How I tapped my roots as a stockbroker to launch an oil business

Mary A. Burnham spent years as a stockbroker before entering the oil and gas industry. For her latest venture, however, she took stock in herself. She started her own Dallas-based company earlier this year that's finding new applications for used motor oil. Here's the story of how she founded Burnham Green Oil.

The oil and gas drilling business can be a cruel, heartbreaking endeavor. For years, I worked for Petroquest Exploration in Louisiana, where I endured dry hole after dry hole. That meant I had to go back to my investors, who were also my friends, and tell them the bad news.

I took it much harder than they did. I felt like I had a fiduciary responsibility when they gave their money. I was acquiring, developing and producing oil and gas reserves in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

I wanted to find a new career using my expertise as a former stockbroker for Fidelity Investments and all the certification that goes along with it. But I was also fascinated by the world of oil and all the opportunities it brings.

A friend and mentor suggested I start my own business. I frantically thought about it for a few weeks. Being my own boss? I'd never been the CEO or president of anything. In February, I took the plunge with my own money, founding Burnham Green Oil.

The company finds used motor oil, delivers it to refineries where it's blended again and then sells it as a lubricant for use by car makers and the federal government. The company doesn't have liabilities ? I broker the oil through the relationships I've formed over the years. That includes contacts in Canada, Brazil and Mexico.

I follow through and make it happen through what I call the closed-loop system.

This works because the base oil, even after it's been used, is still effective once the additives and contaminants are removed through the refining process. Just one barrel, or 42 gallons, can be turned into 34 gallons of lubricant. Compare that to 42 gallons of crude oil, which only makes about half a gallon of lubricant.

It's environmentally friendly because it prevents oil from contaminating the water or soil and finds a new use for it. That means new oil isn't needed.

I also work with crude oil by finding new customers for it. In July, I secured a military contract where I deliver millions of gallons in fuel for their use at an undisclosed location.

I am responsible for all the business decisions in the company . Burnham Green Oil is a woman owned business and we are debt free. We are proud to be in the oil industry, which is traditionally a man's industry.

Like anyone else, there were very influential people who helped me along the way. I want to thank my mentors Darrell Grams, William Flagg Magee, Arthur Benjamin, Jon Vasconcellos, Perry Smith and Ray Zimmerman. They're all either in the energy industry or work as investors or attorneys who have contacts in the industry.

Much like when I worked in the energy and exploration business, I've learned that if I prove myself, I can be just as successful in this industry as men are.

-- Nicholas Sakelaris