Insights: Benny Cenac, Jr., Owner & CEO, Cenac Towing Company
Arlen “Benny” Cenac Jr. is a third-generation owner of Cenac Towing Company. The firm, originally founded in 1927 by his grandfather, now does business as Cenac Marine Services. Benny has led the company since 1981 through several industry downturns by focusing on customer service, efficiency, quality and safety in its marine transportation services. Cenac Towing has clients across the country and maintains a focus on transporting liquid petroleum barges. Cenac is guided by the values and principles established by Benny’s grandfather over 85 years ago: a commitment to employee satisfaction and great company morale. As a leader in the community, Benny has served on several boards and committees, including Nicholls State University College of Business Advisory Board, Nicholls State University Foundation and Restore or Retreat. Benny is also a member of Waterways Operators, South Central Industrial Association, Bayou Community Foundation and Greater New Orleans Foundation. Beyond this, he is also a devoted philanthropist, donating both his time and money to dozens of regional, national and international causes. He is particularly fond of his involvement with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. Over time, Cenac led the marine industry with many ‘firsts.’ These include being the first to institute the U.S. Coast Guard tank barge self inspection program, and with Coast Guard’s approval, the first to institute its own tankerman training program. As part of Conoco’s Magnolia project, they were the first company to moor a liquid petroleum barge to a dynamic positioning drilling rig in the Gulf. Today, Cenac’s maintenance program is built on a strict model of standardization and managed by top rated, experienced in-house technicians. Located in a state of the art facility at mile marker 58 on the intercoastal waterway, Cenac Marine Services is a fully self sustaining entity strategically located to service the Gulf Coast. There, Cenac supplies classrooms and crew housing, ensuring that Cenac’s crews have the supplies, training and rest required to arrive at the job site prepared and ready to work. With the purchase of Main Iron Works, Cenac Marine Services now has the ability to build its own boats and make all of its own barge and boat repairs. Under Benny’s guiding hand, Cenac constantly pushes the towing industry forward by leveraging new technological advances, including Z-drive technology. As an avid philanthropist in the Gulf Coast region and strong supporter of coastal wetland restoration, Cenac is a most appropriate choice for this month’s INSIGHTS. Listen in as this veteran industry leader shares his unique take on the industry with MarineNews.
Cenac Towing’s acquisition of Main Iron Works (MIW) is noteworthy in that it marries an experienced, well-regarded shipyard to an established transportation leader. What was the thought process behind the move?
MIW has built the majority of the Cenac fleet. My mother’s father started MIW and built the majority share of Interstate Transportation’s fleet, Dixie Carrier’s fleet, and Harvey Gulf’s fleet, and most of those boats are still in operation today. We have always been a company that believes in internal repairs and construction of our fleet, so this acquisition was the perfect fit for our company’s overall goals.
With the addition of MIW to the Cenac portfolio, Cenac joins a number of other companies who own and operate their own tonnage but also can build from within at their own yards. Does this allow for less expensive tonnage, better logistics of getting what you want, when you want it, or is it a combination of both metrics?
For Cenac, it’s not a question of less expensive tonnage, but the internal controls of the equipment and being able to assure our customers, construction staff and repair staff that jobs are completed in a professional and timely manner.
The new 2000 Hp Twin Screw Conventional Tug – the Jean Pierre Cenac – is a notable addition to the Cenac fleet. Will it replace an existing hull, or will it augment your already robust pushboat fleet?
The Jean Pierre is new horsepower added to the fleet in order match additional power already in service. We have been very fortunate to build barges faster than we have been able to build horsepower. This has allowed Cenac to have the newest, most cutting-edge fleet in the industry. The Jean Pierre Cenac is a 72’x30’, Tier 3 compliant innovative push boat, named after my great-great grandfather. Jean Pierre Cenac was a French immigrant, oyster fisherman and first person in the family to build a business on the water.
Adding to a fleet during an industry downturn shows intestinal fortitude, but also confidence in what will come next. That said; can you share with us your long and short-term vision for the oil markets, inland transportation and where Cenac fits into that equation?
Our short-term goal has been to build out our fleet to have enough boats for our large amount of barges. This way, we will be ahead of the game when the industry gets back on track. For the long term, we believe the quality and newness of our fleet as well as the expertise of our people will guide us through an industry slowdown, ensuring Cenac will always have a place in the industry.
The new tug – is it chartered out long term or will it position for cargoes of opportunity?
It will go directly on a long-term job with two 30,000-tank barges.
Your third-generation-owned company attributes its continued success to “innovation, quality service and culture.” Flesh that out for us a little bit.
We contribute our continued success to having top-notch service and employee-friendly equipment with fewer emissions. To us, innovation also means easier maintenance for both crew and land-based staff in order for our employees to concentrate on serving the customer to the best of their ability. To us, quality service means being at the right place at the right time for our customers, and developing great communication services between our vessels, customers and docks. This coupled with an employee-training program that empowers our workers to do their best every day, directly contributes to our success. We truly believe in operating this company as my father and his father before him did – as a family. It’s my duty to ensure everyone is well taken care of, and working as a team to make this company the best it can be. And as any family does in South Louisiana, we get together for special occasions and holidays, celebrating with food, fun and music.
Tell us about the ‘unique familial culture that is experienced not only by employees but also by customers and partners.’ It sounds good – but what does that mean in everyday business practice?
It’s our goal to satisfy our customers through providing our unique expertise to help them to develop a safer, more efficient and profitable practice. For example, we often partner with all the safety and vetting divisions of all major oil and gas producers to assure we are current and up-to-date with all safety requirements such as, SIRE, AWO SMS, ABS, and more. Because we have built such a strong relationship with our customers, we do almost think of them as family and continue to partner with them on a variety of projects, even going beyond just maritime transportation.
The acquisition of Main Iron Works, which was finalized in July of 2015, will expand Cenac Towing’s industry position. With plans to continue to operate Main Iron Works as an independent entity under the Cenac Group umbrella, does this mean MIW will continue to build for other operators and entities?
Following the acquisition, Cenac Towing plans to continue to operate Main Iron Works as an independent entity under the Cenac Group umbrella, growing its’ construction of world-class, innovative tugboats and push boats to companies nationwide. We do plan to continue building for both outside and in-house needs. Main Iron Works has several long-term customer relationships, which we have maintained. One of these customers is Bisso Marine, which we are currently building a new tractor tug for now.
Houma, Louisiana-based Cenac Towing Company, founded in 1927, operates approximately 40 boats, 70 barges and has 400 employees. Where do you see those numbers in five years? Ten? What’s the long term strategy?
With the addition of The Jean Pierre Cenac, we can now say that we have the newest most innovative fleet in the industry. Moving forward, we will focus on remaining the safest and most efficient operator on the water. Ultimately, our mentality is that “bigger is not better.” Instead, we focus on well-trained employees, top-of-the-line equipment and a solid operation.
(As published in the February 2016 edition of Marine News - http://magazines.marinelink.com/Magazines/MaritimeNews)