A Propane Profile: Lakes Gas Co.’s Howard Sargeant

November 16, 2017 By    

Sargeant

Editor’s note: LP Gas learned of Sargeant’s Oct. 27 death as this edition was going to print. We present our recent Q&A with him.

In 1959, Howard Sargeant purchased his first heating oil and propane business. Over 50 years later, he remained actively involved in making sure Lakes Gas Co., the company he started, ran smoothly.

Lakes Gas now has more than 50 branches and serves customers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Until his death at age 94, Sargeant had shared some of the responsibilities of the company with his son and son-in-law, but still had an active role in running the business.

The propane industry has been through many changes since Sargeant came on the scene. Despite the changes, and with over 50 years under his belt, Sargeant was still focused on growing the company, providing quality service and ensuring customers’ needs were met.

LP Gas: How did you get your start in the propane business and what was your role in growing Lakes Gas?

Sargeant: I started off purchasing a gas station, but I soon realized there was a need, and room in the market, to enter the propane delivery business. I purchased my first heating oil and propane business in 1959. Over the years, through acquisitions and organic growth, I grew it into the 15th-largest propane company in the United States. I’ve been at the helm of the company since 1959. My son, Steve, joined me in 1990 and has taken over much of the operational side of the company. My son-in-law, Tony, joined the company in 2012 after a 28-year career flying fighter jets with the Air Force. I’ve been working with Tony and he has now taken over the responsibility of buying the gas for the company.

LP Gas: What do you do today for the company?

Sargeant: I oversee all aspects of the company and provide input to the corporate staff. Until last year, I purchased all the propane to meet the company’s needs. I am still intimately involved in the quality control of the buying process. My focus now is growing the company both organically and through acquisitions.

LP Gas: Why do you think it is important for you to still be involved in the company?

Sargeant: It is my company and I have a vested interest in making sure we’re running as efficiently and effectively as possible. I feel a responsibility to our customers to uphold our company motto, “Prompt, dependable service since 1959.” I have come to the realization over the years that safety and customer service are the most important aspects of being a reputable propane delivery company. I try to focus my input to my staff on these two critical tenants of the industry.

LP Gas: What are your plans for the future of Lakes Gas?

Sargeant: I am focused on continued growth of the company. We have a strong, solid cadre of employees who do a great job out in the field and in our branch offices. We pride ourselves in being part of the communities in which we work and we’ll continue this into the future.

LP Gas: How has the landscape of the industry changed in the last 50 years?

Sargeant: I guess the only way to answer this is to say that the industry of 50 years ago would not recognize the industry of today. We have come a long way in developing regulations and establishing safe operating procedures. The state and national propane associations have done a great job in steering the industry, especially over the past five to 10 years, and as a result customer confidence and satisfaction in the service they receive continues to improve year after year.

LP Gas: Can you tell me a little about the importance of safety in your business?

Sargeant: Safety has always been an important part of Lakes Gas Co. Just the nature of our business dictates that we conduct every facet of our business in a safe manner. Over the past few years we have stepped up our safety program to instill a culture of safety within Lakes Gas Co. We want our employees to think safety in every aspect of their work, both during their scheduled workday and even when they are at home. A safe employee in the field will only gain the confidence of our customers and that of the communities we are part of. We strive to make safety our No. 1 priority.

Photo: Lakes Gas Co.

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