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Women, young leaders see new opportunities in propane industry

Fifteen years ago, three women stood on the Portland, Maine, waterfront, surrounded by oil tankers in the harbor, discussing plans for a large acquisition they were managing.

Anderson

One of the women, Leslie Anderson, says that was her ah-ha moment, when she realized the propane industry had three women in charge, and a lot to offer women.

Anderson, currently an attorney and the president and CEO of the six-state Propane Gas Association of New England, will be the first to tell you there are a lot of men in the propane industry, but she sees opportunities for up-and-coming women to advance their careers.

What is it about this field that makes it such a good match for women?

Anderson suspects it might go back to the roots. The propane industry began with family businesses after World War II – a lot of entrepreneurs looking for jobs after the war. Family business startups meant wives and children played a role in helping run the business, which she believes was the foundation for women in the industry.

Armentano

Christina Armentano was one of those children, growing up in her family’s business, Paraco Gas. She recalls being exposed to the business – discussions at family dinners, traveling with her father to National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) meetings and helping with administrative tasks over the summer. Now, she is a part of the third generation running the business as executive vice president of sales and business development.

One of her passions is educating the public on the benefits of propane as an energy source – a green, efficient, Environmental Protection Agency-certified, alternative energy. This educational process, she says, is something on which the industry could improve, and something those outside the industry fail to recognize. That’s why Armentano is excited about the emerging young leaders in the industry.

“It’s incredibly important that people want to take action. Being involved in state action and local events, we have to come together to spread the message about propane as an alternative fuel source and to understand the resources available to tell the story,” says Armentano.

Kidd

Bridget Kidd, senior vice president of industry relations at the Propane Education Research Council, also believes the foundation for women in the industry likely comes from ties to family businesses. In her words, “everyone had a role, a risk and a reward.” Kidd has always worked in male-dominated fields, including propane.

“I’m often the only woman in the room – and one of the youngest in the room,” says Kidd. “But I’ve never been treated differently. That’s what I love about this industry – if you’re willing to speak up, bring fresh ideas and work hard, that’s what distinguishes you, not gender.”

That kind of equal opportunity appeals to many, especially in the younger generation. And speaking up is important, as Kidd agrees there’s a need to advocate for propane as a fuel.

“The younger generation in the industry will be next to tell the story of propane – and they bring different perspectives and different mediums. With new pride and a new generation comes a big opportunity for the industry,” says Kidd.

What does the new generation bring to the industry?

The propane industry is mature, with plenty of baby boomers, but there is a new, younger generation of up-and-coming leaders in the industry who are making waves and bringing the big opportunity to which Kidd is referring.

Hennen

Steph Hennen, trade show coordinator at Marshall Excelsior Co., is one of them. Her father has been in the industry for over 30 years, and so, in a way, she’s grown up in the industry. Hennen became involved in the industry as a marketing intern when she was 16 years old. She’s 24 now, but her passion for the industry is well beyond her years. Her ultimate goal? To unite the propane industry with the younger generation.

In the past five years, Hennen has noticed an increase in initiatives – recruitment marketing, leadership training, etc. – to encourage her generation to come into the industry. She plays a part in these initiatives through her involvement in NPGA and the Women in Propane Council. Hennen was just chosen as a runner-up for the Young Woman of the Year award through the World LPG Association. But she hopes to do more.

Hennen is working to develop a blog to educate millennials and Generation Z (the generation following millennials) about the industry as a whole, with a focus on a few key points she knows they’ll lovepropane as a clean gas, the community feel in the propane industry, and career and leadership opportunities in the industry.

In the meantime, Hennen has encouraging words for her friends in the propane industry.

“Keep an open mind to the younger generation,” she says. “We have a different mindset but a common goal. We want to see the industry – and the families in it – thrive.”

Fabrizio

Will Fabrizio agrees. He wants to see the people in the industry thrive. Fabrizio is another young leader in the industry. He has worked his way up the ladder at Paraco Gas, from service technician to his current position, director of production and Northeast service.

Fabrizio is one of many Paraco volunteers who run a corporate wellness committee, giving information to employees about available benefits and overseeing walking challenges that encourage employees to team up and compete for prizes – all to promote healthy, active lifestyles.

In addition to serving on the corporate wellness committee, Fabrizio has implemented a few new initiatives of his own. He oversaw the construction of Paraco’s newest facility, located in Waterbury, Connecticut, creating an environment that placed a priority on ergonomics for the employees. Once the new facility was open, he started a morning exercise program for employees. Those who want to participate can come in 20 minutes before their shift starts, and an employee leader leads them through a stretching routine. They also host healthy lunches every month.

“A healthy employee is a happy employee is a hardworking employee,” says Fabrizio. “Whatever I can do to make them more comfortable on the job.

“The propane industry is said by many to be old-fashioned, but there are companies who are technology forward and socially aware,” Fabrizio continues.

Lord

Jesse Lord has noticed the same forward-thinking companies in the propane industry and has co-founded a nonprofit, Veteran Education Transition Services (Vets2Techs), to connect the industry with young veterans. His family’s propane business, A.R.M. Solutions, gave him insight into the industry. As a former Green Beret, he sees qualities that military personnel and the family-owned propane businesses share – loyalty, hard work and dedication.

In his experience, he sees the industry – from national and state efforts – has placed a priority on recruiting the future workforce. While Lord sees the common themes and the priority on recruiting the next generation, he still sees room for improvement when it comes to sharing the story of the propane industry, specifically that the industry is significant, it provides clean energy and is family-friendly.

“In the military, there’s a saying – ‘adapt or die.’ If we don’t get better at telling the story of what the propane industry does, we’ll stop growing,” says Lord.

Featured image: iStock.com/Kris Hanke