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Managing growth, urging safety

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Robert Beard
Robert Beard

With hundreds of thousands of people depending on his company to keep them warm in the winter, Robert Beard has a lot of serious things to think about.

First, there are the rules. As the president and CEO of UGI Utilities Inc. in Reading, Beard keeps what he calls a “robust team” in Harrisburg to work on regulatory and legislative policy and keep communications open with the state Public Utility Commission.

Then, the company is growing quickly. Natural gas prices are prompting a lot of people to switch to gas. To hook them up, UGI has to compete to find skilled employees, who are in big demand.

Beard's company attracted 17,000 new customers in 2013, three-quarters of them conversions from oil to gas. The rest were new housing starts. Beard cited such growth as prompting a recent tough decision – to hire 100 new employees rather than outsourcing field work.

But Beard said his chief worry is the safety of his employees, customers and the public. His company employs 1,400 and serves 600,000 customers in 45 counties in Pennsylvania and one county in Maryland, making Beard one of the most influential businessmen in the Greater Lehigh Valley.

Beard, who lives in Lancaster County, said 85 percent of UGI's 13,000 miles of gas mains is modern, but 15 percent is in line for replacement. UGI has agreed with the PUC to replace the 4 percent of its gas mains that are cast iron by 2027 and the 11 percent of its gas mains that are bare steel by 2043.

One way Beard measures UGI's success is by how it ranks in industry safety benchmarks set by the American Gas Association. The company is consistently above the mean but wants to be in the top 10 percent, he said.

Beard said his management philosophy is that any leader's main job is to provide a safe environment and the proper tools, equipment and protocol to allow workers to do their jobs.

Beard has a bachelor's degree and a master's of management degree from Penn State University and more than 20 years of experience in the gas utility industry. He has been president and chief executive officer of UGI Utilities since September 2011. Before that, he was vice president of marketing, rates and gas supply at UGI Utilities, and from 2002-06 was vice president of operations and engineering at PPL Gas Utilities Corp.

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