Acquisitions reposition Spire Energy as a natural gas powerhouse

Jacob2In recent years, Spire Energy has gone from being one of the smallest natural gas companies to one of the largest. But even as the St. Louis-based company has grown, one thing has been intentionally minimized: the concept of corporate elitism.

“I do not believe in the word ‘headquarters,’” said CEO Suzanne Sitherwood. “That word implies that somebody is more important than somebody else. I just don’t agree with that. I think it comes down to talent, roles, responsibilities and how we connect and get the job done.”

That outlook has helped the company integrate its Laclede Gas utility business with the employees and customers of the four companies it has acquired since 2013: Missouri Gas Energy, Alabama Gas Corp., Mobile Gas and Willmut Gas.

The massive acquisitions helped the company’s enterprise value grow from $900 million to approximately $6 billion. Today, the company serves 1.7 million premises.

Along the way, Spire has faced plenty of hurdles as it has worked to integrate its acquired businesses into one combined, stronger company.

For starters, Spire had to replace more than 80 percent of its information technology platform. The old platform wasn’t able to scale as the company grew. There was also the matter of standardizing processes as companies came together – a delicate balance of respecting what works while being open to change.

“Everyone matters,” Sitherwood said. “It takes all of us to get the work done.”

But even with all these changes, Sitherwood said, Spire has been able to improve nearly every customer service metric. The company tracks things such as responsiveness to calls and gas leaks as well as safety and liability metrics.

“It hasn’t been growth for growth’s sake,” Sitherwood said. “We’re proud of the service we provide to our customers and the talent and resources we have.”

In the coming year, customers and employees will notice a significant change as the company begins to roll out its Spire name and branding to all its regional gas companies. The shared brand will signify the company’s cohesive culture and dedication to customer service.

“From an employee’s perspective, everyone will be on a team with the same mission, the same name and doing the same sets of operations all while wearing the same jersey,” Sitherwood said.

But she was also quick to warn against placing too much emphasis on the new name.

“It’s ultimately about being the gas company and how you show up with your service level versus any label that you put on it,” she said. “That’s the more important thing.”

As to whether Spire’s current pace of acquisition is going to continue, Sitherwood said she approaches that question from a shareholder’s perspective.

“What we look at is how much we are going to grow the earnings that we contribute back to those who provide capital to us,” she said. “That’s where we start the conversation.”

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