In 2015, the World LPG Association (WLPGA) launched its Women in LPG Global Network (WINLPG) — an initiative born out of the organization’s recognition of the need to promote women in industry. Since then, the network has provided a platform for women in liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to connect and share professional and personal advice, experiences, and ideas, amassing over 2,000 members and nine national chapters — including ones in the United States, Nigeria, South Africa, Myanmar, India, Brazil, Poland and Colombia.
In 2018, the network began the Woman of the Year Award, acknowledging women who have made important contributions to the industry through significant motivation and/or support for the cause of diversity. The following year, a corresponding Young Woman of the Year Award was launched to recognize industry professionals of the same merit who are 35 years of age or younger. Announced in December, the 2022 recipient of the Young Woman of the Year Award is Stephanie Hennen, marketing manager at Lakes Gas.
Where She’s Been
Most of Hennen’s 27 years of life have been spent in or around the propane industry. Ever since she was very young, her father has worked for Westmor Industries. Hennen herself began working for the company as a marketing intern when she was 16 years old, after school hours and during summers. “I’d known for quite a while that I wanted to work in marketing,” she says. “I was very active in FFA [National FFA Organization] in high school, and when I was a sophomore, we won a state agricultural marketing plan competition. It was a lot of fun for me.”
After working at Westmor for about a year, Hennen began attending trade shows with her father and meeting other industry professionals through state associations like the Minnesota Propane Association. “I was 17, maybe, when I went to my first trade show,” says Hennen. “I met a bunch of people there, and they were all friendly and welcoming to me, even as young as I was. I found that really impressive. From then on, I just knew that this was the industry I wanted to go into.”
While continuing to work for Westmor and interning at CHS Inc., a global agribusiness cooperative, Hennen earned a Bachelor of Science in agricultural communication from South Dakota State University. Upon graduation, she worked full time at Westmor for a year before joining Marshall Excelsior Co. (MEC), a propane equipment parts manufacturer based in Michigan. After two years with MEC, Hennen was approached by her current manager and offered the opportunity to move back to her home state of Minnesota to build a marketing department from the ground up for Lakes Gas Co., a propane marketer servicing six U.S. states at 54 locations.
For the past three years, Hennen has served as the company’s marketing manager, increasing the company’s brand awareness and touting the benefits of propane to customers with dedication and passion. “I joined this industry because of the people,” Hennen says, “but I’m proud to be promoting a product that offers energy freedom and a clean alternative.”
What She’s Up To
Since creating the company’s marketing department and strategy from scratch, Hennen has hired a full-time social media and marketing coordinator. “The past three years have been a whirlwind,” says Hennen. “Now we’re a two-woman team, and we both wear a lot of hats helping all 54 of our locations — mostly with their big-picture and digital advertising.” But that doesn’t mean the pair are far removed from the daily ins and outs of the company or the communities it serves. “We operate in very rural areas, so we still do a lot of newspaper and radio advertising and sponsoring of community groups,” she says.
The team makes sure to keep close ties with other branch locations, as well. Last fall, the pair visited seven different locations in the northern Minnesota service area. “Our customer service representatives and drivers are the backbone of our company — [they’re] the reason I even have a job. It’s so fun and rewarding to go see them and the communities they live and serve in,” Hennen says.
Hennen’s enthusiasm is not reserved only for her own company and community, however. Her passion for the industry, its well-being and its future are just as strong, as evidenced by her 2020 creation of the 30 Under 30 Program, supported by the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) and the International Association of Young Gassers. The program is aimed at recognizing outstanding young people in the industry.
“One of the questions I’m constantly asked is how to attract and retain young talent within the industry,” says Hennen, “and that’s why I wanted to create this program — to focus on the young talent we already have so that potential talent sees how we treat fresh, new professionals.”
Inductees are given access to webinars, in-person and online training, and opportunities to network and become familiar with one another. “I want them to make connections and allies in the industry,” Hennen adds.
To date, the program has spotlighted 90 individuals across North America. “We already have amazing young talent in this industry,” she says, “so let’s recognize and put more effort into them.”
Hennen’s work doesn’t stop there. In 2022, she served as chair of the NPGA Conventions Committee and is currently chair of NPGA’s Political Action Committee. According to NPGA President and CEO Stephen Kaminski, who nominated Hennen for the Young Woman of the Year Award, “She is undoubtedly the single-most dedicated young professional in the U.S. in terms of volunteering for the national association.”
Additionally, Hennen is a member of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) Advisory Committee’s Market Growth and Commercialization Working Group. By remaining active in these committees and associations, says Hennen, “I’m able to understand more about the newest research, technology and developments in propane, fuel transportation safety and renewable energy sources, as well as the latest state and national legislations pertaining to those fuels.”
Where She’s Headed
Luckily for Hennen, the industry has been as good to her as she has to it, for the most part. “I’m grateful because 90% of the people I’ve encountered have been extremely supportive of me being both young and a woman in what has been and still is a predominantly male industry,” she says. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t met roadblocks or struggled due to her demographic. “I’ve been talked down to and not respected as a professional at times, and it makes me sad, not only because it’s an extremely negative circumstance, but because I know there are women — especially young women — who go through much worse in professional settings,” says Hennen.
But these experiences haven’t slowed Hennen’s work. In fact, they are precisely why she’s so excited about the 30 Under 30 Program. “I don’t want such challenges to ever discourage another young woman from being true to herself and creating a name within our industry. I want others like me to feel encouraged, strong, excited and welcomed, and that is something I will always fight for,” she says.
Hennen notes that she has always been a reserved person, and felt that, especially in a marketing position, she needed to change who she was — to become a “never-take-no-for-an-answer,” hard-headed type — to effect any real change or be truly respected in the industry. “But that’s not who I am,” she says. “I am a much more sensitive person than that. I am extremely empathetic and caring. And, actually, I love that about myself.”
Just by being who she was, following her own gut and putting extra effort into the issues she felt strongly about, Hennen discovered that she didn’t have to change herself to fit into the industry; the industry had room for and could benefit from who she already was.
“That’s why I want to be a mentor and a friend to any women who may feel like they don’t fit in. I want them to know that they are welcome here and that they can thrive in this industry — our industry,” she says.
Hennen dreams of a future in which the industry can never again be described as “pale, male and stale.” She isn’t worried about whether it will come to fruition; it is merely a matter of when, not if.
“We’re in an extremely exciting time,” she says. “We’re making huge strides in the fight for a cleaner environment. My biggest goal is to continue to be a leader in our industry, to stay involved and get other young people involved in the fight for a better future. I am dedicated to helping develop this industry into something that lasts lifetimes — something generations behind me will never have to worry about.”