If Delaware Business Nownamed a company of the year, the winner would be Chesapeake Utilities Corp.
The honor would come from the long-term performance of the company that got its start in 1859 as a street lighting company in Dover. Its headquarters are still in the capital city.
After World War II, the company acquired small gas utilities on the Eastern Shore and later added a pipeline company.
Chesapeake’soperating style was set in those early years. The company would maintain financial discipline while continuing to expand in a careful manner.
The volatility of natural gas prices and the rural nature of Delmarva limited expansion. Chesapeake filled in the gaps by acquiring propane companies.
At one key point, Chesapeake gained expertise in computerizing its operationsand operated a company for many years that provided services to utilities and other clients.
What remainedconsistent was the succession of executiveswho adhered to the careful strategy.
The biggest leap for Chesapeake came when it headed to Florida with the purchase of a small gas company. The move seemed to be a little out of character, but theoriginal formula worked in the Sunshine State.
The pace of growth accelerated as massive natural gas deposits were found in nearby Pennsylvania, allowing more hookups on the growingDelmarva Peninsula and expansion of its pipeline holdings.
Chesapeake also picked up an electric and gas utility in Florida and more recently acquired a company that gathers and distributes gas from Ohio wells.
Annual revenues have moved past $600 million.
Wall Street hasn’t ignored the publicly traded company’s performance. After all, a thousand dollars in Chesapeake stock purchased in 1978 may now be worth $71,000, depending on how you calculate its one stock split.
This week, CEO Michael McMasters announced plans to retire after leading the company through its most dramatic and interesting period of growth.
His decision is also in keeping with the company’s disciplined succession plan.
The search is on for a successor, who will face the challengeof keeping the company on a 70-year roll.
Enjoy the day as our thoughts go out to North and South Carolina residents. Make no mistake. This is a dangerous storm. The newsletter’s final edition for the work week returns tomorrow. – Doug Rainey, publisher.