New focus forces staff shake-up at PERC

October 6, 2011 By    

An ongoing shake-up at the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) has led to the startling dismissal of a key executive who played a primary role in its creation and evolution.

Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Kate Caskin was let go by PERC President and CEO Roy Willis Aug. 15. Willis said his decision was driven by restrictions forced on the organization that eliminated its authority to conduct a national public awareness campaign through generic advertising. PERC has since shifted its focus to develop and commercialize new equipment.

Caskin, who previously worked for Willis at the Independent Petroleum Association of America, was among his first staff hires in 1998. As the council’s No. 2 executive for 13 years, she helped formulate the organization, staff and operations of the nation’s first energy check-off program.

She said she was “shocked” to learn of her dismissal but declined to comment further.

From 1999 to 2008, Caskin directed PERC’s award-winning national consumer education programs featuring the popular Energy Guys ads.

Most recently, she was responsible for business planning and market research initiatives, including measurement and evaluation of programs.

“Kate has been with PERC since the beginning and helped build the organization. She led our multifaceted consumer education efforts that produced important returns on the industry’s investment. She contributed in many ways and surely will be missed,” Willis said in a press release.

In a subsequent interview with LP Gas Magazine, Willis conceded that the move was personally difficult for him but insisted that it reflected “virtually unanimous” sentiment among PERC officers and council members.

“Ever since the [Department of Commerce] restriction hit, we have been realigning our staff and budget priorities,” Willis said. “Since then, we attempted to make internal changes through altering assignments, roles and responsibilities onboard with a staff that was built for a consumer education function.

“I concluded that level of internal restructuring wasn’t as successful as I had hoped. I concluded what we needed going forward was a different set of skills and experience that existing staff at certain positions did not possess,” he said.

Caskin’s release came shortly after the announced resignation of Brian Feehan, vice president in charge of PERC’s engine fuel programs. Feehan left last month to become president of the Industrial Truck Association.

More staff changes are likely and will include modifications in roles and responsibilities and possibly one or two further personnel changes, Willis said.

He anticipates hiring new staff members to do some of the work that has historically been done by outside vendors in order to cut $800,000 to $1 million in annual costs. He does not expect the personnel changes to substantially change the organization’s $3.5 million payroll.

Willis also announced that PERC’s five advisory committees will consolidate into three groups focused on research, training, and markets. He said all of the changes are being made in consultation with the PERC Executive Committee, which oversees the council’s personnel policies.

The changes surprised many industry insiders, especially since they came on the heels of a glowing report from an outside firm hired to assess the PERC staff. ExecuVision International last year was charged with evaluating whether PERC had the appropriate structure, staff size and personnel for its mission. Among its findings:

“PERC has a modern structure which would be the envy of many for-profit enterprises with which I work. It is significant to note that only 1.5 percent of all businesses in the USA exceed $25 million in revenue. PERC administers $35–$40 million. To accomplish the work designated to them in-house would normally require somewhere between 150 and 200 people. PERC has gone an entirely different direction. Rather than perform all tasks in-house with a large staff, office and infrastructure, PERC has hired highly competent, in-house employees to manage external resources. This is a trend many private companies are emulating,” the report stated.

Willis noted that the ExecuVision report focused on how the PERC staff compared to other organizations, but did not delve into core programs and activities.

The scope and timetable for the staff and advisory committee changes are expected to be discussed in greater detail at the council’s October meeting in Washington, D.C.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the senior editor of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at kyanik@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3724.

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