By Bradley Kramer
There are two principles that Doug Banning has held fast to in his 35-year career in the oil and gas pipeline and distribution industry: prioritizing safety and being surrounded by good people.
Those two tenets formed the foundation for an impressive number of achievements that have led North American Oil & Gas Pipelines to present the 2020 Pipeline Leadership Award to the recently retired CEO of MVerge, the parent company of Miller Pipeline and Minnesota Limited.
Banning has led the growth and transformation of Miller Pipeline (a NUCA member company), and subsequently MVerge, through people, process and practice. He presided over the successful integration of 10 acquisitions that supported growth and development of the company. He led innovative efforts around productivity tracking and performance improvement both for Miller’s crews and for local distribution company (LDC) customers.
One of Banning’s biggest achievements was in prioritizing a culture of safety — before it was popular and expected. As a pioneer in this respect, Banning helped spread the gospel of safety throughout the pipeline industry, and it’s one of the things he is most proud of in his career.
“As a company, we pushed a process to make safety personal,” he says. “Our campaign ‘What I Live For’ highlighted how safety impacts family members and the important people in our lives, and that really made a difference in our safety culture. Making that connection was important in sustaining our safety culture.”
In addition to driving transformation at Miller Pipeline and MVerge, Banning’s contributions to the industry are extensive, including his work with trade organizations and initiatives to improve workforce development and service quality.
Banning was a leading force in transforming the Distribution Contractors Association (DCA) Strategic Planning Committee, responsible for helping to support the successful service to all LDCs across the United States served by DCA members. He also helped drive the association’s efforts to address workforce development. Finally, he helped the industry achieve a higher level of professionalism in the execution of gas distribution construction through attracting new members to the DCA by leading the Membership/Marketing Committee.
Additionally, Banning collaborated with and supported a unionized labor workforce nationally by serving as a trustee for the Labor-Management Cooperation Trust, as well as locally through serving as a management trustee for the Indiana Laborers Health and Welfare Fund.
Dale Anderson, president and chief operating officer of Miller Pipeline, worked with Banning for nearly 12 years. Anderson describes Banning’s leadership style as “open-minded,” with an emphasis on teamwork.
“He always fostered an easy-going approach, and actively listened to everyone’s input when tackling issues,” Anderson says.
Anderson believes Banning deserves the Pipeline Leadership Award because of his ability to “elevate those around him” for the betterment of the industry.
“He has without a doubt helped to heighten awareness of the many opportunities in the gas utility market,” Anderson says. “His willingness to invest in his employees drove the amazing growth Miller experienced over the last 25-30 years. He proved time and time again that investing in his employees would be the driver to our success.”
Kevin Miller, senior advisor to Miller Pipeline, formerly served as the company’s president and chief operating officer under Banning’s leadership.
“I enjoyed working with Doug for many years,” Miller says. “From the moment Doug became CEO, he managed with the mindset that the support side of the business was in place to meet the needs of crews in the field.”
Miller believes this approach set Banning apart in the industry.
“His strength in risk management, finance and strategic thinking really helped us take advantage of the tremendous growth in the distribution market during his tenure,” Miller says. “Most important though, was his unwavering support for everyone at Miller Pipeline to always ‘do the right thing’ for our employees, our customers and our suppliers.”
The two things Miller says he admires most about Banning are his ability to remain calm under fire and the way he always gave credit to his people.
“Doug was really good to work for, in that he would set expectations for the management team and then leave us alone to accomplish those goals,” Miller says. “If you needed some help, he’d get you what you needed, but he never micro-managed anyone. He believed in his people.”
Growing into Leadership
Banning got his start in the pipeline industry right out of college. He graduated from the University of North Alabama in 1985 with an accounting degree and returned to Indianapolis looking for a job. Miller Pipeline was hiring.
From the accounting department, Banning rose through the ranks at Miller Pipeline, learning directly from the company founder Don Miller and his brother Dale Miller.
“I was really fortunate to work with Dale and Don,” Banning says. “They were focused on the growth of the company, as well as doing the right thing. Right from the start, they were always focused on the quality of work and having a strong value system with the company.”
Founded in 1953, Miller Pipeline has grown to become one of the largest gas distribution contractors in the United States. Banning was promoted to CEO in 1998. Over the course of his tenure, Banning helped propel Miller Pipeline from a company of 350 employees with revenues of $40 million to more than 5,000 employees with revenues exceeding $1.3 billion.
As part of that growth, Banning has steered the company through a number of changes.
In 2006, Miller Pipeline was acquired by Vectren Corp., which in 2011 acquired Minnesota Limited, one of the largest transmission pipeline contractors in the United States. The two companies were then brought together as MVerge.
Vectren was acquired by the utility company CenterPoint Energy in 2018, which then sold MVerge to Artera Services — previously named PowerTeam Services — in February this year. Banning announced his retirement in July, though he remains on the board of directors of Artera.
Through all the acquisitions, Banning has maintained a focus on the people who keep the company successful.
“One of things I’m most proud of, and it was mandatory for me up front, we did not displace a single employee that was part of a company we acquired,” he says. “We needed the management and support people, and that approach was successful for us. You hear about these situations and there’s a mandate to create synergy, and then they lay off tons of people.”
Instead, Banning focused on adding “good people” to the company.
“I learned early in my career that you have to surround yourself with good people,” Banning says. “I’m fortunate to have had incredible people come up and grow with me in the company. I’ve tried to stay focused on our integrity, quality and safety. Those qualities are important for a company to grow. People will surprise you. You just have to give them the opportunity.”
Banning’s advice to other company leaders is to “empower the people around you.”
“If you have good people around you, then leaders just need to set the direction,” he says. “If you’re always telling people what to do, you’re not leading. You’re doing the work. Have good people, set the direction and strategy and they’ll execute.”
Banning’s focus on people extends beyond the office walls and onto the jobsites. He sees a challenge for the industry in finding the right people to do the work.
“How we get the right people, train the right people and attract the right people continues to be important,” he says. “This is hard work. It’s a greater and greater challenge finding the right people.”
Beyond a Slogan
When it comes to safety, Banning believes that the workforce needs to understand that the whole company cares about their well-being.
“Too many times you’ll see where a company has safety as a slogan on a shirt, but they don’t make it part of the culture in their business every day,” he says. “We don’t give enough credit to the people in the trenches. I’ve worked for the company for 35 years, and I’ve never laid a stick of pipe. The customers are paying for pipe to be laid in a quality and safe manner. If you’re not supporting that mission, then there’s a problem.”
To develop a strong safety culture, Banning believes you have to go out into the field and find out what the people on the jobsite need. This is an area where Banning believes the industry still needs to improve upon.
“Safety has to become a part of the culture in the way you do business,” he says. “It’s not just for your employees, but if you bring in another contractor and see unsafe behavior, you have to be able to stop it and say we will only do things one way — the safe way. We need to get to the point where the only productivity we have as an industry is safe productivity.”
Banning describes his approach to leadership as more of a servant-leader style.
“We need to serve the people in the field and provide them with the right tools to do the job well,” he says. “We need to understand what they need to provide a safe, high-quality solution to our customers, which in turn, is what they want and need. Being emphatic, listening and being aware of the needs of your people are key to building a strong culture.”
Banning recognizes how you could teach the skills to do a job, but you cannot teach personality.
“You have to identify your good people and give them opportunities,” he says. “Also, you have to let go of the people who do not fit in your culture or motivate them to want to change.”
Banning learned about leadership from great examples. In addition to Don and Dale Miller, Banning says his father, Doug Banning Sr., and uncle, Max Banning, were two of his biggest role models when it comes to leadership.
“I was fortunate in that my dad and my uncle were successful in business, and I was close to them,” he says. “My dad was a good financial person, and I paid close attention to that. He said the quickest way to the top of an organization is through finances, and understanding that aspect.”
Banning’s uncle was in manufacturing and was keenly interested in LEAN principles, which Banning learned from him.
“I toured factories with him, and he knew every one of the factory workers by name and their children,” Banning says. “He was a humble leader, and I saw that was the way to do business.”
Banning also credits the support of his family for playing an important role in shaping him as a leader throughout his career.
“I’m a fairly simple person,” he says. “I’ve always had great people around me in my career and had great examples. I think every successful leader would say the same.”