Since 1933, the name Heath and the process of leak detection have been synonymous with the natural gas industry, particularly pipelines. Through the years, the Houston-based company, now known as Heath Consultants Inc., has built a reputation as a worldwide leader in leak detection.
Along with its formidable record, the company continues to have a Heath seated at the head of the table, and in the case of Carolyn Heath Haag, a role model for women interested in a career in the energy industry, as well as a role model for those who wish to maintain the legacy of a family-owned company.
Haag is outgoing as well as knowledgeable about the complexities of leak detection—a topic most utility executives will admit costs them innumerable hours of sleep. From the start, she was well groomed to lead the 86-year-old company. Her father, the late Milton Heath Jr., was a stickler that way. Whoever would follow in his legendary footsteps would earn it.
Haag has a bachelor’s of science degree in business from Ithaca College and has earned a certificate in human resources management and professional development from Rice University. She began her career with Heath in the marketing department, overseeing the first customer service 800 number. During that time, she went through a year-long management training program gaining experience in all aspects of the company, including field experience in Canada. In recent years, she was credited with developing a strong human resources department.
By 2012, her father was well on the road to retirement. On Oct. 26, 2012, Haag was appointed president of Heath Consultants by the board of directors. Previously, she was the third-generation Heath named as chairman of the board. In addition to being chairman, Haag became the first female majority stockholder in company history. Today, Haag is responsible for Heath’s human resources and employee services as well as her activity on the executive management team.
In this interview with Hart Energy, Haag discusses the company’s past accomplishments which she plans to continue for generations to come. It quickly becomes obvious that her father, who died, in 2017, left his company and its legacy in capable hands.
What is the story behind the company’s founding?
“Heath was formed by my grandfather, Milton W. Heath Sr., on May 3, 1933. Milton was an engineering graduate of the University of Michigan. He was extremely intuitive and a true entrepreneur. My grandfather was very much involved in the environment and started a company in New England to clear services lines,” Haag said.
“He was contacted by the City of Salem, Massachusetts to investigate why trees were being killed along their main streets. My grandfather did an extensive research and came to find that natural gas was leaking and causing the vegetation to die. From there, Heath Consultants was formed to find and locate gas leaks.”
Energy Not First Choice
How she became involved in the energy industry is somewhat of an enigma, she admitted. It turned out to be quite a story.
“That’s a funny question because I really never was involved in what my father did for a living. I know that sounds strange, but I just was never involved or really curious,” she said. “I was following a path in business and figured I would work somewhere doing marketing or administration. I graduated from Ithaca College in 1989 with a business management degree and started job hunting.
“That proved to be harder than I thought, and I ended up waitressing while sending out resumes,” she continued. “My father asked if I wanted to get a job with the company in the marketing department. I figured this was a steppingstone until I found what I really wanted to do. I never really thought that Heath would be my future. I started in June 1989 and have been there ever since.
“Funny thing is I really never liked the marketing part of Heath so really just looked at it as a job. I wanted structure and busy work. I was put through a management training program a year later and did work in every area of the company. I actually didn’t find what I really loved until after I moved to Houston, got married and had kids.
“I was not really happy where I was and was looking at leaving to become a teacher. I was not actually working full time because I was taking time after having my second baby. My father asked if I would consider coming back full time because he knew I was thinking of leaving the company. I said I would if I could work in the human resources department. That is where I really found what I wanted to do.
“I love working with the people of Heath. I love structure and policy. I also like to be able to communicate with the employees. They are our livelihood and I love to make sure they are taken care of. Human resources is involved with every aspect of the company, so I was able to work with all departments, but always taking care of our employees.”
Haag does not shy away from acknowledging the challenges of maintaining a family business in today’s difficult business climate.
“Being a third-generation company is probably the most stressful. Because of the success of my grandfather and father, the company has grown extensively. Taking on the role of my father has so many challenges with a company that has tripled in size. The responsibility of balancing the day-to-day operations, family demands, and keeping employees happy in their jobs are probably the most challenging,” Haag said.
“I have really only worked for Heath so understanding business and the many demands that is put on you to make sure everything runs right is the most stressful. Being an owner, you need to make sure you have the best team to manage the company. With this company continually growing you turn over good people. And the challenge in finding the right person to replace them and keep them is ongoing.
“The blessing I have is the loyalty of people. They are truly devoted to Heath and to the Heath family. It is the most wonderful feeling in the world to have that. I also need to make the most difficult decisions but always look at what is in the best interest of the company. In times like today, you must be ready to make those decisions and move on. I am blessed with the team I have in place that handle the day-to-day operations of the company. Running a family business means that I have a huge family that is my responsibility to take care of. So, putting them above yourself is the most important thing,” she continued.
Haag credits several people for the influence they have exerted on her life and career.
“My first is to my husband. Todd had been a rock for me and helped me grow into the position I have today. He is an excellent advisor and support to everything I need. My success would not be where it is today without him. My second greatest influence is my father. He set the standard and culture of this company. His vision for Heath is set with me. He always put the employees first. He was humble and appreciative of everything.
“He taught me to take every opportunity and go for it. He also taught me to always stay positive. I am very proud of the values my father instilled in me and plan to keep those values for the rest of my life. Finally, I have my mother to thank for who I am today. She is a very strong woman who has taught me how to be strong and independent. She has always had faith in me and been a true sounding board.”
Yet no amount of mentoring can assume responsibility for one’s management style. Haag explains some of her lessons learned. Not surprising that she does not believe in micromanaging.
“I feel that if you entrust and empower your management, they will get the job done. I have an open-door policy so anyone can come to me with anything at any time. However, I value a chain of command and believe that any problem needs to be handled by the direct supervisor/manager. I do expect to have any and all issues closed by communicating the outcome back to me. I expect open and honest communication. Everyone should feel that they can give their opinion.
“I do not like to be blindsided, so communicating and honesty is expected. I learned every day, so I believe that if you make a mistake own it. Accountability is key to anyone’s expectations. I don’t like people who just vent and complain without coming up with solutions. I have made many mistakes over my career but one lesson I learned is to own them and do not make that same mistake again.”
The Business World
Haag inherited a company that is constantly changing and growing. She describes her leading priority as ensuring that Heath Consultants follows a “true plan on success. Keep moving, growing and adapt to change. So, priorities are to follow the path we have put in front of us and continue to build a strong and prosperous company,” she said.
That means maintaining a strong emphasis on designing new technologies to improve leak detection and taking ownership of developing the next generation of research/tools?
“Technology is changing every day. Heath is always working on the next great instrument or technology for the industry. I can’t give away all my secrets so just wait and see! We are constantly involved with the industry on what is needed for the future. With the emphasis on safety and awareness, we are working with the utilities as to what they need to continue to keep communities safe,” she said.
Which leads to the inevitable question as to the changes in the relationship between operators and service providers through the years.
“I believe that operators and service providers are striving to work better together with the same common goal which is safety. We are a company that keeps everyone safe. Our job every day is to protect communities. Both the operators and service providers work to do the same thing.
“With that said, I believe that the operators want to hire the best service providers to perform the jobs with the best quality and safety they have. The relationships that we have built with our customers is built on common ground and that is safety.”
That mutual need also keeps Haag positive about the future of the industry.
“I am definitely positive about the future of the industry. Again, with the many changes in technology, it’s exciting times for the energy industry.”
The Role of Women in Energy
In the changing world of energy, women are playing an increasing role in the workforce. That doesn’t mean it lacks its own set of challenges. Is it less difficult for a woman to build a career in the energy industry today? What advice to you have for young women considering energy as a career?
“This is hard to answer. Being a woman in any industry has its challenges. We are always working to be more equal in any industry we work in. However, we are never really going to be equal. Woman are very different in how they perform a job than men because we think differently. Does that mean it’s harder sometimes?
“But really, I suggest to all women, don’t let anything stand in your way to succeed. I’m very proud of the many women that are now in the energy industry. We have many women now running utilities. That’s a huge breakthrough. I have been blessed with working with men who show respect to everyone. They have taught me so much and are the reason I am in the position I am in today.
“My greatest advice is don’t ever be afraid to speak your mind. We have earned a seat at the table!”
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