CEO: PennWell Takes Information Globally

By Rod Walton
Tulsa World

Robert Biolchini still remembers the firefighter who offered his gratitude for the training experience at one of Penn-Well Corp.’s conventions some time ago.

“The oil men don’t thank me; the power men don’t thank me,” the PennWell CEO said at a Friends of Finance lecture Wednesday at the University of Tulsa. “But the firemen, they thank you.”

The quip not only got a laugh from the crowd but also succinctly showed what kind of reach the Tulsa-based publishing company has with its myriad periodicals, websites and exhibitions covering dozens of industry sectors from oil and gas to hydro power, dental economics and fire prevention.

The 101-year-old company grew from simply being the owner of the Oil and Gas Journal – still its flagship magazine – to the parent of more than 130 trade publications and dozens of industry shows worldwide. PennWell provides “cutting-edge” information to 5.3 million customers and employs more than 500 people, including 320 at its Tulsa headquarters, Biolchini said.

Information is PennWell’s key selling point, he said. Whether it’s fiber-optics, offshore drilling or fire engineering, the company’s reputation is based on the expertise of its writers, editors and show planners.

“PennWell really doesn’t have many hard assets,” said Biolchini, who took over as CEO in 2000.

The key, he noted, is to go out bravely into uncharted business waters, whether it’s oil and gas trade shows in Russia or offshore industry in west Africa. PennWell oversees major shows on six continents.

The London office employs 56 people, who provide a base for the company’s fast-growing European operations. Corruption in some Asian and Africa economies makes the going tough, but Penn-Well, so far, has navigated those treacherous waters well, Biolchini said.

“You’ve got to be quick on your feet,” he said. “You’ve got to know what you can and can’t do.”

The Oil and Gas Journal, which is based in Houston but read worldwide, remains PennWell’s jewel holding, with 112,000 paying subscribers. Employees of such far-flung energy giants such as Petrobras in Brazil and Statoil in Norway read it either in the monthly traditional form or as weekly digital issues.

Jim Arens, Friends of Finance program chairman, introduced Biolchini as the “driving force” in PennWell’s growth over the past few decades. The company acquired energy data mapping outfit eMarket Software Inc. last month and has expanded every one of its trade shows in recent years.

Power-Gen International, geared toward utility and electricity sectors, stages 1,200 exhibits attended by about 20,000 people annually, PennWell says. This year’s show will be in Las Vegas in December.

The Fire Department Instructor Conference, however, tugs at Biolchini’s heart strings more than any other trade meeting. He showed a photo of Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium turf completely covered by firefighter exhibitions and training booths.

He hailed those participants as heroes and called the event “the best show I go to.”

However, PennWell’s growing international presence makes him most proud.

“We’re determined to be in every place we need to be,” Biolchini said. “I think we’ve accomplished that.”

The next Friends of Finance lecture, which is set for Dec. 1, will feature SemGroup Corp. CEO Norm Szydlowski.

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