(September 18, 2019) — In software versioning parlance, National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) president and CEO, Rick Roldan, observes he will soon transition from 3.0 to 4.0. The former is his tenure at NPGA, the latter what comes next. Roldan concludes his 25 years of service to the association at the end of this year. Rather than lament the departure, he’s eyeing new options, professional and volunteer, and expressing “boundless gratitude” for this two and a half decades in the propane industry, including 18 years at the helm of NPGA. His outlook echoes that of country music performer, actor, and businessman Jimmy Dean, who noted, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”
After 25 years as CEO of National Propane Gas Association Rick Roldan is retiring reports BPN the propane industry's trusted source for news and information since 1939
“It’s been a wonderful run,” says the native Coloradan, who describes the transition to a new, and as yet unannounced, CEO as “a mutual move.” He adds, “I was fortunate to work with quality people every day.” Roldan was named president and CEO of NPGA in March 2002. His involvement with the industry group, however, began in 1994 with his selection as the founding executive director of the former Propane Vehicle Council. In 1995 he was appointed vice president of government relations. Roldan is an active member of the Natural Gas Roundtable and the Washington Industrial Roundtable.

“It was a tremendous honor to be named as Dan Myers’ successor and to be given the task of relocating the association to Washington, D.C.,” he says of his elevation to NPGA’s top administrative post. “Most of the Chicago staff had no interest in relocating, so we had to essentially hire a new team. One of the things of which I am most proud is the quality of people that we were able to recruit and their genuine commitment to the propane gas industry. Advocacy becomes a lot easier if you truly believe in your product. Our staff has always had that belief, which is probably why we were able to enact more bills than any other association or industry our size.”

Regarding industry expertise among NPGA membership, Roldan observes, “Call it luck or providence, but NPGA has always had a knack for picking the right leaders at the right time. Each year, our former board chairmen get together and talk about industry issues at the 50,000-foot level. When I look around the room at those meetings, I am struck by the wisdom and leadership experience of the people in the room. Their insights have been invaluable to me over the years.”

Who are some of those leaders? “If you forced me to identify some standouts, I would point to the winners of the NPGA Distinguished Service Award. Milford Therrell, for example, was the driving force behind the creation of PERC. Gene Bissell guided our relocation to Washington, D.C. The technical expertise of Bill McHenry, Sam McTier, and Mike Gorham are unparalleled.”
Rick Roldan retires after 25 years as Nat'l Propane Gas Assoc CEO reports BPN the propane industry's trusted source for news and info since 1939
Regarding his own view of association leadership, the University of Colorado, Boulder graduate and CU Presidential Scholar identifies being open and clear about what is to be accomplished as the foundation. “That is why I like volunteer-driven strategic plans. Establish your goals; allocate resources to achieve those goals in a reasonable time frame. Then understand that you are on the hook for getting the job done.

“The ‘no surprise rule’ is something we all practice. When our chairman travels to a particular state, it is important for him to be aware of any issues or controversies that may exist. Likewise, when I attend a board meeting, I want to be prepared for any issue that may arise. The no surprise rule is a close cousin of the transparency rule, which holds that bad news doesn’t get better with age. Get it out in the open, then deal with it head-on.”

Roldan acknowledges both challenges and opportunities for the propane industry, with “the important challenges the industry will face already well known to us: the drive toward renewable energy at the expense of low-carbon alternatives; policies and proposals like zero-net energy; the ‘electrify everything’ movement; the Green New Deal; and the hardening of sentiment against any fossil fuel, regardless of its potential for substantial emissions reductions.” Further, “for nearly a half century energy independence has been a national goal, for both economic and national security reasons. It is ironic that, having achieved the goal, there are those who would actually take us backward.”

At the same time, as these issues are faced, propane’s greatest advantage is that the industry “has a great story to tell,” he says. That story includes: “we are part of America’s global energy dominance. Propane is flexible. Our infrastructure is not stationary, thus immovable, nor is it susceptible to cyberattack as our competitors are. Propane is clean and green. We are neither a greenhouse gas—like natural gas—nor a groundwater contaminant—like fueloil. Our fuel is substantially more efficient than electricity in direct-flame applications.”

In addition, “We invest, through PERC, in technology that will make our product even better. Our industry is part of the fabric of America. Our members have deep roots in nearly every community in America.” Roldan adds he is optimistic about the future. “We will excel provided everyone who is a part of this industry—members and employees alike—become part of the effort to tell this story in their own towns and communities.”

Early Interest
He recalls he caught the statecraft bug early and that his hardworking parents were always supportive of his budding interest in government and politics, “even though most people at the time didn’t think a political science degree could put you on a solid career path. When I was 16, they paid to send me to a weeklong program in Washington where we interacted directly with members of Congress and administration officials like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I knew I would be back!”

His early career was more about politics than government, a period he refers to as Rick 1.0. “I was a department manager at the National Republican Congressional Committee, 1986 campaign cycle, and a division director, director of party development, for the Republican National Committee in the 1988 cycle. One of the great things about Washington is that upward mobility can be lightning fast if you’re willing to put in the hours, including extensive travel.”

One of Roldan’s fondest memories of that time in the nation’s capital was receiving an invitation to attend a gathering at the White House. The country’s president was fellow westerner Ronald Reagan. More than 30 years later he still has that invitation, and the envelope it was mailed in. “I kept it because it documents the possibility of lightning-fast upward mobility,” he says. “I arrived in D.C. on Jan. 3, 1983, a kid from a steel town in southern Colorado, Pueblo. A little more than three years later, April 1986, I received a formal invitation to the White House.”

The invitation being memorable enough, by chance the young man from Pueblo met and came face-to-face with the transformative, 40th U.S. president and leader of the free world. “That was the event at which President Reagan entered the East Room through a door opposite of where most of us thought he would enter. There I was, and there he was. He was perhaps the most engaging person I ever met.”

Roldan went on to serve in the administration of President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1993, Rick 2.0, as deputy assistant secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management, acting as one of the principal stewards of the nation’s land, mineral, and renewable resources. He also served on the staff of the White House Conference on Climate Change.

Looking forward, he says the future, Rick 4.0, is promising and flexible, with plans to remain in Washington. He is an active member of the Cathedral of Saint Matthew Parish and a past president of the parish council. “I have always tried to be active in parish life. I am looking forward to having more time to expand this portion of my routine. I don’t know what form this will take. In charitable work, need always outpaces resources, so finding a meaningful role should not be too difficult.”

And there’s music and cooking. “I did play violin. Unfortunately, my dog hated it. Each time I played she did this Shakespearean death act. After a 15-year friendship, Bella died last January. I intend to return to the violin very soon. Yes, I love to cook because I believe that food has a way of bringing people together. This is really important in an age where people are glued to their screens. It has also been a good stress reliever for me. It is a way to turn your attention away from the pressures of the day. This is the hobby that must always be paired with a good gym membership.”

For the remainder of his tenure at NPGA, Roldan is working to ensure a seamless leadership transition at the association. “I am hopeful the transition will work out just fine,” he says. “I want everyone to know I am so deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve NPGA. My abiding hope is for a future of growth and prosperity for this great industry.” — John Needham