Jennifer “Jen” Ryan – U.S. Venture, Inc.
From the day in 1951 when brothers Art and Ray Schmidt bought a fuel oil route in Kimberly, Wisconsin, and founded Schmidt Brothers Oil Co., what’s now U.S. Venture has been supplying energy products to customers throughout the U.S.
Working for U.S. Venture—a distributor of renewable and traditional energy products, lubricants, tires and more—has energized the past few years of Associate General Counsel Jennifer “Jen” Ryan’s legal career. As she helps manage the company’s day-to-day legal affairs, Ryan has recently enjoyed being part of introducing generative artificial intelligence wisely to the company in addition to supporting its M&A, sustainability and compliance initiatives.
“I love the family ownership at U.S. Venture and the strong culture here,” she says. “How we conduct business, how we treat each other and our customers, and the ways we support the communities in which we live and work strongly align with my personal values.”
How will AI fit?
Ryan’s role at U.S. Venture combines her corporate, M&A, energy, transportation and logistics, antitrust, intellectual property and compliance legal experience and now adds a focus on technology as the company investigates how to implement generative AI and machine learning.
In the spring, Ryan was asked to join a task force created to look at how GAI can be used by the company while mitigating the risks and challenges it presents. The task force spent months researching and developing a policy for the company’s use of GAI and evaluating GAI tools U.S. Venture is considering. She says the task force has approved certain tools because they enhance people’s work and increase productivity by taking on some manual tasks while being considered low risk.
Ryan has enjoyed exploring AI and has used GAI to compose various correspondence and policies. But she says there are also legal and ethical considerations about using it in the workplace—for instance, should GAI be used for HR-related matters such as team member performance reviews?
Ryan was an instrumental part of a multi-million-dollar transaction essential to U.S. Venture’s continued growth and expansion. Under her day-to-day leadership on the legal aspects of the deal, U.S. Venture acquired a total of five petroleum terminals and associated assets in June 2022. Two of the terminals are in Spartanburg, South Carolina, one in Augusta, South Carolina, and another in Montgomery, Alabama.
Ryan was lead counsel on the acquisition and worked closely with the business and outside counsel from Reed Smith LLP on researching the assets and operations for the terminals and drafting and negotiating the purchase and sale and related agreements.
The deal was made more complex because the Federal Trade Commission required Buckeye Partners, L.P. to divest to U.S. Venture the petroleum terminals as a condition of Buckeye’s $435 million proposed acquisition of 26 Magellan terminals.
Though the FTC’s divestiture process has become much more rigorous in recent years, Ryan and her team successfully worked with the FTC to demonstrate that they were the appropriate buyer to maintain competitive balance in fuel markets.
While she joined U.S. Venture because of its core values, culture and diverse business operations, she is also proud of its commitment to the environment and sustainability. Ryan helps the company with developing various sustainability initiatives, as well as conducting exercises that simulate fuel spills.
The company works with the U.S. Coast Guard and local authorities to conduct periodic drills that include injecting environmentally safe dye into the water near its terminals to measure how fuel might spread and how to contain it. The company also performs annual tabletop drills to ensure readiness. As testing spill response processes and procedures occur, Ryan and the legal team are also tested as they’d be part of the response to a spill.
“The safety and the protection of our community and the environment is our number one priority,” Ryan says.
A career in balance
Ryan, who grew up in the Midwest, says she knew she wanted to be an attorney at age 17 and wanted to practice environmental law. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from Coe College in 1995 and her J.D. from the University of Tulsa College of Law in 1998.
While in law school, Ryan was editor-in-chief of the school’s energy law journal and executive editor of the ABA’s 1997 Natural Resources, Energy, and Environmental Law Year in Review. After graduating, she joined the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as an attorney-advisor in its office of the general counsel in Washington, D.C.
In November 2000, Ryan entered private practice as an associate at McGuireWoods LLP. She continued to practice in firms in the Washington, D.C. area through December 2006, when she moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, because she wanted to raise her family in the Midwest.
Ryan then joined Integrys Energy Services Inc. as a senior attorney. In April 2011, she was promoted to associate general counsel covering Integrys’ trading and energy asset development businesses. During her tenure at Integrys, she also owned and operated a Five Guys hamburger franchise. In September 2014, she joined Schneider, a transportation and logistics company, as associate general counsel, the position she held before joining U.S. Venture.
While the varied practice areas Ryan works in are rewarding, she enjoys her role at U.S. Venture because the company strongly promotes health and wellness and work-life balance.
“I’m celebrating my 25th year of practicing law,” Ryan says. “It seems like it’s gone by so quickly, but a milestone like this has made me reflect quite a lot.”
Outside of work, Ryan is raising two teenagers and enjoys music, fine arts and spending time with friends. She is celebrating her 50th birthday this fall with a trip to Las Vegas to see U2 and Lady Gaga.
“Work-life balance is something I struggled with for most of my career, but I’ve come to realize how important it and good self-care is,” she says.
View this feature in the Vanguard Fall III 2023 Edition here.
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