During his more than 20 years with the family business, Lindsay "Trip" Dryden 3rd has seen Dryden Oil Co. revenues go from about $3 million to $100 million annually.
Dryden has grown from a local company to a regional one, artfully thriving in niche markets abandoned by the major oil companies.
But further growth was getting tough and revenues were beginning to level off. Unsuccessful forays into the Midwest had spread the company's resources thin and Dryden was reluctant to take the private company public by selling its stock on the open market.
So Dryden, 45, who has been president since 1981, decided earlier this year to sell the company his great-grandfather founded in 1893. Dryden is the fourth generation of his family to run the company.
Dryden contacted a friend and competitor -- Thomas Crane, the president of Castrol Inc. -- and began the talks that resulted in Castrol's purchase of Dryden.
"I want to run a national company," said Dryden, announcing the sale yesterday. He said his only hope of making Dryden a national company was with an infusion of cash, such as Castrol can provide.
Under the agreement, Castrol will operate Dryden as an independent unit and finance its expansion nationally, he said. Dryden's work force of 437 -- 260 of them in Baltimore -- should be largely unaffected in the short run but could grow with the expansion, he said.
The companies may end up consolidating some operations, but probably not those in Baltimore, Dryden said. The company has operations in 18 locations from Massachusetts to Florida, including manufacturing and corporate offices in Baltimore.
The headquarters will remain in Baltimore, although it will report to Castrol's base in Wayne, N.J., and, ultimately, to Castrol's parent, Burmah Castrol Plc of the United Kingdom. Dryden will remain president, but the chairmanship held by his father, Lindsay Dryden Jr., will be eliminated.
Industry observers say the two companies will complement one another, with Castrol's strong position in the automotive oil business being augmented by Dryden's innovative fleet servicing and commercial oil businesses.
"This is two competitors joining that both have different strengths," said Bill Pettway, president of Pettway Petroleum Products, a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based competitor of Dryden and Castrol.
"It will strengthen both of them and make them more viable. I don't know if it will have any impact on the industry," said Pettway, who chairs the lubricants committee of the Petroleum Marketers Association.
The maturation of the industry has led to several consolidations in recent years, Pettway said. In fact, Dryden and Castrol have between them acquired eight companies since 1985.
Eva Win, a spokeswoman for Castrol, said the company was impressed with Dryden's innovative marketing. Dryden specializes in servicing fleets of cars and heavy equipment, supplying them with new oil and disposing of the used oil. The company also tests the oil in customer's equipment to monitor the health of the machinery.
Crane, Castrol's president, said in a news release that "we see Dryden Oil as a key part of Castrol's long-term growth strategy . . . . It fills a major gap in Castrol's lubricants portfolio."
When it was founded, Dryden made fat-based oils for horse harnesses and lubricants for steam cylinders. It is the nation's largest independent commercial lubricants company and manufactures and markets a wide range of cutting fluids, motor oils and other lubricants under the brand name "Drydene."
Castrol was founded in 1899 and now markets metalworking, marine and automotive products, and specialty lubricants. Its best known product is the Castrol GTX automobile motor oil.
The sale is expected to be finalized this week. Terms of the transaction were not released.