Morgan O’Brien’s vision wins over his employees at Peoples Natural Gas

O’Brien knew his vision and values were becoming a reality when he heard employees lower in the organization say something that reflected what he’d been talking about, or they did exactly what he hoped they’d do, not what they’ve done in the past.

“You need a few of those wins that say, ‘It can work. It does make a difference, and we’re just going to keep the journey going,’” he says.

Whenever that journey seems too long or he gets discouraged, O’Brien likes to meet with his employees. He tries to get to all 28 locations twice a year.

“Sitting down with the people out in the field and listening to them — not just talking to them, but listening to them — it reinforces, gets me energized and reminds me at the roots of what it is we do,” O’Brien says.

However, as your organization gets bigger, the length from your head to your arm becomes further away. There are more people out in the field who are away from the executive office. But it’s a good challenge to have.

“To me, that’s why tomorrow will be an interesting day and the day after tomorrow will be an interesting day,” O’Brien says. “Because you always have new issues, new challenges and things you hadn’t thought of that come up.”

 

Takeaways:

  • Belief — and change — starts at the top, but takes time.
  • Market forces shouldn’t shape core priorities.
  • There’s always room for improvement.

 

The O’Brien File:

Name: Morgan O’Brien
Title: President and CEO
Company: Peoples Natural Gas Co. LLC

Born: South Hills, Pittsburgh

Education: Bachelor’s in accounting and master’s in tax, Robert Morris University

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I was a laborer, working construction. My dad was an Irish immigrant. He taught me that a job wasn’t something you were entitled to. It was a gift, so you had to work as hard as you could.

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received? When I was a CPA, I remember going into a meeting to negotiate a transaction and the partner said, ‘We know what we know, so we need to listen to understand what they know and what their issues are.’ I’ve applied that across the board.

When I meet with employees, I always tell them: ‘Executives don’t make bad decisions because they’re not smart. They make bad decisions because they don’t have good information or they’re not close enough to an issue.’ I will ask them, ‘What is it that you know that would help me make better decisions?’

Why are there so many Peoples Gas companies? When utilities first formed, it was a common name. There’s a Peoples in Tampa, Florida, Chicago and here. We like the name, so we’re keeping it.

When you look at branding and trademarks, there are four utilities with Peoples. We allow them to use the brand if we have it. If they have it, we call and ask them. We’re not in Chicago. We’re not in Tampa. They’re not in Pittsburgh. If we were all Coca-Colas, it would be a big problem.

If you weren’t a CEO is there another job you’d like to try? I always tell people I’d like to be king, for a short time, and fix the problems in the world.

When I started I never had the dream of being a CEO. But once you’re in those shoes — and even though there’s a lot of a pressure with it — the ability to have influence and use it in a good way, to try to grow a company, create more jobs and have an impact, that’s pretty special. It would have to be some type of job that can still impact people in a positive way.