Caitlin Ward approaches work — and life — in a direct and fundamental way. This approach is
easiest, she finds, and sensible.
Work hard, value loyalty, embrace opportunity and find time to shift focus beyond the day-to-day grind — to consider small, giving ways to effect big change.
Sounds simple; it’s not.
Ward, 34, a wife, mother of three and the second oldest of four sisters, sees it as part and parcel of her position as a general manager and her “family-first, it-takes-a-village” view of life.
It has gotten her to where she is today, and it provides her with a sense of comfort, no matter the circumstance.
Ward is general manager of Bob’s Fuel, a family-owned retail fuel oil and burner service company based in Winchester. It was not the career she imagined while finishing up her business degree from Keene State College, but today it’s hard for her to think of something she’d want to do more.
She’s running a business that has been in her family since 1985, started by Bob Miner, her father’s stepdad and the man she affectionately calls “Pepere.” She’s learning every day still, she says, with the goal of being a good business and community leader. She works with family and employees who share her spirit and regard for quality work and who appreciate the enduring utility of good deeds.
“It’s a fun adventure,” Ward says. “We have goals to reach, we push every day to get better, to gain accounts, to offer the best service possible, and to be a part of this community.”
In the small front office of the business on Warwick Road, Ward works alongside her younger sister Hanna Ball and her mother, Barbara Patnode. Otherwise, she manages three fuel delivery drivers and two service technicians. The company does business in three states: New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont.
Following the market and purchasing fuel is a job onto itself.
“My screen is never off” when it comes to watching the ebb and flow of pricing for purposes of purchasing. She’s come a long way since the days when her primary task was to collect outstanding receivables, she says.
Today, her work also includes dispatch, accounting, human resources, working with customers, marketing and advertising, and from time to time dealing with matters related to the Department of Environmental Services and the Environmental Protection Agency.
In her six years as general manager, she has doubled the firm’s residential customer base and assured continual annual profit growth.
Her sister Jenna Stromgren says this is what Caitlin was destined to do: be a businesswoman.
“She soaks everything she does up. When we were young, she played office and created reports.”
Ward and her staff run an open-door — and open-arms — business. This past fall, for instance, she purchased 25 backpacks and lunch boxes and packed them with snacks and school supplies. They were brought to the Winchester Elementary School prior to the start of the school year for students in need.
This winter, following early snow, a couple of children did not have snow pants, hats or mittens, so Ward ordered some and dropped them off with the school nurse, so those kids could enjoy recess, too.
Among other endeavors, Ward also partners with ServPro to collect food boxes at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and offers reduced pricing for fuel as an incentive to contribute.
“She does look into those avenues, in Winchester, where she might give back and help,” Stromgren says. “She really wants that town to thrive. She’s just full-throttle, whatever she does, all the time.”
Her perspective is shaped, in large part, by her own condition. Ward has a “pretty severe” case of Crohn’s. In 2012, she had her first surgery, and in 2018 another, which left her with about a third of her colon.
“When things like this come up,” she says, “my husband and my whole family pitches in to make sure nothing is missed.”
Jenna said Caitlin doesn’t use vacation days, and if she’s sick she’s probably working remotely from home.
Ward and her husband, Jeremy, who helps to run a timber frame company with his father, Bruce, have three children: Kamryn, 9, Mason, 8, and Calihan, 2, and a pet cat, Oliver. They live in Surry, in a home they built in 2009, not far from two of her sisters and her parents.
Her father, Linwood Patnode, owns a successful company, S.U.R. Construction West, based in Winchester. In time, Patnode became a partner with Miner.
These days, Miner is retired and living in the Lakes Region, but he maintains half ownership of the company.
“I’m very blessed,” Ward says, “that my dad trusted that I was able to take on the task of managing the office.”
Ward’s oldest sister, Erika Payne, and Stromgren, work for S.U.R. “It’s certainly a family atmosphere all around,” Ward says. “I don’t know how or why it works, it just works.
“My parents are inspiring; they’ve done well for themselves in very different ways, and I look up to them.”
Her parents credit their daughter’s strong interpersonal skills and business savvy for her success, noting that she has made improving customer service standards a priority since taking over.
Ward sees growth for Bob’s Fuel as a revenue opportunity, not just for the firm, but as a means to do more for the community she works in.
“You’ll find low-income situations in any town,” she says. “Here, in Winchester, you’ll meet incredible people doing great things. Being a mom, you want to make sure all children have what they need; and it feels good to help when you can.”
Ward says reading about issues like child abuse and neglect, homelessness, not having food outside of school will “eat at me all day … wishing that there was something that I could do to help. Some of these issues are happening right in our local communities. Even if (our help) is in a small way, it’s a step in the right direction.”
Ward said Moms on a Mission, a local group dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for families and children, inspires her, too. While she would love to be a foster parent someday, she finds she can help now by donating to their cause. Perhaps it’s because, at her core, Ward values family above all.
She and her sister Hanna had children about three months apart, and that’s when their mother, retired from a long career in insurance, came to work to help. Their mother, Barbara, stayed on and has worked in the office since — family, friends and colleagues all at once.
“We came back to work with our babies — they are 2 and almost 2 now — in tow,” Ward says. “I was fortunate to bring all of my babies to work with me until they were three months. Working with family allows that kind of support.
“At the end of the day,” she says, “balance of career and family is everything.”