The Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce executive series continued last week, with Dan McElhatton interviewing Philadelphia Gas Works president and CEO Seth Shapiro.
McElhatton is government affairs chairman for the Chamber. The interview took place at Cranaleith Spiritual Center, 13475 Proctor Road.
Chamber president Pam Henshall and Cranaleith’s new executive director, Dawn Hayward, offered remarks before the interview, which was sponsored by Republic Bank. Henshall recognized Chamber director of events Lindsey Miller on her last day.
Shapiro is a Fairmount native with a degree in government from Cornell who has worked for Toll Brothers, Westrum and the Goldenberg Group and was chairman of the volunteer Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District board.
In 2002, he joined the PGW board. Two years ago, he joined PGW management. He replaced Craig White in the top spot last December.
Shapiro explained that PGW is, by far, the largest municipally owned gas and utilities company in the United States. It provides service for everything from big hotels to rowhomes housing “vulnerable” populations.
Oversight is provided by City Council, a board of directors, the state Public Utility Commission and a five-member commission consisting of the city controller and two members appointed by both the mayor and Council.
“Safety is always our No. 1 thing,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro said reliability, sustainability and affordability in a poverty-stricken city are also of importance.
In 2002, when Shapiro joined the board, PGW was collecting 86 cents of every dollar. In later years, the utility couldn’t pay its annual $18 million dividend to the city, had to borrow $45 million and answered the phones poorly.
In 2014, then-Mayor Michael Nutter decided to sell PGW, but Council stood in his way.
Today, Shapiro said, PGW collects 97 cents on the dollar. Offerings include subsidies, weatherization, low payments and smart thermostats.
“We’re in phenomenal shape. It’s a really incredible story,” he said.
Shapiro credits the state legislature for giving PGW the tools to allow for aggressive collections, adding that the Marcellus Shale has helped lower costs.
PGW is building an operations center at 5000 Summerdale Ave. as part of an effort to consolidate eight centers into three to modernize infrastructure. The headquarters will remain at 8th Street and Montgomery Avenue.
Some 640 people will work at the Summerdale Avenue site, and PGW hopes to improve dispatch times and save money.
“We pride ourself on our safety response,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro said PGW allows entry-level employees with high school degrees to enjoy good pay, benefits, continuing education, a pension and the chance to climb the ranks. ••