Randy Velarde grew up in Albuquerque and followed in the footsteps of his older brother, choosing the University of New Mexico to study chemical engineering. But rather than begin his career as an engineer, Velarde chose a different – and less obvious – route.
“It was a high time for the petroleum industry when I graduated in the spring of 1981,” Velarde said. “I had many job offers, most for an engineering position and one working on the commercial side; I chose the commercial job offer from Shell Chemical in Houston.”
For the first few years, he worked for Shell in Cleveland, where he held a position in sales. After earning an MBA from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, he was transferred to Houston by Shell and held various positions in marketing, business planning, and product management of what are known as the “downstream” products of oil — petrochemicals that are made from petroleum and natural gas. Such petrochemicals are used to make a wide variety of products used in the housing, automotive and construction industries.
In 1990, Velarde joined Texaco Chemical as a business manager. Four years later, he made the big decision to form The Plaza Group, a specialty marketing firm focused on marketing refinery and petrochemical products produced at Texaco refineries as Texaco Chemical’s assets were being sold to Huntsman. Within a few years, The Plaza Group became the exclusive distributor of the chemical products produced at these facilities in a long-term contract. Today, the company now has sales agreements with many of the industry’s leading petrochemical producers, including Dow Chemical, Shell, Goodyear Chemical, Total, Versalis, Husky, Mitsui, and Alon Refining, among others.
Today, as has been the case for the past two decades, The Plaza Group remains in growth mode, as it continues to build its reputation as a multi-million dollar international chemical marketing firm. Last year alone, The Plaza Group was ranked among the top 15 North America Chemical Distribution Leaders, the Top 50 Chemical Distributors and one of the 50 largest private companies in Houston.
Velarde says The Plaza Group is a niche business that operates from a unique model. “We serve a vital and valuable purpose for many refiners and chemical producers, who would rather invest their time marketing their core products than marketing their by-products,” he said. He credits the hard work of his highly capable and motivated team of 25 employees for maintaining The Plaza Group’s many years of success. He is likewise optimistic for the future.
“I am absolutely energized by what we’ve achieved in just 20 years, about the many opportunities that still exist in our business and by how our fierce dedication to helping our customers perform at peak conditions has contributed to a strong and sustainable growth rate,” he said.
Among his many career achievements, Velarde was appointed by former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson to serve on the National Petroleum Council, and has been named Entrepreneur of the Year by both Hispanic Business magazine and the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Velarde continues to visit the UNM campus several times a year, especially in connection with his role as a board member of the UNM Foundation.
“My UNM Engineering degree provided me with a set of skills to approach challenges of all kinds, which has helped me tremendously in business and in life,” he said. “I enjoy the connection I have with UNM and what I have received, and I look forward to giving back.”
When not working, Velarde enjoys spending time with his four children and playing golf, hiking, traveling, and skiing.