Diversified Dubuque-based company celebrates 150th anniversary

A diversified company that has provided energy and fuel to generations of Dubuquers marks its 150th anniversary this year.

“We’ve been blessed,” said Mark Molo, president and CEO of Molo Companies.

The Molo Companies’ roots extend to 1870, and the establishment of a plumbing and heating business. The company now boasts more than 250 employees in eight states.

William Molo and his brother-in-law Bart Linehan purchased the plumbing and heating business from Morrison Brothers, launching a family business that has progressed through to a fourth generation.

William Molo arrived in Dubuque in 1883.

“He came from New York, and his dad came from Switzerland,” Mark said of his great-grandfather.

William Molo and Bart Linehan operated Linehan & Molo. Soon after its founding, the company established a coal delivery service to augment its plumbing and heating firm.

“We were supplying boilers and coal,” Mark said. “Then, furnaces came along, and we followed that line.”

The company also dealt in sand and gravel.

“We had these teams of horses and wagons, and back then, you either (hauled) ice or sand and gravel, but both teams of horses did coal in the wintertime,” Mark said. “In the summertime, the sand and gravel guys were busy, either producing sand and gravel or delivering it or concrete. In the wintertime, you needed something for the crews to do. So that was the coal. They mirrored each other. We dredged sand and gravel on the river up near Cassville (Wis.) for a lot of years, back when it was steamboats and paddlewheels.”

A fire helped change the company’s course.

“By fluke, by luck or by blessing, we had a fire at the horse barn,” Mark said. “At the time that the fire happened, there was a decision to replace the wagons and horses with trucks.”

With the advent of automobiles, Molo branched out into petroleum in 1927. The company also owned a trolley company in Dubuque.

“There were five or six (trolley companies) for the city,” Mark said. “Each company owned a section of trolley. Ours went up Rhomberg Avenue.”

By 1968, Molo Oil was supplying fuel oil to homeowners and sold gasoline at dozens of area service stations. Mark’s dad, Bob, took over the company from his father, Harold, in 1971, and the company expanded farther into Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Mark worked alongside his dad as a kid.

“He always had something for me to do,” said Mark, who always knew he would follow in the family business. “I was always interested in the business from day one — maybe to my detriment because I maybe didn’t study as hard in school because I would rather be working.”

Eventually, Mark created a ready-mix business that operated under the Molo name, and he stepped up to lead the company after Bob died in 1998.

Mark carried on the family business and also continued the family’s community involvement, supporting organizations such as Loras College and Boys and Girls Club of Greater Dubuque.

“Since 1978, one of the Molos — Bob or Mark — has been on our board,” said Brian Meyer, the club’s executive director.

He said Bob and Mark Molo are the only father and son pairing to each receive the club’s highest individual honor.

“We can always count on the Molo family,” Meyer said. “They have just been very involved with whatever we do.”

Mark sold the ready-mix business in the early 2000s.

“After my dad passed away, I had to get focused more on our core businesses — the fuel and the energy — and so we sold it, and that was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” he said. “This was my baby. We had great employees and some great partners.”

The company continued to grow, however, with a string of business acquisitions related to fuel and energy supply.

“We have found that over the last 15 years, some family businesses are retiring and getting out of business because they don’t have a next generation coming along,” Mark said. “So, we’re growing. We’ve been doing one (acquisition) a year for quite a while.”

Mark has four children. Son Blake Molo has worked for the company since 2018. Nicholas, Erica and Maria have chosen other career paths.

Mark said the company is prepared for the future, even if the business looks different than it does today.

“Our family business looks like an energy and an oil company, with plumbing and heating and air conditioning businesses today,” he said. “One hundred years ago, it was a coal business. It will probably be what we are today while I’m here, but in 10 years, if something changed, who knows?”