Dan Creekmur rose rapidly through the ranks of Columbia Gas of Ohio, a natural gas subsidiary of NiSource Inc., to become president at 35, and his youth is something he hears about again and again.
When Creekmur spoke at a January Columbus Chamber of Commerce event, the topic came up immediately.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege. It really has. I’ve had a number of different challenges and opportunities at Columbia Gas that have prepared me for it,” he says. “I don’t feel that it’s anything other than normal, but everyone else views it as very interesting.”
For instance, when at a friend’s house not long ago, someone asked Creekmur what he does for a living. His typical response is: I work for Columbia Gas. But when pressed, he admitted that he’s the president.
The response he got “Of the whole thing?” — which is common — certainly keeps him humble.
Columbia Gas has about 1,100 employees and 1.4 million customers across the company’s 61-county service territory. Here’s what Creekmur had to say about leadership, service and more:
Creekmur’s management style has shifted from being heavily results focused, which is more of his innate personality, to focus on people and culture.
He doesn’t like to be micromanaged, and wants authority, autonomy and a challenge, so that’s how he treats others.
“I think treating people like that builds culture, where employees take initiative,” Creekmur says. “They are proud of the work they do. They are proud to represent the organization and I think they’ll go deeper for you and I think they’ll show up differently if you give them that ability, if you give them that freedom.”
Freedom also means giving employees permission to keep their work and life balanced.
“I tell my team all the time I don’t care where you’re at on a Monday morning at 8 a.m. I just don’t care. I don’t think about it. I don’t ask the question. I don’t look for you,” Creekmur says. “If you need to be somewhere, then that’s where you need to be.”
But freedom goes both ways. Employees who are looking for more responsibility need to follow through, he says.
“If I ask you to do something, do it the first time,” Creekmur says.
An ability to guide and inspire is also critical. Emotional intelligence and self-awareness are more important than technical expertise.
Columbia Gas recently held a workshop where executives discussed important leadership traits. Creekmur says 65 or 70 percent of those traits centered on emotional intelligence.
In addition, he believes in candor and transparency.
“I think our organization knows, sometimes to a fault, I’m very transparent, and if you ask a question, you will get an answer,” he says. “Sure, there are some things that are too confidential and sensitive to talk about, but barring that, I really think leaders should be forthright.”
A service responsibility
Business leaders have a social responsibility. That was driven home about eight years ago, when Creekmur left a Columbus Crew game, couldn’t get on the highway and had to drive through the surrounding neighborhood.
“I couldn’t believe how many times I’d been to a Crew game and hadn’t seen the need that is within walking distance,” he says.
And it’s important to remember that need, even though the city is doing great things.
“It’s really easy to get in your car in your garage in Dublin, drive down to the office, park in the parking garage there, walk into your office, drink your coffee, sit in a climate-controlled nice office and miss everything in between,” Creekmur says.
To encourage service, all business leaders have to do is connect the dots — give employees permission and offer opportunity.
“What we’ve seen from our associates and our executives is as soon as you ask and open that door, they don’t think about it, they run through it,” he says.
It not only gives them an understanding about the community, it also helps them count their blessings for what they have, including a good paycheck and stable job.
Creekmur says business professionals who want to take advantage of opportunities can follow the mantra he did:
- Do your job well — moving up means mastering each role before going to the next opportunity.
- Volunteer — whatever your organization does and champions, raise your hand and volunteer, even if it’s within its walls.
- Build a network.
It’s also important to share your aspirations in order to put yourself in a new light and be part of the conversation.
Lawyers and business
Creekmur feels his legal background helped make him what he is today. It trained him to think differently, while making him organized and productive.
“They say a good attorney will take a complex problem and make it simple. A bad attorney will take a simple problem and make it complex,” he says. “So, that’s what you can bring with you to the business world.
“You can take large amounts of data and information — [and] filter out the facts, filter out the noise, use issue spotting, for instance, to make better decisions, to use better judgment.”