We can expect death, taxes and change

At a conference, pre-Shale Crescent, a few years ago the luncheon keynote speaker was a senior coal company executive. I will call him Mr. C. He opened with a question. “Are there any gas people here?”

I was the only person who held up their hand. Mr. C pointed directly at me with fire and anger in his eyes, “You’re the problem,” he said. I was stunned, but I have been called worse things. I expected Mr. C to blame the EPA or President Obama for the coal industry’s problems.

It occurred to me that for over 40 years Mr. C has been accustomed to dealing with elected officials as well as state and federal regulations and regulators. They have government affairs people that monitor laws and regulations so that even a bad regulation isn’t a surprise. They can at least prepare and adapt. Coal had always been a cheaper fuel for electricity than natural gas.

It was the unexpected change of the USA becoming the world leader in natural gas production that got Mr. C and the coal industry in trouble. They couldn’t have foreseen if Shale Crescent USA was a country we would be the third largest natural gas producer in the world. The unexpected abundance of natural gas drove prices down to the point where natural gas became the fuel of choice for electricity because of its low price. Mr. C was partially right. The U.S. natural gas industry, that I was part of at the time, did take market from coal because of gas’s lower cost. Abundant economical natural gas hastened the retirement of many old, inefficient coal power plants.

What Mr. C didn’t understand when he said it was “all my fault” is that he became part of the problem. Getting angry and blaming people isn’t an effective way of dealing with change. Mr. C gave me a lot of power by making his problem my fault. Maybe he was waiting for me to fix his problem. (He is still waiting.) What if he took ownership of the problem and began to look for new opportunities the problem may have given him?

Doing nothing isn’t an effective option, either. If Mr. C accepted the change, he could make decisions on how to adapt to it rather than wasting time on blame or anger.

One thing we can all plan on besides death and taxes is change. This is true in our personal lives as well as our businesses and in our careers.

We all have experienced the sudden end to a relationship. The person I thought was the love of my life told me she was going back to her old boyfriend. I didn’t expect my father to die of a sudden heart attack at 54 years old. I didn’t expect the company I was working for to suddenly go out of business. I didn’t expect the oil and gas industry downturn in the 1980s that caused massive layoffs.

When our youngest left for college that was a major change. We became empty nested. We knew that was coming. We are all seeing technology changes at an unbelievable pace.

You can probably write your own list of unexpected and expected changes you have experienced. We know more changes are coming our way. We can’t avoid change, so we have to learn how to deal with it. When change happens, we can complain and do nothing. We can also look for opportunity and take action.

If my girlfriend hadn’t left me for her old boyfriend, I would not have met my wife of now 43 years. The 1980s-business downturn brought me to West Virginia and incredible opportunity. When my father died, I had to accept my new role in the family looking out for my mother and brothers. I accepted the position of assistant boys’ high school soccer coach after my youngest son graduated from high school. It made being “empty nesters” easier. Fall was always a time for soccer when the kids were home. It still is today.

Change isn’t easy, but it is part of life. How do you deal with change? Do you avoid it? Do you deny change? Do you let change make you angry? Do you ignore it? Do you expect the good old days to come back if you do nothing? Do you accept it and move forward? Do you look for opportunity in change?

A great little book I have found helpful in learning to deal with change in work and life is “Who Moved My Cheese” by Dr. Spencer Johnson and Ken Blanchard. It is a best-selling book that has been out for years and a quick read. I read it in less than two hours, including interruptions.

I will be speaking on the main stage at the Global Plastics Summit on June 5 in Houston, Texas. I will be talking about our Study 2.0 that was released in March and the opportunities in the Shale Crescent USA. The challenge isn’t just to tell the attendees about the changes and opportunities our region now has over the Gulf Coast and the world. I need to get them to see these changes as an opportunity for their companies and encourage them to take action.

Industry executives in the petrochemical industry expect change. What they didn’t expect in 2018 was a small nonprofit organization from Marietta, Ohio, to show up with a study from IHSMarkit on the main stage at the World Petrochemical Conference that changed the Petrochemical Profitability Equation. Like Mr. C, they didn’t like what they heard at first. Instead of getting mad, they began looking at potential opportunity. That is good for the Ohio Valley.

Have a happy Memorial Day. Freedom isn’t free. Thanks to all who died for our freedom and to all our veterans.

Greg Kozera, gkozera@shalecrescentusa.com, is the director of marketing and sales for Shale Crescent USA. He is a professional engineer with over 40 years’ experience in the energy industry.

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