had little time to pursue a job in industry, as a result John left the CPA firm without having a job, all while expecting his second child, Angela.
His next position was working as a tax analyst for Premier Industries located in Cleveland, Ohio, however he didn’t see much professional opportunity within the company. In the fall of 1977 John was analyzing an offering for one of the Belden & Blake Corporation partnerships for the Mandel brothers (Premier’s primary owners). During that analysis a recruiter informed him of an opening for an accountant at an oil and gas company located in North Canton, Ohio, Belden & Blake Corporation.
Work History Overview:
Belden & Blake narrowed their search to two candidates, John and another person, who did not have public accounting experience and was asking for less money. Belden & Blake’s treasure Mary Thomson would make the final hiring decision. Fortunately for John, Henry “Chic” Belden was prepared to purchase the company from the current owners Henry S. Belden III and Glenn Blake. Marty deliberated with Chic who told him to hire the CPA.
John started working for Belden & Blake in November 1977, which launched his career into the oil and gas industry. The company at that time had a production accountant on staff, and John was hired as the only general accountant.
“Shortly after Chic acquired the company, he hired C. Richard Cox (Dick Cox) who I would consider my mentor. Dick was a brilliant man, a perfectionist and a great teacher. He expected nothing but the best from all his staff. He pushed me hard, and as a result made me a better communicator, writer, analyst and better at budgeting and cash flowing. I give Dick Cox a lot of credit for any success I have had in my career.”
Every month John prepared a 50-60 page financial analysis of Belden & Blake for Dick and together they would spend hours reviewing it. John recalled once having a present tense on page 5 and a past tense on page 13 and Dick would say, “John, you’re killing me! You have to be consistent!” With Dick you had to be consistent, he demanded excellence. John had many praises about working for Chic Belden and Dick Cox and has great respect for both men.
“I worked at Belden & Blake for 10 years and during that time earned a MBA from Kent State University. When I left I was corporate controller and managed 21 people and three accounting managers. Belden & Blake was comprised of several entities including an international company and a SEC reporting company which gave me great opportunities to learn. I traveled to London several times to set up an office. I had a wonderful work experience.”
A former executive at Belden & Blake left the company to consult for Alliance Petroleum Corporation and operate wells on their behalf. John was recruited by that executive to work for Alliance Petroleum in the fall of 1987. John felt he would always be a middle manager if he stayed at Belden & Blake so he decided to submit his resignation to Chic Belden. Chic advised John that Alliance was a struggling company and might not survive.
Alliance was headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia where John interviewed. He thought the company had great future plans. Retrospectively, John described Alliance as being comprised of three small struggling companies that were syndicating drilling programs. An attorney convinced the owners of those companies to align themselves to form one larger struggling company. Alliance had little cash flow, a lot of debt, and did not have an operating arm. In December of 1987 they bought Ohio L&M Co, Inc., located in Marietta Ohio which provided them with an operating team. John was recruited to serve as CFO of Ohio L&M.
“So I left Belden & Blake for Alliance, and Chic was right, they were not going to make it, it was pretty bad. The folks at Alliance had great plans; the problem was that they were not ready to execute those plans. They had no accounting system, and no viable strategic plan. They had ideas but no plan to get it done.”
John spent all of 1988 working in Marietta and living in the Lafayette hotel. The directors of Alliance soon realized the company was going in the wrong direction and began restructuring. By mid 1988 the process of closing the Atlanta office had begun and by the end of 1988 all the former principles were no longer with the company. The president of Ohio L&M was promoted to president of Alliance and John became the CFO of Alliance. In a matter of months John went from being CFO of the operating company to CFO of the parent company. In December of 1988 the company was nearly bankrupt, they moved the headquarters to Canton and started hiring staff.
John said he hired an outstanding group in Canton which greatly contributed to the success of Alliance. He hired Dora Silvis as his accounting clerk; she was greatly needed for the position but he also recognized that she was highly over qualified. In 1991 the company restructured again and John was promoted to president & CEO and Dora was promoted to vice president. Marty Miller, Vice President of Operations was another important member of the management team as was Steve Nicholson who managed the Ohio L&M northern field.
John started restructuring Alliance’s debt in 1988 and 1989, and at the same time determined that in an effort to generate more income and cash flow Alliance needed to expand its production through acquisitions and drilling. During 1993-1996 Alliance drilling 2 to 5 well programs. In the late 1990s John started raising money through brokerage firms. In the early 2000s they had success drilling some of their best wells and gained increased access with those firms. In 2006 Alliance Petroleum was the number one driller in Ohio. The company operated approximately 1,700 wells during this time period.
In the height of its drilling success Alliance started looking for an exit strategy and began marketing the company in 2007 because the price of oil and gas was peaking at this time. In 2008 the market crashed, as did the price of oil and gas, greatly slashing the market value of Alliance and as a result the company suspended its marketing effort.
Along came the Utica, which provided another marketing opportunity for the company. Alliance had built up a massive leasing program by raising money through brokerage firms and drilling wells, much of that acreage covered the Utica shale. In late 2011 they started marketing the company again. Interest in the Utica play was still early, but they saw it as an opportunity to sell the company and provide a return for their shareholders. Management’s plans were to sell the deep rights and find a buyer for the stock. They were able to sell the company’s “deep rights” to larger companies interested in the shale play and in January 2012 sold the stock of the company to Lake Fork Resources owned by Tom Wright. The stock sale provided an opportunity for the employees of Alliance to keep their jobs which was a priority for John when negotiating the sale.
“I loved the people I worked with at Alliance, I loved the job, it was my life for 25 years. I was in mourning for months after I left Alliance. But you would have to drag me back at this point.”
John started AIM Energy LLC in 2007. He had interest in some wells along with friends and used that interest to form AIM Energy. AIM Energy operates about 80 wells; some wells John and his partners owned and others were acquired. “I do all the administrative work and my two partners are field oriented so they operate and manage the wells, pipelines and compressors. It keeps me in the industry and I’m still a producer. I love the industry and I and want to stay involved in oil & gas and OOGA as long as I can.”
John came up with a slogan while he was at Alliance, “Vision alone is no solution, success depends on execution. And that’s what we did with the company. The employees of Alliance executed, they performed with excellence (as Dick Cox taught me early in my career) and that made all the difference”.
History with the OOGA:
John became involved with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association when he started working for Ohio L&M in 1988. The first meeting he attended was the Summer Meeting and he came back to the Winter Meeting the following year. He hasn’t missed many meetings since then and feels that OOGA is a great organization and wants to stay involved as a member.
“I can’t remember going to a Winter Meeting held by OOGA while I was president and CEO of Alliance that I didn’t do a deal. Besides all the training the meetings give us, you get to network with people you don’t see very often. We were always buying and selling and discussing drilling programs at that event.”
John began to get involved with the Association during the Tom Stewart era. Tom encouraged John’s involvement and a president’s appointment was used to put John on the board, John was elected thereafter. In 2002 he was appointed to the executive committee, where he served through 2008. Today he remains on the board and hopes to be reelected when his seat is up again next year so that he can remain involved. In addition to serving on the board of trustees and executive committee, John was previously involved with the government affairs committee, was PAC chairman for over six years and is currently on the audit committee.
“The great thing about the industry is all of the relationships. It is truly full of fantastic people and I’ve made some great relationships over the years. I can’t imagine any oil and gas state that would have a better organization than the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.”