Faces of National Fuel: General Foreman Rick B. Isn’t the Type to Sit Behind a Desk All Day
When Rick B. was studying mechanical engineering at Clarkson University, he never considered working for National Fuel. Now, he’s 10 years into a career that has already shown tremendous opportunity for advancement. Here, he talks about his duties as general foreman, the trajectory his professional life has taken, and why he’ll never give up the great outdoors for a full-time desk job.
On his many hats at National Fuel:
I’m responsible for our customer service division—the people who go to your house and turn your gas on or respond to a leak call, identify gas lines, take inspections, things like that. I am responsible for the entire field operation for customer service out of the Tonawanda service center. On a day-to-day basis, that means managing three field supervisors and about 50 field employees and making sure that appointments are kept with our customers, making sure our leak complaint call time is under a certain metric, and ensuring regulatory compliance with everything that we’re required to do with the state. It’s a lot of organizing, scheduling, communicating. We also have a fleet of vehicles that we have to have serviced, and I help oversee four people on our clerical staff who do things like data entry and order dispatching.
On climbing the ranks:
When I first started back in ’09, I was hired as an operations foreman. That was my title. I was directly responsible for the hourly personnel. I think I had 12 people reporting to me at the time. So, I was a little more hands-on, a little more in the field. And then I was tapped on the shoulder at the end of 2013 and asked to help out on a special software implementation project to replace our old customer service system. I was chosen to be the lead for the device management portion of that project. We converted to a newer platform and a more modern technology and, I did that from January 2014 through May 2017.
How the work keeps things interesting:
You never know what you’re going to get when you’re in the field, dealing with the public and customers. You never know what’s going to pop up, so it keeps you on your toes.
What he likes about his job:
I like dealing with people. We have a good group of workers here and supervisors. It’s a close-knit group, and we work hard. The job that we do can be stressful. I mean, we work on natural gas. It’s a potentially hazardous product, and we’re very heavily regulated. It comes with some stress, and it comes with some long hours. We have to work in all different weather conditions, but we work together as a team.
Why a typical desk job isn’t for him:
As a manager, I’m not in the field quite as much as I used to be when I was a front-line supervisor. But I still get out as much as my administrative tasks allow, especially in the summer when it’s really nice out. I like that freedom and being able to get out and interact with people and solve problems onsite, if need be. I definitely enjoy the outdoors aspect of it. I like to be out, moving around.
On opening his eyes to National Fuel:
I’ve never worked as an engineer, but I have a mechanical engineering degree from Clarkson. When I graduated, I was basically applying at any engineering company or any technology-type company that I could find. That’s when my now father-in-law said, "hey, have you ever applied to any of the utility companies?" I had never thought of it before. So, I applied to National Fuel, and I ended up getting a call back. The rest is history.
The thing that sold him on a National Fuel career:
Based on the research I had done, I knew that it was a successful company. It has good stock. In Buffalo, everyone needs heat, and they need natural gas. I figured there was stability as long as I did a good job. And during the interview process, it felt like a welcoming environment compared to some of the other interviews I had been through.
Why you won’t hear him complaining about the benefits package:
I am really, really happy with the health insurance that we have; I think the packages that they offer are very good. I was recently treated outside of the United States, and the insurance company didn’t even question it. I was able to submit reimbursements. And they added vision coverage recently, which helps because I wear contacts. The 401k match that the company provides is also very high up on the list, as is the alternate work schedule that they implemented last year.
More on that alternate work schedule:
It’s basically a flexible option that the company offered to management employees. Not everybody’s required to participate, but most do. Basically, it allows you to take a half-day of personal time every single week in addition to your normal vacation time bank. The idea behind it is, you still need to work your hours and get all your work done that week, but you can take a half day anywhere you need for personal use, whether it’s doctor’s appointments or shopping or the gym or childcare. They implemented that last summer, and it’s been really great.
On playing NCAA Division III baseball:
It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done. I grew up playing baseball. I played in high school, and then I was recruited by Clarkson. I was fortunate enough to be a starting pitcher for all four years. It was awesome. I built some lifelong friendships, and we actually won the first league championship in school history my final year there. It was a lot of work, too. It taught me how to prioritize and get things done. You might have to put in a few extra hours, but it’s all worth it. It’s just a good feeling to be able to put in work with a team and see the results that you work toward.
His plans for the future:
My short-term goals are to make sure that we continue to operate safely for our customers and that I continue to build relationships with as many people I can. Longer term, I would like to build on those relationships and my job experiences to advance my career and become a leader within the company.
But first, vacation:
My wife and I love to travel. We have been to Europe twice and have taken multiple trips to the Caribbean and other destinations in the United States. We are planning our yearly group trip to Lady Evelyn Lake in Canada this July. It's an island in the middle of the Canadian wilderness where we enjoy fishing, hiking, and swimming. It's a very relaxing, peaceful getaway.