The fall 2016 CEO Conversations series at Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus, sponsored by Ford Business Machines, opened Oct. 19 with an insightful speech by a distinguished alumnus, Mark Kempic, who spoke about the University’s impact on his career and life.
Kempic, a Uniontown native who is president of Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania Inc. and Columbia Gas of Maryland Inc., was named an Outstanding Alumnus earlier this year by the advisory board of Penn State Fayette. He is a 1981 graduate of the campus, having earned an associate degree in solar heating and cooling, and spoke at length about his time here, what he learned, and how he has carried those lessons throughout his life.
Initially, Kempic talked about how Penn State prepared him for his career. He singled out Associate Professor of Engineering Dave Meredith, who is still at the Fayette campus, for having taught him about turbulent and laminar air flows, which Kempic remembered thinking he would never need to use in his career. As it turned out, he had to employ those very concepts on his first full-time job for Columbia Gas.
“So, lesson number one,” said Kempic, “what I learned from Penn State University. It provided me with a very practical education. It gave me exactly what I needed to walk in and make a difference at Columbia Gas when I was sizing those pipes so many years ago.”
Kempic spoke of his background as a member of a blue-collar family of coal miners and steelworkers. Because of his limited worldview, he did not know what to expect when he came to college — until taking a psychology course at the Fayette campus.
“For the first time in my life,” he said, “I realized that people can actually make a living studying how people interact with each other, studying what motivates people, studying how people think and behave. That was all new to me. I just didn’t know it existed.”
Kempic continued, “Penn State taught me that there is a whole world out there. And it really taught me to always be curious about everything I do and have a lifelong appreciation for learning.”
The third important lesson that Kempic learned at the Fayette campus was humility. He talked about excelling in elementary and high school, but it was not until college that he realized there were other very bright people. “I really learned I don’t know everything,” he said.
Kempic continued, “You can learn a lot from other people and you have to respect the fact that other people know more than you do, and you have to be able to get along with those people. You have to be able to learn from those other people and to leverage those other people.”
“So, the humility aspect of it is extremely important. I learned that here at Fayette campus, and I carry that with me throughout my entire life,” he admitted.
Kempic said humility, as well as an eagerness to learn, are qualities that Columbia Gas seeks in its employees, and concluded his speech by telling students about the energy distribution companies that he runs, both of which are subsidiaries of NiSource Inc., a Fortune 500 energy holding company based in Merrillville, Indiana.
“One thing that differentiates Columbia Gas from a lot of other utilities is we have a large investment portfolio. We are investing $30 billion over the next 20 years. So, we have a long-term view. That means we are going to be creating a lot of long-term jobs. You come to Columbia gas for a career,” said the man who has made a career there himself.
Kempic started working at Columbia Gas in 1979 while a student at the Fayette campus. He at first was a part-time night dispatcher and continued advancing through the company, serving as an engineering technician, operations research analyst, information center analyst, gas supply analyst and corporate planning coordinator.
In addition to an associate engineering degree in solar heating and cooling from Penn State, Kempic holds a bachelor’s degree in computer and information science from the University of Pittsburgh. In 1991, he earned his juris doctor from Capital University School of Law and is licensed to practice law in four states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Massachusetts.
Following the insightful and instructive speech came a question-and-answer session, moderated by Business student Robert Conti, who joined members of the audience in questioning Kempic on such topics as national energy policy and regional economic development.
Commenting on the return of one of the Fayette campus’ most successful alumni, Charles Patrick, chancellor and chief academic officer, said, “We were honored to host Mr. Kempic for our CEO Conversation. He provided sound advice on developing leadership skills to our students, faculty, staff and community members. This event also was the first for our new sponsor, Ford Business Machines, and we are very pleased to partner with them.”