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Don Cash

Stuck in the mud with a mature company and a slow-growth scenario? An acquisition might be one route back to …

Stuck in the mud with a mature company and a slow-growth scenario? An acquisition might be one route back to the fast lane. But a simpler solution might be to revamp businesses you already own, says Questar chairman Don Cash.

“For 60 years, we were thought of as the local gas company. We had pipelines and drilling operations, and the public service commissions were always trying to tell us what to do with them,” says Cash, describing utility Mountain Fuel Supply, Questar’s progenitor. “There was no entrepreneurial spirit to deploy these nonutility ventures, but the company wanted to change that.”

Change that it did. In 1982, Mountain Supply made way for Questar, a regional, fully integrated energy holding company that can deliver natural gas from reservoir to customer. The company’s home turf covers Utah, and parts of Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho. Net income for the nine months ended September 30 was up 24 percent over the same period in 1990, from $35.2 million to $43.7 million. Kicking off the corporate makeover, Cash cut Mountain Fuel into pieces. “We first decentralized into profit centers,” he says. “We created a holding company, made the utility a subsidiary, organized an interstate pipeline company, and broke out separately our exploration and production.”

Questar Telecom, a startup company exploring the specialized mobile radio business, was added shortly thereafter. “It’s a dispatch fleet radio business for vehicles. We don’t see it as a competitor to cellular communications right now, but it could be later on,” Cash says.

Cash, 48, joined Mountain Fuel in 1976 as a vice president in charge of exploration and drilling. Born and raised in Texas, his father and grandfather were ranchers, and oil and gas men. He worked his way up the ranks until 1982, when the restructuring began. At that time, he was named president and CEO of Questar, the new holding company. In 1985, he was named chairman.

“My toughest job over the years has been to change the corporate culture,” Cash notes. “The idea is to convince people we are in a competitive environment. We’re pushing that down to the lowest level of employee.”

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