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Doing More in Memphis

Logistics firm AVPOL takes off, thanks to executive education and a strong relationship with Regions.

OCT. 10, 2014 - Sandra Walls knows logistics. A career in the U.S. Air Force, where she rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, taught the Memphis, Tenn., native the ropes.

When she retired from active duty and went into the business world with Memphis-based AVPOL (Aviation, Petroleum, Oils and Lubricants) International, she had to take a crash course in banking. She believes that her military training as a squadron commander and logistics officer had prepared her sufficiently for managing her own business.

Commercial business lessons came via classes taught by the Inner City Capital Connections, a series of executive education programs created by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City. Banking knowledge came more slowly as she wrestled with the limits of credit during an economic downturn, and bankers who didn’t really understand her business.

That all changed when she forged a business relationship with Regions bankers Tony Hotchkiss and Fred Hardeman.

“I was tired of hearing no,” Walls said. “As we’ve grown, Tony makes no excuses or show no limitations. He said to me, ‘Regions can make it happen — and if we can’t, we’ll find someone who can.’”

AVPOL has grown dramatically since Walls took over in 2004, from 30 employees to 43 and from $1.2 million in revenue to more than $12 million. AVPOL is in the midst of a five-year $100-million strategic growth plan while adding new contracts for federal and commercial contracts across the globe on an annual basis.

What sets AVPOL apart, though, is not measured by financials.

“It is my mission to go out and help people,” Walls said. “The military taught me how to mingle with other cultures. I look at this business — and for that matter, the military — as a way to serve others.”

The business has grown by finding the right mix of people who are like-minded. “One of the greatest challenges is finding skilled people. One of the greatest rewards is investing in those people,” she said. “That’s where you find quality. And I’m going to stand by my people as long as I know they’re in the right.”

Walls acknowledges the role ICCC — which is sponsored in Memphis by Regions — and the bank itself have played in helping AVPOL do more.

“I’m an advocate,” Walls said. “I’ve had other banks approach me, but I’m a loyal person. When I see Regions step up for small businesses, like mine, I’m excited.”

Due to her military background, Walls doesn’t waste time. If she has a goal, her only objective is reaching it quickly.

“Sandra is very demanding,” Hardeman said. “She knows what she wants and tells you what she wants. Then she expects you to make it happen. And we do. Honestly, she’s been instrumental in my career growth because she’s challenged me to go beyond what I thought I could do as a banker.”

The uniqueness of AVPOL, because of complicated government rules and regulations that must be met to win a contract, means Regions’ Hardeman and Hotchkiss had to do their homework as well.

“We’re learning her business and she’s learning ours,” Hotchkiss said. “As a result we can be fleet of foot when we need to be and act quickly when there’s a huge contract up for bidding.”

At a recent ICCC seminar in Memphis, Walls pointed to Hotchkiss and her relationship with Regions as one of the reasons for her success.

“If your customer knows you care — and Sandra knows I care — you can accomplish anything,” Hotchkiss said. “Sandra is outgoing, outspoken and gregarious. She’s very vocal about her relationship with Regions, and there’s no better endorsement than that.”

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