Wade strives to promote propane as energy of the future for Bermuda

The Royal Gazette May 10 2010
By Alex Wright

Bermuda Gas & Utility Company is stepping up its educational campaign to teach Bermudians about the advantages of using propane gas in today’s increasingly energy conscious world.

In an interview with The Royal Gazette, Damon Wade, senior vice-president and general manager of Bermuda Gas, talked about a range of issues from the company’s impressive financial results for 2009 to dealing with the fluctuating price of gas and passing on the benefits to the customer.

Bermuda Gas was also the presenting sponsor for the annual All-Star Weekend held at CedarBridge Academy and the Berkeley Institute on Friday and Saturday, which featured community appearances, camps and clinics, opposing team/player tryouts, a VIP reception and a triple-header basketball game.

The event included top US street basketball players, under the banner of S.K.Y. Streetball Syndicate, and several NBA legends, as well as showcasing the Bermuda Basketball Association.
 “Bermuda Gas is pleased to lend its support to this weekend of basketball action because it gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to our community,” said Mr. Wade.
 “We believe in the power of teamwork, both in the workplace and on the court, and acknowledge the vital role that sports can play in the lives of our young men and women.”

This month the company launched a campaign based on its White Paper entitled ‘Propane – Bermuda’s best kept secret’ to educate the public about the gas and its uses, aside from cooking, including to run water heaters, air conditioning, fire logs and even barbecues.

”Basically what we want to do is introduce these other products and uses of propane to Bermuda,” said Mr. Wade.

”We believe that it is an affordable, reliable and, obviously, for more environmentally-friendly option than the Belco option that is available today.

”We want to make sure that everybody is aware of the opportunities and benefits of propane.

”Also, it can be up to 10 percent cheaper than the electric version today.”

Bermuda Gas more than tripled its net income in 2009, posting a profit of $1.3 million last year compared to $419,383 in 2008 as its parent company the Ascendant Group’s net earnings slipped to $19.5 million from $20.1 million over the same period, a fact which Mr. Wade attributes to improved margins by the company’s propane gas sales division.

He admitted that Bermuda Gas had lost a number of big customers due to the economic downturn, including the Elbow Beach Hotel, but sales picked up at the end of last year and into the start of this year as a result of the unusually cold weather. Now he expects to see a drop in that particular revenue stream until the larger clients return, but has been working hard on plugging the gap through the introduction of an array of new energy efficient products, some of which are on display at its showroom in Church Street.

Despite being unable to control the changes in the price of gas as the company has signed up to a five-year deal with Rubis Energy, Mr. Wade said that Bermuda Gas had been seeking to reduce the impact of such fluctuations on its customer base in planning against them.

”The new educational campaign is all about educating and influencing people – the bottom line is what we are trying to do is establish and rebrand ourselves from a customer service point of view,” he said.

”We are looking at four areas in which to do that, including maximising our competitive advantage, providing superior customer service, improving internal efficiencies and developing our employees to industry standards.”

To achieve that, Bermuda Gas has enrolled in an initiative called Certified Employee Training Programme run by the Propane Education Research Council to cover all aspects of the gas’ handling, distribution and infrastructure issues and get its members certified in those fields. The company is also part of industry group the National Propane Gas Association.

Looking ahead to the future, Mr. Wade said: “Our sister company Belco has 36,000 customers and we would like to get to that type of penetration on the Island with propane usage.

”We believe that the market is right for it and we want to try to get propane into every household in Bermuda eventually.”

Mr. Wade, who is Bermudian, graduated from Berkeley Academy in 1989, winning the Footballer of the Year award that same year, and was offered 11 different soccer college scholarships.

After sorting through the offers, he decided to attend Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where he enrolled for mechanical engineering, but after being put in the wrong class, kept quiet and ended up with a BSc degree in electrical engineering, graduating in 1995.

Admitting that his background was in telecommunications and fibre optics and having no prior knowledge of the power industry, Mr. Wade took up a position with Belco to learn the tricks of the trade during a summer back in Bermuda, learning on the job from day one. On graduation, he came back to work full time for the company, starting out as an engineer-in-training and working his way up the ranks.

Mr. Wade undertook several engineering and management leadership posts during his time at Belco and was able to combine his technical abilities and management experience to achieve his Professional Engineering status both locally and from the Engineering Council in the United Kingdom.

In 2003, he was hand-picked by the chief operating officer to move into the newly-created process office at the company, a role he began in February 2004, with a focus on facilitating and leading teams through the diagnosis, redesign, and implementation of the company’s business processes. Here Mr. Wade obtained his Certificate of Mastery in Process Reengineering and he was subsequently promoted to Manager of Customer Service in 2005.

He completed a Utility Executive Course at the University of Idaho in 2006. As a result, in 2007, he was promoted to vice-president of customer services. In the same year he obtained his Master of Business Administration for the University of Phoenix and went on to take several other management courses, including LPI leadership training, Development Dimensions International – Core Leadership Skills, Dr. Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld’s – Interest Based Bargaining, The Potter Centers – Understanding Self and Others, Worldwide Lessons in Leadership – Unlock the Power of True Teamwork, Covey’s – Seven habits of Effective People, and Dale Carnegie’s – Management Training.

Mr. Wade joined Bermuda Gas in July 2009 after 14 years at Belco, taking over the the top position vacated by Lloyd Telford in April 2009.