Thursday, Nov 26 -Does long-time industry guru, Paul Wehnert, from Heath Consultants love what he does? Hear it for yourself.
[0:00] [background music]
Jim Schauer: [0:09] Good morning, LinkedIn community, energy community, and more. Welcome to this week’s episode of “Coffee with Jim & James.” All right, a quick little story. This is how I interact with industry icons.
[0:22] Picture this. 2018, Washington, DC, World Gas, we just set up the Energy Worldnet booth, get it all set up, and what do I do? I do what I do best go see friends. So I start to walk through the acres and acres and like a beacon like a mecca, the North Star, what do I see? Heath Consultants’ booth. I’m like there’s friends. I go over there and what’s in the middle of the booth but a Jeep.
James Cross: [0:51] I remember this. Jimmy, I was walking with you. I remember the story exactly.
Jim: [0:56] Do you remember me going through? The booth with armed with business cards and I think it was Gerald Sims. Somebody else stopped me and said sir, sir. That’s Mr. Paul’s Jeep. You can’t mess with that. I think Gerald walked up and said it’s just Jimmy. There’s no stopping him. Let him go.
[1:18] My question is, Paul, don’t answer it now. We’ll get it to in a second. I want to know as you’re traveling down the Galveston coast taking the ferry over to Port Bolivar unloading the Jeep for the day in the in the beach in the sun. Are you still finding business cards? Hold on. We’ll get to that one in a second.
James: [1:34] [laughs]
[1:35] Let me bring James. Let me bring James in our co‑host my brother. I couldn’t do this without him. Mr. James Cross. Good morning, sir.
James: [1:43] Good morning, Jimmy. You might notice that my background is change. This is not a virtual background.
Jim: [1:49] I like that.
James: [1:50] I can touch it. I’m in the office today for a very awesome reason and Jimmy. I know your heart is breaking for not being able to be there for today is actually the day we hand out Thanksgiving turkeys and hams to our employees.
[2:07] We have to do a little bit differently this year. We got the new swag on for anybody that may be but we all got together leadership got together. We did kind of a drive‑through. Where we could be socially distant and still respect everything but being able to get to see everybody man. It was just the same right?
[2:28] So it was an awesome day super excited to be on here with Paul today Paul man. Welcome to the show. Are you terrified?
Paul Wehnert: [2:38] Nah, it’s great to be here. Always good Jim and James boy.
James: [2:41] Paul the got a question still stands. Are you still finding business cards?
Paul: [2:48] I think he left a little part out of that story there was more than business cards. He there was t‑shirts in there Energy Worldnet T‑shirts.
James: [2:57] Still finding them.
Paul: [2:58] To this day. I don’t know he found every crack and crevice inside that Jeep to stick a Energy Worldnet T‑shirt and business card in there. So but he didn’t put my size in there. So so my wife wears them around the house and stuff.
James: [3:12] Best shirts ever.
Paul: [3:14] I still find the T‑shirts that he left, a dozen.
Jim: [3:20] Only me only I would do that.
Paul: [3:22] Only Jim.
James: [3:23] Only Jim. Yeah, what fun that seems like a lifetime ago. Now I think back a World Gas, huh?
Jim: [3:30] Yeah.
Paul: [3:31] Yeah.
James: [3:31] It was a million years ago yesterday. Paul, we’re glad you’re on the show. Thank you so much for joining us. I know you and Jim have known each other for a long time you and I you know not we’ve met a couple times here and there and the industry World Gas guess but glad glad you’re here. Excited to get to talk to you today.
Paul: [3:52] That’s great. It’s an honor honor to be on.
Jim: [3:54] Well, it’s great to have you. I was thinking about it. I was like, oh Paul and I have known each other for 10 years and I’m like wait a minute goes back to the CenterPoint Minnegasco days, and I’m like and I started doing the math and I’m like we surpassed 10 years a long time ago.
James: [4:10] I was in grade school then.
Jim: [4:12] Listen, take it easy over there, young’uns. Anyways, Paul, why don’t you you’ve been in the industry we’ll just say for a decade. So could you give our audience a little insight into your history? When you began, what you’ve been doing, how long you’ve been at it, those fun things?
Paul: [4:31] Well, it’s actually this year I celebrated in June my 40th actually 40th year.
James: [4:38] Wow.
Paul: [4:39] Started in 1980. And with the same company on top of that which is you know, I hire people today we bring people in you know that have, you know, got 10 15 20 years experience and they’ve had three or four jobs.
[4:50] People look and they said my God you’ve been with the same company for 40 years. I said actually I have I said, but been a great ride, you know family‑owned company third generation, you know worked for the father didn’t know the grandfather, but he had passed away shortly after I started with the company, but knew the father extremely well.
[5:10] In fact, I always called Milton Heath Jr. my business father. I had my father father and then my business father, so I had a lot of respect for him. He certainly taught me how to work a trade show for you know and how to do it right.
[5:26] Now his daughter runs the company and you know, I knew her when she was, you know, a young girl going through college, you know in her teens her brother also involved in the company who you know works works. And so it’s been a fantastic ride for 40 years. I just can’t believe it.
Jim: [5:45] Good.
James: [5:46] I just told somebody the other day. I have a great story like that, where I got 40 years in but I swear I got here as fast as I could to this industry.
Paul: [5:57] It doesn’t seem like 40 years because it’s always changing. I’ve always traveled, traveled the country traveled the world different gas companies different people different vendors and so every day is something different, you know, so it wasn’t kind of like going to the same office job every day, and it was just, you know, it’s been remarkable. It’s been been lots of fun. Enjoy every day of it.
Jim: [6:19] Let me just ask a quick question your current title’s chief marketing officer. Is that correct?
Paul: [6:26] First, chief officer, correct.
Jim: [6:29] And senior executive vice president.
Paul: [6:32] Senior vice president, chief marketing officer. That’s usually the last title you get before they retire you.
James: [6:40] Getting close. Getting close. Good thing nobody retires in our industry. They just become consultants.
Paul: [6:47] As long. As you know people that as long as you bring sales to the door I said, They won’t let you. When you when you stop selling and you stop knowing people and you know, you have time to throw you out to pasture.
James: [6:57] Hey, that’s when we become consultants, right?
Paul: [7:00] Well, you can always do that.
James: [7:01] [laughs] Paul, Heath and EWN both, you know, we’re very active in associations just across the industry. I think thought leadership and being involved in committee. I sit on committees with with folks from Heath all over.
[7:19] It’s vital to what we do in a big topic going on right now in the industry. You guys known as well as we do is really been kind of that low‑carbon, non‑fossil fuel environment, you know, that that transition or whatever. What are your thoughts on that topic, Paul?
Paul: [7:37] That’s interesting that you asked that, James. I’ve been sitting the last three days on a GTI CH4 conference. It just ended today about 10, 15 minutes ago. It was a couple hundred people virtual normally meets, you know up in Fort Collins, Colorado, in person but like everything else this year, you know, all the other associations the AGAs the MEAs, you know have all gone virtual.
[8:05] Most of the topic was on that very subject matter. It was on, you know this becoming, you know, a net zero in 2050 and you know, how you going to get there.
[8:18] Obviously, the fossil fuel industry has been under attack, you know by a lot of the environmentalists and stuff out there that you know saying that you know, obviously methane is bad, you know, when methane leaks and its raw state unburned, you know, the depletion of the ozone and greenhouse gas and climate change.
[8:34] There was a lot of discussion on that, you know, all the new technologies that are coming out, you know, only how you know gas leaks are found it on the ground and conventional ways. And now there’s launching satellites in the sky to find leaks from from miles up in the sky. All that was discussed the whole hydrogen blending.
[8:53] There was you know industry on their regulators vendors, you know ex‑governors were on there as well. And so it’s just it’s an exciting time. It’s different, you know, and you know, but it’s an education thing. I think it’s where everyone in the industry’s got to get out and talk to the story and talk, you know their side of it and how even the natural gas industry is still a good thing.
[9:15] It’s still, you know better than burning coal and some other things that are out there. It’s it’s different and there’s going to be a lot of changes, you know over the next 20, 30 years for sure.
James: [9:27] Yeah, there seems to be a lot of people taking more. You know, I think the shock of it all maybe from 10 years ago, 5 years ago when you know this conversation kind of kicked off more and more. Now I think people are kind of getting more into a proactive stance of OK, how do we become a part of the solution?
[9:48] Because we’re not going away. We know that we know what what drives what and but how do we become part of the conversation? And that’s what I love about it is like you said seeing those groups come together that can really hash out the world’s problems on the everyday. How are we going to hash out this even bigger problem or opportunity?
Paul: [10:09] Read the good word. I mean natural gas as a as a as a good word to put out there and it’s education. It’s informing customers, you know, that natural gas is safe, it’s clean, you know, it’s a it’s an efficient energy source, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Obviously, you’re going to have to look at alternative sources and renewables and renewable natural gas and hydrogen and all these other things.
[10:35] There’s there’s a lot of assets out there. I mean billions of dollars of assets in the ground that you know just aren’t going to you know, give up overnight, you know, it’s going to it’s going to be a while to replace, you know, what’s there the entire industry that we’re in.
Jim: [10:49] It took 150 years to build the industry that we’re at right now and I think you’re absolutely right education because a lot of the consumers just think of natural gas, needing it for the water heater or for the furnace or something like that. When you start to look at the industrial aspect, it is critical to the industrial key.
Paul: [11:10] Yeah, and just the feedstocks. I mean look what you use in your everyday life that’s generated from oil and natural gas, plastics and the fabrics. Everything that we’re sitting on and using is oil and gas. Where’s all that going to come from? Where’s your Tupperware and all your other things that you use every day and your phone, you know, it’s fossil fuels, it’s oil and derivative.
Jim: [11:39] It’s it is incredible at that. Let me let me switch gears a little bit. I want to dive into a little bit more into heat. You guys have been around for a few years and are instrumental in to the natural gas world providing essential services as well as a manufacturer.
[12:00] This year has given us a few different curve balls with COVID. How has that affected you all at Heath? Again, when I say central services you guys are on the front line walking through yards doing leak detection and such like that.
Paul: [12:16] That’s a good question, Jim. I mean, obviously our services our field services of underground locating and meter reading and leak detection are essential, you know, and so they’re all essential services. And so, you know, we’ve continued when this took place the end of February early March. I mean we’ve continued to be out there boots on the ground working every day.
[12:40] We changed the way we’ve done the business, you know, a lot of home‑based reporting now where you know, they leave directly from home. They don’t go into a project office they don’t go into the utility client’s office. They pick up their work, you know, electronically, they go out and do their work and then, you know, then come back.
[12:58] Obviously the PPE and everything, you know to make sure that there’s no spread of the virus and stuff. But you know from a leak survey standpoint, we don’t go inside homes is most there’s been waivers regulatory waivers in a lot of states that we work and we work across the whole US.
[13:16] We don’t go inside structures to check meters will go right up to the building to the service line. And then you know a lot of the indoor meter inspections will get scheduled at a later date. They’re still going to stay in compliance, you know with a lot of the state regulators.
[13:31] On our manufacturing side, you know that’s here in Houston and that’s essential also so we’ve continued there. I mean a lot of our corporate people are accounting HR things of that sort of, you know, worked remotely without any issues. Our manufacturing is kind of hard to build equipment, you know at your house.
[13:48] They’ve come in. We’ve looked at different things shift work and stuff so that we don’t have the entire population. So if in fact we do get, you know, a COVID infection, you know, we can limit it from infecting everybody. We’ve been extremely lucky there.
[14:04] We’ve done a lot of due diligence and stuff to prevent things from happening, but you know, we haven’t really missed a beat at all. We’ve continued and so it’s been good.
[14:14] You’ll see a truck go by. I’m right on Hobby Airport here. Normally there are Southwest Airline planes going by all day long and you’ll notice since we’ve been on you haven’t seen one. And so that’s the down side of the COVID is airline travel. They’re stacked up there. They just don’t fly. You rarely see them. That part’s the depressing part.
Jim: [14:37] Aren’t you one of the few businesses that’s actually on the airport property there? There’s not many.
Paul: [14:44] Technically I mean, there’s supposed to be an airport expansion here at Hobby. You know, they opened up an international terminal and so they you know, we’re kind of waiting. At one time they wanted to buy our facility but you know with business interruption we didn’t want to move and so, you know, who knows what might happen.
[14:59] Now with the COVID‑19 with the downturn it’s a seat count on how many passengers pass through, you know trickles when they do an airport expansion, but when that happens someday, we’ll probably we’re probably sitting on the runway right now, so there will be the day that we won’t be here.
Jim: [15:17] Absolutely. Yeah, I just have I just said quick follow up quick and it because it’s stuck in my head with the changes you talked about that you’ve adapted during COVID. Do you anticipate those becoming permanent, you know way of doing business going forward? Or do you think you’re going to revert back to the old way of doing business?
Paul: [15:36] That’s that’s good and we’ve actually learned a lot of things we’ve learned in some are good. Some are not so good. But one thing we did learn is, you know, as a company we probably had too many face‑to‑face meetings.
[15:49] I think you need face‑to‑face meetings. I mean, you cannot eliminate those all together. I mean, there’s something about camaraderie and you know going out to dinner together after meetings and go and having a couple cocktails and you know, there’s there’s something to be said for all of that.
[16:03] I think we’ve learned to that. Maybe we did it too much and you know, do you need to bring people, you know to the corporate office for meetings, you know on a and so yeah, we can cover a lot of it virtually. We’re not going to cut out face‑to‑face meetings. I just don’t think we need as many of them and them.
[16:18] We’ve learned out. The field that you know, we can today, you know with with smartphones and tablets and you know, you can and you know, a lot of our software now, you know runs of we’re not real as much paper as we used to be years ago or pushing maps and paper and all that around everything is electronic.
[16:35] We don’t necessarily have to come into an office to pick up maps. I mean we can come in, you know, we can receive all that work electronically and go right to the field and there are savings their without sitting in the office, you know, drinking coffee and eat a few donuts before you get out in the field and work.
[16:52] We’ve learned some things that and you know, I’m not in people have brought in some good ideas and suggestions, you know our field people and so they’ve been fantastic and it’s really helped it’s been an interesting year for sure.
Jim: [17:07] [laughs] To say the least. James, we we can’t hear you. There you go.
James: [17:16] Y’all haven’t seen it. I’ve been over here working magic technology magic to make my AirPods work. They just all of a sudden I won’t hear anyone talk and I’m like, oh my gosh. I hope that it’s not my turn to talk.
Paul: [17:30] You’re back.
James: [17:31] I go whoop and then I silently come over here and fix something and then I’m back on. I was scrambling over here. I’ve just looked really calm. Paul, one thing we’ve been asking all of our guests and I’m anxious to hear your answer and I hope it’s not just yes or no, but so I’m going to add a descriptor to the end of it, but after 40 Years of it, I can’t wait to hear it.
[17:59] My question to you sir is do you love what you do? And if so, why, and if not, why?
Paul: [18:09] The reason. I’m still in the business. The reason I’m still you know with the is I love the industry. I mean, it’s just fantastic people.
[18:16] You know, I always get upset, you know, when I hear, you know, unfortunately, I mean there are some incidents we have here and there fires a few explosions that make front page news. And you know, it really upsets me when I hear, you know, people get on their taking about how utilities don’t care about safety and all they care about the bottom line.
[18:35] That is just so ridiculous. I’ve never been an industry the natural gas industry that the thinks more about safety and every single thing they do every day, you know and how passionate people are, you know for safety, you know, whether it’s a leak whether it’s a vehicle on the road whether it’s anything.
[18:55] The people in this industry are phenomenal. I mean, you know, whether it’s a utility whether it’s municipality investor own whether it’s an associate member vendor manufacturer, whatever. I mean, we’re all in this together, you know. Everyone understands their place in the industry and how each of what everyone does, you know benefits the industry as a whole.
[19:16] That part’s what what what keeps me and love the fact of the company. I mean, we’ve been lucky as Heath being a third‑generation family in today’s business and you know, I mean a lot of companies been bought and sold acquired by private equity firms and things of that sort and the and I feel extremely lucky that I’ve worked for the same ownership for those 40 years.
[19:38] Obviously, you know part of it is your employer has to care about its employees and and which they’ve always done and vice versa. And you know, it’s a two‑way street, you know employees, you know have to you know, do what they need to do for the employee and employer has to respect for you know on the same way. And so it’s a win‑win both ways and it’s been a fantastic ride and not ready to go yet.
[20:01] I’m still excited, you know healthy things are going love that people love the industry and not going anywhere soon.
Jim: [20:10] Good because we love you. Platonically, of course, but we love you.
Paul: [20:15] That’s right, Jim. So I thought it’d be good to get back to trade shows and stuff. You know, it’s just yeah, but, you know a crazy industry with just, you know, all the changes and everything, and so it’s just it’s it’s been an interesting year.
[20:31] Hopefully this is over here shortly and we get back to normal again at least, you know, go back to trade shows. Those and seeing people face to face and are even a few drinks and seeing people in elevators coming down from the rooms and you know hospitality suites and just you know back to back to normal.
Jim: [20:48] A lot of business in relationships and networking are done, you know.
James: [20:55] I never thought I would miss those tiny little beers at the Embassy Suites in the little you know, the the Chex Mix that we got for free at dinner.
Paul: [21:07] Makes you appreciate you know.
Jim: [21:10] I think everybody’s ready virtual. I mean, it’s good. I mean, it’s fun people are learning how to do things better. But I think you know people are also getting tired of it too. You know, it’s just, you know, these trade shows now that the carry on for weeks at a time virtually.
James: [21:25] It’s brutal.
Paul: [21:26] [laughs]
James: [21:26] It’s a little bit different. Paul, I don’t know how much you’ve watched of our show. Honestly, we created it so Jim had something to do because he wasn’t going to be traveling. We sat there and said what on Earth are you going to do with your time Jim? You’re going to go crazy. You’re going to run off into that ocean.
Paul: [21:49] I wanted to see Jim walked by in his by the pool. I’d seen with his Blazer and it’s Bermuda shorts on and bare feet.
James: [21:59] He saves that for Snapchat.
Paul: [22:00] environment there.
Jim: [22:03] Hey Blazer and shirt on the top, you know. Bermuda shorts and bare feet on the bottom. That’s the float life.
Paul: [22:09] That’s the one thing virtual.
James: [22:11] Paul, you’ve been an awesome guest. Jim will lead us out. But Paul you’ve been awesome. You guys are fantastic partners in the industry, you know, I sit beside several people on committees and boards from from Heath and again the things y’all get you guys do ya’ll are a special breed for sure.
Paul: [22:36] We love that. You know, we think that represent trade shows and you know, the AGAs SGAs, the WEIs, all those. I sit on the IG now the international with the one above the AGA for the world. I always tell people a lot of younger people, you know, get in the industry come to trade shows and they say I set up my booth, you know for three days. I never saw any customers.
[22:58] I said, well if you think that…
James: [22:59] That’s where the customers are.
Paul: [23:00] you’re going to sit at your booth and you think that every customer’s going to come by and see you it’s not going to happen. I said you need to get out engage yourself. You need to get on some committees. You need to, you know, go out to the functions go to the the hospitalities and and get out and meet people.
[23:16] I said, you know, you’ll meet people, you know in the bathroom, you know, you’ll meet him on the elevator, you know, you might see the president…
James: [23:22] I just saw a plane, Paul.
Paul: [23:26] Hey, the economy is picking up. So we’re moving.
James: [23:29] Right before our eyes.
Paul: [23:30] You’ve got to engage yourself. You got to get out and meet people and there’s opportunities to do. It. Just don’t think sitting at your booth all day long. You know that you’re going to see everybody.
James: [23:39] I tell Jimmy all the time. You can sit around wait for your invite to the party. You can go out there and host your own party.
Paul: [23:47] Jim doesn’t wait for an invite. He just shows up anyway.
Jim: [23:50] I do I do.
Jim: [23:53] To say that I immerse myself would be an understatement. But you know, it’s our it’s our family, you know our industry family and you know, and you know, I can’t say enough about.
[24:06] On behalf of James and I, thank you so much, Paul, for joining us today. You’re a longtime friend, industry advocate, everything. For all of our audience say please connect with Paul. He is just the salt of the earth a great person wants the best for our industry wealth of knowledge. Follow Heath, you know do that follow James and I on the Coffee with Jim & James side, too, follow Energy Worldnet, James and the new swag.
[24:39] Until next time on Coffee with Jim & James, on behalf of James, Paul, and myself, we wish you all a great week. Please, everyone, stay safe. Again, till next time take care and God bless you and God bless our industry. We’ll see you next time.
Paul: [24:56] Thanks, Jim, thanks, James, enjoyed it. Everybody, be safe.
James: [24:58] Thanks, Paul.
Jim: [24:58] Absolutely.