Gregg survived, and he took the experience as an opportunity to reassess his priorities in life. An outcome of the experience was a new career in the propane industry, where he’s spent the last five years at Enderby Gas, a 6-million-gallon-per-year company.
Gregg took the time recently to relive that life-altering experience with LP Gas Senior Editor Kevin Yanik, offering details of how it set him on a new path.
LP Gas: Take us back to that mountain and explain what impact that experience has had on you?
Gregg: I was with a group of guys I used to do things with. I was still in business for myself at the time. I was a certified arborist and had my own company.
We decided we would take an eight-hour day hike. It was a beautiful morning. We got up to the summit at 12,000 ft. or so. It was gorgeous.
Well, a cloud set in 500 ft. up the other side. Rain dropped out of that cloud, lightning hit and [the rain] ran down both sides of the mountain. We scattered. I ended up in a group with four other guys. We hunkered down underneath a cedar tree for two hours.
The rest of the day was just trying to get down the mountain as much as we could. We ran out of water and food. It got to about 11 o’clock that night. We were cold because it rained on us for 12 hours straight. We didn’t have any extra clothing.
We tried to build a fire. We had waterproof matches, but the box that houses the waterproof matches is not waterproof. We ended up lying on the ground, and we ended up lying on top of each other – three in the center and one on each side. You stay relatively toasty warm in the center. But once you got to the outside, it didn’t take long to get cold.
At about 2 a.m., one of our buddies on the outside went into hypothermic shock. He took off running. I was in the center and took off after him. I was able to capture him. I brought him back and took him to the center. Then I was on the outside. I started hallucinating, and I tried to take off. They grabbed me and brought me back.
At about 7:30 the next morning, we were all pretty much numb from the neck down. It was about then that search and rescue popped over the hill. They got to us with wool blankets, food and water.
What that experience did for me was provide a reality check. I needed to spend more time with my wife and children, but I was having a really hard time letting go of my business.
I was leaving for work at 4:30 in the morning and getting home at 8 at night. But it was after that experience that I got it. I packaged up my company.
LP Gas: At that point, you obviously needed a job. So how did you wind up at Enderby Gas?
Gregg: (Enderby Gas owner) Jim Bishop was a great customer of mine. I go to church with another guy who said Enderby Gas was looking for somebody to do safety. I didn’t know much about propane, but Jim and I had a good rapport.
I called him up and said I had an engineering degree from Texas A&M; that I had sold my business; and that I was looking to get a job closer to home and spend more time with my family. I met up with him and had a job the next week.
Jim knew I was green to the propane world, but he was very forthcoming. He said, “I’ll pay you a good salary, give you a company pickup and let you learn the industry.”
I built the safety department and did a good job. A management position came open. He gave it to me right away. He just keeps moving me up.
LP Gas: Considering your previous work experience, how did you successfully transition into the propane industry?
Gregg: I read NFPA 58 the first week I was in my office. I read NFPA 54 the second week and the DOT (Department of Transportation) rules the third week.
I learned quite a bit through the books. What taught me more than anything was getting acquainted with the team. I would go out with the service techs, dig ditches, crawl under houses and build propane systems. I got out in the trenches.
Because I was so green, I wasn’t aware of how many different opportunities propane provides as an energy source. As an everyday consumer, I never thought about it being a liquid that’s stored under pressure.
LP Gas: Family is obviously important to you. How has your life at home changed since you transitioned from your nursery business to a career in propane?
Gregg: My wife, Dixie, had a son who was 8. His dad was not a very good dad. I lost my dad early in a car wreck. That impacted me, causing me to learn what boys need in a father. I was able to bring that to the marriage, but I wasn’t practicing it because I was too involved in my business. My pride got in the way. Not my pride in parenting, but my pride in being a man and wanting to own a business and be very successful.
What’s important to me now is having a successful marriage and having a successful parenthood. Your barometer is how successful your children are.
If you’re working all week long, go spend time with your kids. Tell your wife to go shopping with her friends. Go spend time with your family. Being put into that, it made me realize how valuable family is.
LP Gas: At work, what are some of the major challenges your retail propane business faces?
Gregg: As an energy, propane is changing. Even though we have two of the largest storage sites (Mont Belvieu and Conway) that continue to be full, I anticipate propane will at some point not increase with oil like it normally does. Looking back several years, electricity became deregulated – even in the rural areas. It’s becoming more deregulated. Because of that, it’s driving energy prices down.
As electricity gets cheaper and the natural gas grid gets larger, our potential margin is smaller. That’s something we have to adapt to.
On a national level, I think the [Propane Education & Research Council] is smart for seeing that and getting the institutions activated to do R&D programs and see where we can go with this fuel for which we’re going to have an enormous supply.
LP Gas: How is Enderby Gas attempting to grow its business these days?
Gregg: Because of construction builders – residential or commercial – and HVAC being more efficient, we’re running into 80 percent [of buildings] that are fully electric units. So our owner brought on a salesman (Bob Reed).
Bob started back in March or April. He’s building contracts, and he has sold quite a few gallons. It’s all been new business.
With builders, you’ll be lucky if they don’t rip your card up by the time they get to their car. Working with builders requires persistence.