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Family Ties: Commitment to the Customer and Passion for Business Fuels Traci Adolph's Success

September 22, 2016

Photo of Traci Adolph

The following is the first installment of Paychex's The Changing Face of Business campaign. For more on this topic, please visit

Traci Adolph has proven that holding onto the family business after the untimely death of a parent-owner certainly has its challenges, but with the right attitude and plan, it can be done. With her hard work and dedicated persistence, backed by the lessons her mother taught her over the years, Traci guided her company, Samson Fuel, through its darkest days and put it on course for a bright future. Bringing a fresh, new perspective to her family’s company, she joined the ranks of women who have taken over and run successful small businesses across the nation.

Like many children who grew up in a family-owned company, a business-oriented, customer-focused mindset has been a part of Traci’s life for as long as she can remember. Samson Fuel, a full-service provider of on- and off-road diesel fuel, gasoline, and residential heating oil in Rochester, N.Y., was founded in 1980 by Traci’s mother, Linda Fedele. After noticing an untapped market – providing home delivery of fuel to people who heated their homes with kerosene – she decided to start her business. Linda worked her desk job during the day, returned home at night to make deliveries, and spent all of her time raising her family as a single mother. As she built her company, she kept a relentless focus on serving the customer.

“My mother always said that all she needed was to get her foot in the door and her small company could do just as well as the bigger competitors she was up against,” Traci stated. “My mother and the company were often the underdog against much larger companies, but because of her fierce determination, she was able to overcome any obstacles in her way. Failure was never an option.”

Traci worked at Samson Fuel for eight years after college, taking on various tasks and responsibilities that provided invaluable exposure to the importance of every function within the organization. Along the way, she observed and learned every lesson she could from her mother.

“My mom always had me doing any number of different jobs, just like any other entry-level position at the company,” Traci said. “She always reminded me that I had to earn my stripes just like everyone else, and build a career from the ground up just like she did.”

And building her career is what Traci did. After working at Samson, she went off to explore another career path. She returned to Samson Fuel near the end of 2013 because the company was approaching a breaking point. Her mother was working part-time, lines of credit were drying up, and the company was on the brink of closing. Linda’s health declined rapidly and, less than a year later, she passed away.

“At that stage, I knew there was no way that I was going to let anything happen to Samson Fuel,” Traci said. “It was my mom’s legacy, it would be mine, and hopefully someday it will be my children’s. I was determined that the company my mother built from the ground up was not going to fall.”

Traci acquired Samson Fuel in November of 2014 and became the sole owner and president of the company. She immediately started to rebuild the company and level its finances.

She spent all of 2015 stabilizing the company by assuring customers that Samson Fuel wasn’t going out of business, putting in place strict financial controls, and re-establishing the company in the community.

“It was pretty much nothing but work for a year,” Traci said. “I’m a workaholic now, but when I say 24/7, it was non-stop.”

Despite the enormous amount of pressure, Traci pulled off an amazing reincarnation of the company by eliminating the large volume of revenue lost from the previous year. Eliminating debt, adding new capabilities, acquiring Bisig Oil, buying the company’s building, and increasing grassroots marketing led Samson Fuel to its most successful fiscal year, which ended on July 31, 2016, in the history of the company. Revenue was up by 43 percent, with an increase of 20 percent expected in the new year.

“I’m fortunate to work with a great group of employees and our achievements were the result of a real team effort,” said Traci.

Samson Fuel is among the 24 percent of family-owned businesses led by a female CEO or president. Traci hopes that some of the lessons she learned can help other family-owned businesses.

Although it’s not an easy discussion, Traci advises parent-owners and children to talk about succession of the family business sooner rather than later.

“There was no succession plan or will in place, which meant I had to spend a lot of time with accountants and lawyers instead of running the business or being with my family,” she said. “Now, I already have provisions in place should anything happen to me.”

Traci’s advice to other women who are new to small business ownership or leadership is simple: love what you do.

“I’ve observed many successful women in business and what I’ve learned is that you can’t be a sideline sitter – you need to be in the game at all times,” she said. “To bring that type of commitment, you need to love your job. When you have a real passion for what you do, success will follow.”