By susan montgomery
When Solon Scott Jr. was born in 1937, he and his parents lived in a commercial building in Itta Bena that today is still the home of his company, Scott Petroleum.
“His family lived in that building, and then they moved to a house behind it,” said Scott’s son, Solon III, president of the catfish plant, America’s Catch, in Itta Bena. Later a duplex was constructed across the street, and that’s where Solon III lived during his early years.
Now, Solon Jr., and his wife, Teresita, have lived in Greenwood for years, but there’s no doubt the business remains where Scott feels especially at home.
The other day, he looked around his office. The desk there has a few family photos, and the walls are decorated with prints depicting wildlife. Maybe, Scott said, there should be some things reflecting a few of the honors he has received, including a recent distinguished service award from the Chickasaw Council of the Boy Scouts of America. But maybe not.
Generally, his style is to work in the background, and he loves the artwork, especially in the pieces where sunlight is depicted through clouds. “How does someone do something like that?” he asked.
Surely light across water, woods and fields has caught the eye of this son of the Delta throughout his 81 years. But it’s also certain that much of the time, his mind’s been on work.
Scott said he worked a bit at his grandfather’s Itta Bena service station while growing up, but he didn’t really get started at Scott Petroleum, then called Scott Butane, until his father died a few weeks after Scott graduated from high school in Itta Bena. He had intended to work for the family, but not before finishing his education. “I was just planning on going to school and coming back and working,” he explained. And he tried to do that.
That fall, Scott went to college—Mississippi State, Mississippi Delta Community College and Delta State—but quit when his mother, Elizabeth, issued an ultimatum: if he didn’t come home from Delta State to help her with the business, she would sell it.
It was January, 1957. Scott, then 20, didn’t have a car or truck. “I actually hitchhiked home,” he said. The next day, he drove back to Cleveland for things he left there. Nobody picks up a hitchhiker with a trunk,” he explained with a smile.
“I wanted to help her run it,” he said. The Scotts had just two propane trucks and a service. “I started helping do service work,” he said. He installed tanks and equipment on farms and at houses, mainly in the countryside, to sales. At that time, people were not only interested in heating buildings with butane but running vehicles such as pickups and tractors on on propane. This was cheaper than gasoline, and it was necessary for other equipment, such as irrigation engines.
Scott was good at sales, and he enjoyed visiting with customers, and Scott Petroleum changed its product over time. At one point, he said, “They went to diesel tractors because they burn less gallons per hour.” That was OK. “We didn’t care what they burned as long as we could sell it to them,” Scott explained.
When he opened a $22 million biodiesel refinery in Greenville 11 years ago, he told the Delta Business Journal, “In the fuel busness, a lot of our customers are asking for biodiesel and I thought it was a natural step to produce it and deliver it to our customer base.”
Scott thought back to that time. “I already owned the land, and I decided to put in the plant,” he said. “It would use the products our customers were producing.” Currently, that’s oil from soybeans and corn, but he said biodiesel can be made with other oils, including cottonseed and canola. “We’ve made diesel from all of them,” he said, and mentioned “yellow grease,” which is leftover cooking oil. Actually, what the diesel plant uses is a better grade oil, “used cooking oil” from restaurants, which is it buys from a distributor in Greenville.
Scott Petroleum now has 325 employees working in fuel distribution and production, including at convenience stores, within the three-state area that’s about a 75-mile radius of Greenville.
Scott is a partner with his son, Solon, and daughter, Liz Barrett, both of Greenwood, in America’s Catch, which opened in 1987. Over the years, he also partnered with others, including his brother, Steve, in ventures including a row-crop farm that later was converted to catfish.
He has had business interests in Texas and south Mississippi, among other locations.
He ran a fund-raising campaign for the Boy Scout council, and he makes a large contribution annually to St. Jude Childlren’s Research Hospital in Memphis. The latter is made in the names of Scott Petroleum’s customers.
After six decades, his relationship with customers and employees give him the most satisfaction. He acknowledged that having succeeded in business makes him feel good about his accomplishments. But the real value, he said, comes from the people with whom he is associated.
He appreciates their work ethic. “I think they have an attitude about their job and who they work for,” Scott explained. “It’s an everyday job. it’s not just a here today and home tomorrow job.” And he wants them to succeed.
“I want to see them prosper. I want to see them do well.” In a way, he works for them as well as himself. “I think they can feel you are doing the job for them,” Scott said.
Solon III said, “It takes a lot to run a successful business, and I think that what I have learned from my dad is that what he does to be successful is have a very good work ethic. He’s a hard worker, a shrewd businessman as far as knowing the numbers in the business and he keeps his hand on all of the details.”
His father is honest and more. “He can certainly can be a kind person, whether inside the company or with customers, you see that trait.”
And, “he also has an incredible sense of humor. He loves to laugh.”
Solon III continued, “He likes to sell, and he likes the relationship with farmers and customers. He likes to go out and kid around and joke. He likes to sell and grow his business, and that is what he has done for 60 years in one location, one office. Sixty years, he has worked out of that building.”
The other day Scott was asked, What’s next? Scott laughed and said, the Itta Bena Cemetery. That doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.