CONSOL Energy CEO emphasizes adaptation in B&E Distinguished Speaker Series

November 22, 2013
Brett Harvey

Harvey with Students

J. Brett Harvey, Chairman and CEO of CONSOL Energy, Inc., spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the Erickson Alumni Center on November 6 as part of the B&E Distinguished Speaker Series.

Harvey, a fourth-generation coal miner, began his business career in 1979 with Kaiser Steel Company in his native state of Utah. Today, he heads CONSOL Energy, Inc., the leading diversified energy producer in the Appalachian basin.

His visit to WVU was timely, as it was just announced on October 28 that CONSOL, which has had a relationship with the Mountain State for nearly 110 years, sold its five West Virginia coal mines. Although the company has sold its mines to Murray Energy Corp in a $3.5 billion deal, CONSOL is continuing its strong commitment to the state of West Virginia by investing in natural gas operations.

"This is important," Harvey said. "I want you to understand, we're not leaving the mining business. We're growing the energy business."

"The domestic coal market is stagnant. That part's not going to grow anymore," he said, explaining that the company's other mines in other states that can still serve the export market have remained operational.
He said that the 150-year-old company's recent sale is part of the key to opening the door to its next 150 years of operation. This new era will begin, in part, with CONSOL's $14 billion investment in the state of West Virginia to grow its natural gas presence.

"You have to adapt, especially in business. You have to understand that. We have a new opportunity to build a legacy of gas off of our legacy of coal," Harvey said. "This is a revolution. CONSOL has joined the revolution for its future."

Harvey said leaders must be cognizant of three things: safety, compliance and continuous improvement. These are all things that he and CONSOL Energy, Inc. stand for. 

"Our goal at CONSOL is to have no accidents. None at all. When we do, it's counter to our culture. We look for the problem and fix it," he said. "It has been said that if you want to understand today, you have to research yesterday. If we know our history and how we got to where we're at today, we'll understand how human nature pushes technology and resources to the good of humanity."

One of the most important leadership lessons Harvey bestowed upon the crowd came from a memory of his first leadership role in mining. Although his workers had a good working relationship with his father, they didn't appreciate Harvey's bossiness. The whole crew up and left after lunch one day. An upset Harvey ran out of the mine to find the whole crew there, waiting for him. They said "We just wanted to see if you could do it all yourself."

In that moment, Harvey realized the importance of leading a team effectively and by example.

"I can't do it by myself, but I can give them the tools (they need) and work with them. Learn to work with others," he said.

Harvey, who has served in his current role since 1998, is a member of various energy industry and civic organizations. These include the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy, Bituminous Coal Operators' Association (of which he has been chairman since 2006), Coal Industry Advisory Board of the International Energy Agency, National Coal Council, Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board and Boy Scouts of American Greater Pittsburgh Council, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Chairman's Council, and the University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees – just to name a few.

The B&E Distinguished Speaker Series serves to provide role model leadership stories to students. Students learn day in and day out from professors and their college experiences, but welcoming and encouraging successful business professionals to come and speak is another great opportunity for students to learn.

The final lecture of the Fall 2013 Distinguished Speaker Series will feature Ralph Baxter, Chairman & CEO of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliff LLC, on December 3.