UGI Corporation thrived through the Great Depression and two World Wars. A long-standing dedication to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has helped make the company what it is today, according to Robert (Bob) Beard, Executive Vice President. He also serves as President and CEO of UGI Utilities. A company with 7700 employees offering natural gas and electrical services in the Middle Atlantic region of the U.S., UGI has been involved in CSR before the term was invented, Beard said.
How did you learn about SI?
My boss, John Walsh, the CEO of UGI, is a charter member of SI. He has always been involved with CSR and sets the tone for the company with his quiet leadership. He asked me to sit in for him at a meeting in Philadelphia, and I was fascinated by the quality of the Institute’s members. They represented many of the leading companies and nonprofits in the central Pennsylvania area. The energy and enthusiasm I felt at that first meeting was contagious
Why would a company with such a rich history in CSR feel the necessity of joining SI?
To sit and listen to other executives discuss CSR and to interact with leaders of nonprofits is invaluable. It is refreshing to join an organization dedicated primarily to helping others. The only price of admission is to make a four-year commitment to any nonprofit for $25,000 or more a year and continue for four years. The choice of the nonprofit is left entirely up to the organization making the pledge.
How do you think nonprofits benefit from SI?
For the nonprofit, it has to be the four-year commitment. For instance, I have 700,000 customers. If I knew I was only going to have them for the next 12 months, it would be impossible to do any long-range planning. Nonprofits need that too, so four-year gifts are important stability factors. Another benefit for the nonprofit is to deal directly with the leading CEOs in the area.
What have you found most valuable in your membership in SI?
Helping us make connections and establish relationships with nonprofits is the number one benefit we get from our membership in SI.
Can you give me an example?
During an SI meeting, John Walsh told Ed Satell about our interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Ed made John aware of the Franklin Institute, and we now support a program that immerses academically talented high school students from disadvantaged social and educational backgrounds in STEM education. Graduates of the program have been accepted at Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and many other prestigious schools.
Have there been other experiences at SI that have benefited you?
I’ve learned that not all nonprofits are created equally. Take one of the big ones like the United Way. They have seasoned executives to run the organization. Some of the smaller nonprofits don’t have the luxury of human resource or public relations people to publicize their needs and causes. At SI we are able to meet with them, listen to their needs and provide funding to organizations we’re hearing about for the first time.
How do you involve your employees in CSR?
Having our employees participate in CSR activities puts a personal face on our activities. It also helps in recruitment and retention. We’re located in 45 counties and about 800 towns in Pennsylvania, some of them in sparsely populated areas. People see utility employees in diners or at Little League games. We let regional people select nonprofits to support, some in areas such as Little League or pre-school education. CSR is a great motivational tool when you get employees involved.
Can you give me an example?
UGI gives away about 60,000 books a year, mainly to inner city children. Employees act as volunteers at many of these events. One experience in particular is etched in my memory. We were distributing books at an inner-city location when this little guy walked up and picked out a book. The expression on his face when he was told that it was his to keep will stay with me forever. We all leave these events with a good feeling.
How do you think CSR is changing in recent years?
I think companies are beginning to understand the importance of publicizing their CSR efforts. It’s important for both present employees and future prospects to understand that CSR is a vital part of our organization. Ask youngsters what they want to be when they grow up and answers usually range from football player to a doctor, fireman or astronaut. Nobody says they want to be an engineer for the gas company. Our CSR efforts are changing that perception. We’re also expanding the areas we support.
In what way?
Our demand for math, engineering and science employees at UGI increases every year. I’ve been in the industry for 30 years, and the technical side of our operation has always been predominantly white males. We recognize that we have been shortchanging ourselves and ignoring a source of valuable employees. We now offer scholarships to women and minorities to study math and engineering in college. We’re also expanding our internship program so we get our hooks into young people early in their college careers to let them know we want good engineers, regardless of their race or gender.
What do you see as the future of SI?
Ed Satell and Regina Black Lennox have set a goal of 10,000 members. The quicker they reach it, the better off it will be for communities across the company. I can visualize every city in the country having its own SI chapter.
The Satell Institute Continues to Welcome New Members
Membership at SI continues to grow with great companies and private foundations choosing to support CSR locally with initiatives of their choice.
The Ash Family Foundation
This week we welcome Frank Ash and the Ash Family Foundation. Frank’s dedication to tikkun olam—improving the world—is legendary. After a very successful business career, throughout which he was heavily involved in leadership roles supporting the community, he established the Ash Family Foundation. Frank chose to become a Member of the Satell Institute to further demonstrate his deep interest and dedication to CSR locally. The Ash Family Foundation selected JEVS Human Services as its nonprofit partner. JEVS is a “nonsectarian social service agency based in Philadelphia whose aim is to enhance clients’ employability and self-sufficiency through a broad range of education, training, health and rehabilitation programs. Its clients come from all backgrounds and walks of life. Their motto Making Hope Happen, rings true for thousands in the region through their two-dozen programs.