Editor's Note: This is an extended version of the interview that appears in the August 2022 issue of Butane-Propane News.
Courage, authenticity and curiosity — these are the leadership traits Michelle Bimson Maggi says make a good leader. They’re also traits she says she strives to personify in her roles as the current vice president, law, at AmeriGas and the newly initiated first female chair of the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA).
“I grew up in a blue-collar home where the idea was, ‘Work really hard and good things will come to you,’” Bimson Maggi said. “And I never saw being a woman as a limitation. But I also know that being a lawyer has leveled the playing field in that regard and made things much easier for me in comparison to other women working in a male-dominated industry.”
Bimson Maggi noted this while talking about her revelation of the weight that comes with being the first woman chair. It’s one she doesn’t take lightly, and she plans to use it for advocacy during her tenure in this leadership position.
She also brings a unique viewpoint to the role — a lawyer’s perspective in an ever-more litigious industry, which she says she hopes will help drive action in one of the organization’s main purposes: being a voice for the industry at a federal legislative and regulatory level.
She hopes this representation will help others in the industry — at all levels of experience, position and backgrounds — to see a path forward for industry advocacy and involvement on a larger scale.
“We [NPGA] have to look more representative to everyone in the industry and to our customers,” Bimson Maggi said. “And in terms of NPGA involvement, it doesn’t just need to be the owner of the business. We need the human resources voice. We need a delivery representative’s input. Diversity of experience is important, too.”
Taking on a leadership role with NPGA as a member of the board involved a sound strategy and full team support, and it’s something Bimson Maggi is quick to note.
“I think it’s one of the issues that causes people to hesitate about joining the NPGA board. It’s a five-year commitment, which is a long time. To be honest, it has always been more time than I expected it to be. But a lot of that is because you want to put the time in when you are in that role,” Bimson Maggi said. “When I was coming on as a treasurer, we had to replace Rick Roldan as CEO. That was very exciting to go through the CEO search process and think about what the industry needed then and what the industry was going to need. I would have doubled my time spent doing that process because I learned so much and really enjoyed the experience.”
She mentioned how important clear communication and planning was with her family leading up to her appointment — prioritization being key. That carries over to her full-time occupation, too.
At AmeriGas, Bimson Maggi said she works with a solid legal team that is always ready to step in and take care of day-to-day stuff when she must devote more time to NPGA board work. She said it’s important to have support from the top down where larger-scale industry involvement is concerned — and the role AmeriGas plays in NPGA and at the state level is something she greatly values.
The bottom line? “It takes a village,” she said. But that advocacy pays dividends to her company, the industry at large and her own skill set and experience. Below, hear more from Bimson Maggi on her role as chair, plans for the 2022-2023 year and next steps for the industry.
What does your role as NPGA chair look like so far?
For the most part — with all the summer meetings taking place — my role is being an ambassador to NPGA. The way I’ve been treating it is that I’m going out to these state guests and I’m letting everybody know what’s going on at a federal level and with the national organization. And then my ask at every meeting is what is going on at the state level and how can the national organization help?
Once we have that information about what’s going on in the states, our job is to figure out how we get that information back up the ladder and act on it. A lot of the board’s role involves determining the priorities, legislative activities, etc. Coming off NPGA’s 2022 Propane Days, we have a list of priorities to accomplish by next year’s event. But the summertime is really our chance to focus on connecting with the state organizations.
What or who motivates your work?
For one, I love problem-solving. I’ve always really enjoyed understanding how decisions are made, and I’ve always wanted that seat at the table. What I do at AmeriGas involves a lot of someone saying, "OK, here’s the business idea." And my job is to determine and convey the risk involved with that specific idea or plan. It’s up to the team to decide if that’s an acceptable risk or not. That is what really gets me excited. That’s motivating and inspiring. And I spend time thinking about how can we do this deal better? How can we write this policy better?
I’ve learned a lot along the way. You hear a lot about "executive presence" and "gravitas." What I’ve realized is that gravitas is really a fancy word for experience. That’s all it is — you’ve had the experience, so when something does get thrown at you, you’re not a deer in the headlights. I may not know the immediate answer to the problem, but I know how to strategize. All that to say — at this point in my career, I have seen enough and now I can go in and help, whether it’s an individual company challenge or one the industry must overcome.
I also really enjoy the process of working on a team and having those sorts of conversations to get us [the industry] somewhere.
Are there any specific goals you hope to achieve in your role as NPGA chair?
My No. 1 goal, hands down, is advocacy. We are storytellers, and we have a very good story to tell. What makes it more complicated is that we now have to figure out how to tell propane’s story in a different way. We can’t just say we’re a clean-burning fuel; it’s not enough anymore. And it doesn’t work to just say our carbon intensity score is this or that — that’s not going to fly either.
We have to do the work to find the perfect message that makes people understand how propane can be a positive part of the future, but also why our history is so important. If we can achieve that balance and get everyone in the industry to explain it in three or four sentences, we’ll be in a good place. We must get marketers back to marketing our industry. It’s simply not selling itself anymore.
And that is important at every level of the company; I see it all the time when we invite members of Congress to our districts [for AmeriGas]. A manager or bobtail driver will voice hesitation in talking to visitors about propane. And I say, "This person doesn’t know anything about propane! You do — and that’s all the site visit is; it’s employees having a chance to talk about what they do every day and why it’s important."
The other arm of that goal is asking ourselves what methods we employ to get that message out. I’ve been talking about this a lot at the summer meetings. Do we launch a podcast? How do we get involved in more legislative activities? The list goes on.
Of course, I also want to maintain a focus on the regulatory landscape for the propane market. Regulations can do just as much damage to a business as legislation can. They can be great — a lot of regulations provide important safety, training, and more to help us run successful businesses. But they can also add to the complexity of running that business. Some of it can be overly burdensome or not the right fit for our industry. So, a goal of mine will be, at both the state and federal level, getting people in the industry to continually focus on regulations.
I always want to talk about safety — propane can be a risky environment to work in. Anything we can do to ensure that all our employees go home at the end of the day is always going to be at the core of everything.
Last but not least, of course, is diversity. I’ve talked about the importance of representation — we need as many ideas, different ways of accomplishing things and voices of reason as possible. I’m the first female chair of NPGA, so I’m thinking a lot about how my role can help women currently in the industry to see a path to leadership and women considering joining the industry to see opportunity.
What are the clear next steps for the industry toward building a strong path forward for propane as a clean, equitable energy source?
First, I have been encouraging people to go to the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) and NPGA websites and do some research on our environmental statements and look at the data that PERC has available to the industry. Spend some time with it so that you can speak knowledgeably about how propane plays a positive role in the push for lower carbon emissions. Get comfortable talking about how clean conventional propane is, the potential for renewable propane, how we can sell it, who can use it, why someone would want to use it and more.
This plays into another step: making sure we are not pushed out of the conversation at a legislative level. We all must be prepared for whatever is coming down from the federal government, and understanding the role propane will play in the future will help us fight legislation that could hurt the industry. And then we have to adapt, adapt, adapt — this industry has adapted since day one and we will continue to do so.
We also have ongoing issues that we must continue to pay attention to, such as hours of service challenges, a workforce shortage, etc. But those issues will only be exacerbated by the ones mentioned above.
What qualities make an effective leader?
You’ve probably heard me say that I’m a huge Brené Brown fan. Courage is a big one for me. You must put yourself out there. Shortly after courage is authenticity. You must know who you are. Know yourself and be authentic. It’s OK to be nervous — people understand that. But when you’re not authentic, people see it right away and then they won’t believe what you say. And why would you follow someone you don’t believe?
The other attribute I see often in leaders that succeed — and just people in general — is curiosity. If you’re curious, you will go that extra mile; you’ll ask that extra question; and you’re engaged. If you can get all three of those things together — courage, authenticity and curiosity — you’ve got a pretty awesome leader.
The people I look up to in terms of leadership have those qualities, and I am continually working on improving in those areas. They are skills that you must practice over time. For example, with courage, it’s a lot easier to sit quietly and not raise your hand. It’s harder to stand up and say, "I have something to offer."
What message do you hope your appointment sends for women joining the industry?
That we have a place at the table. And that’s important — we need to be there because there are discussions and challenges that come up where we need that female perspective. As far as advocacy and organizational involvement goes, be honest with yourself about whether the time commitment is possible, but at the same time, don’t wait until you think you’re "fully qualified" to get involved. You’re never going to be "fully qualified."
You’re never going to be perfect. It’s OK to learn on the job. And it’s OK to say, “I don’t know.” Don’t wait until you’re in a senior role or you’re 40 years old. Maybe you’re not the committee chair, but you’re an active member of the committee. That’s important.
Particularly now, with Zoom and other tools, you also don’t have to be from one of the industry’s big companies to get involved and stay involved. Maybe your company’s travel and expense budget is small, but hybrid meetings make it possible for more industry players to join the conversation. Raise your hand now and learn along the way.
Is there one word that you want the industry to embody over the next five years?
Storytelling. Whether it’s telling the industry's or your company’s story to a member of Congress, telling your story to a coworker or telling your story to a potential customer, the connection made is important. This industry has so much to say. We have a great history, but we can take that with us as we meet the future head-on.