Distinguished Public Service Award Recipient
The impact of Richard Stevens’s meaningful career is best told through the words of others.
“Until working with Richard after my sophomore year, I was convinced that the only way to make a difference in public policy was to move to Washington, D.C.,” says Dana Simpson, attorney at Smith Anderson.
“After a summer of watching Richard [as Wake County Manager and member of the UNC Board of Trustees]…I realized the impact one could have by staying in North Carolina,” he added.
Simpson says his story is shared by many who call themselves part of the “Richard Stevens Alumni Network.”
Simpson recalls Stevens’s NC Senate kickoff event at a Raleigh restaurant in 2002: “Over the course of the evening, I realized that almost half the room was filled with former interns or employees whom Richard helped mentor in our careers.”
This network has continued to grow throughout the years, says Simpson, since Stevens mentored many young men and women while in the Senate and continues to do so at Smith Anderson.
Simpson noted Stevens’s emphasis on “passing it forward” and giving back to others as one of his defining characteristics—traits that propelled him to run for North Carolina Senate after serving in numerous city government positions, including Wake County Manager—a position he held for 20 years.
“I had always been in public service,” says Stevens. “My friends told me they thought I should run, and it grew from there. They asked me ‘Why not?’ and I couldn’t answer that question.”
Stevens served five terms in the North Carolina Senate and was budget leader under both Republican and Democratic majorities. He was also was co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee in his final two years at the General Assembly.
“I tried every day to work with every member across the aisle,” says Stevens, who noted that one of his biggest accomplishments was helping to balance the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 budgets.
“We had the highest tax rate in the Southeast and a three billion dollar deficit. We were able to balance the budget and lower taxes, but it was a team effort,” says Stevens. “You don’t accomplish anything by yourself in the Senate.”
Stevens’s ability to make tough budgeting decisions and work with members of both parties are perhaps two reasons he was ranked as the Senate’s third most effective member, according to a survey administered by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.
And although Stevens could likely have spent many more years on Jones Street, he decided 10 years was long enough. In the true fashion of a public servant, Stevens thought it time to pass the baton to someone else who wanted the opportunity.
“I hadn’t planned to stay for five terms. As high an honor it is to serve, it’s important to have transition and new blood” to move forward.
If the “Richard Stevens Alumni Network” is any indication, the former senator has laid the groundwork for a prosperous North Carolina in the years to come.
“Those of us fortunate enough to call Richard a mentor will forever be grateful for his unwavering loyalty, encouragement and wisdom in helping us succeed in our careers,” says Simpson. “His willingness to give back to others and pass it forward to the next generation will be an enduring part of his tremendous public service legacy.”
Distinguished Citizenship Award Recipient
Thomas E. Skains
After a long hiatus, Tom Skains has finally started playing the trumpet again. Skains grew up an aspiring musician, serving as lead trumpet in his college jazz ensemble, touring with the Tom Jones Band and playing with The Temptations—quite the resume for a college music major who grew up in a household brimming with Big Band and World War II melodies.
And while his love for music never waned, an eventual business degree and a Houston-based internship during Skains’s second year of law school redirected his aspirations toward the natural gas industry. He clearly made an impression; fresh out of law school in 1981, Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corporation (which Skains refers to as “Transco”) hired him on full-time as an attorney in the areas of natural gas supply, rate and federal energy regulatory matters.
Skains quickly rose through the ranks at Transco, ultimately serving as senior vice president from 1989 to 1995. Upon the sale of Transco to Williams in 1995, Skains decided to accept an offer from Piedmont Natural Gas and relocate his family to North Carolina.
“You’ll hear a lot of people say ‘You can take the boy out of Texas, but you’ll never take the Texas out of the boy’. However, I love North Carolina and wouldn’t consider living anywhere else.”
After a mere seven years, Skains became president and chief operating officer at Piedmont, and one year later was named chairman, president and chief executive officer—a far cry from the musician who played the trumpet to help pay his way through college and law school.
Skains’s passion undoubtedly contributed to his success at the helm of Piedmont Natural Gas. One of his greatest accomplishments, he says, is his work with the Piedmont Pride initiative, which focuses on “the right people getting the right results the right way.” As part of this internal campaign to create a “healthy, high performance culture,” every Piedmont employee participated in leadership training, maximizing employee potential and adding value for customers.
“I believe in leaving a place better than you found it. If we all did that, imagine what we could do,” he says. These values have always been embedded in the Piedmont philosophy, he adds. “Our first CEO believed that if you build your community first, you build your company.”
In the spirit of improving the community, Skains also acknowledges Piedmont’s transaction with Duke Energy in 2016 as one of his greatest accomplishments. The transaction added Piedmont’s 1 million natural gas customers to Duke’s existing customer base.
“I knew this would create superior long-term value for our customers, shareholders and community” he says.
Skains now serves on the board of directors for Duke Energy, BB&T Corporation, National Fuel Gas Company and Champions for Education, a nonprofit benefiting the First Tee and Teach for America programs. Daily, he continues to put into action the principles that guided him throughout his professional career. A firm believer in the Golden Rule, Skains devotes a great deal of time to the American Heart Association, United Way and American Diabetes Association.
His other guiding principle? “I firmly believe in working hard and playing hard,” he says. During off periods, Skains might be out golfing, quail hunting or traveling with family and friends.
As a matter of fact, just prior to the interview for this article, Skains said he was dusting off the trumpet and practicing again.
“It’s a work in progress,” he says.