Energy and Natural Resources: Tallgrass Energy Partners, LP
David Dehaemers, Jr. | President and CEO | Tallgrass Energy Partners, LP | Leawood, KS | Founded: 2012
Powered by trust
David Dehaemers fuels Tallgrass by preparing those who will follow him.
Like father, like son? In significant ways, David Dehaemers, Jr., would hope the answer is “yes.”
Though the salvage business his dad owned for 48 years in Olathe, Kansas, was much smaller than the enormous energy pipeline company he now runs, Dehaemers would be the first to acknowledge that many of the entrepreneurial lessons he learned — about leadership, responsible risk-taking and how to treat others — came from observing his father and listening to his advice.
One of the principal lessons he learned was about trust. “My father always said that a zebra never loses its stripes,” Dehaemers says. “If you develop trust in people, you can be confident their stripes won’t change and you’re not going to lose.”
Understanding the value of trust, he adds, is important not only in business but in every aspect of life. “That’s kind of how I look at my dealings with just about anybody,” he says.
A journey of many roads
Trust was essential in his decision to take a road — or, rather, roads — “less traveled by” following a successful career in accounting and law (he has degrees in both).
Dehaemers followed his entrepreneurial instincts first by developing a variety of businesses before switching course in 1997 to join then-burgeoning energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan as CFO and head of corporate development. He was at the front end of expanding the business through acquisitions, taking the company from 75 to 5,500 employees and significantly growing its enterprise value.
He left Kinder Morgan in 2003, following yet another road to Inergy, a master limited partnership (MLP), where he helped to take the business public. Recognizing the value and potential of MLPs, he then co-founded an MLP investment fund that raised $330 million.
While many investors were moving into safer spaces at the peak of the credit crunch, Dehaemers distinguished himself as a contrarian of sorts by selecting a small number of securities with high-quality assets and management that he viewed as capable and trustworthy.
After four years of successful investing, he cashed out of the fund and let his thoughts and dreams take flight — literally. He took close to a year off and learned to fly, simultaneously affording himself the opportunity to spend more time with his children, who were then in the second and eighth grades. But it wasn’t long before he contemplated where his entrepreneurial journey would take him next.
In 2012, Dehaemers founded Tallgrass Energy, a family of companies that transports crude oil and natural gas from the Rocky Mountains, Upper Midwest and Appalachia to major markets in the Rockies, the Midwest, eastern Ohio and points beyond. In describing the company, Dehaemers emphasizes its worth more in terms of its impact than of its size and scope.
“I have the fortunate pleasure to be the CEO of a company that is very important to the infrastructure of the country,” he says. Tallgrass expanded that impact by acquiring and modifying the unidirectional Rockies Express Pipeline to make it bidirectional.
“We replumbed it so that we could move natural gas both left to right and right to left, and could put it in anywhere and take it out anywhere,” Dehaemers explains. The expanded capability enabled Tallgrass to extend original contracts by 10 years or more.
Under his leadership, Tallgrass has invested heavily in improving and building new pipeline assets, taken two of its companies public, and diversified into additional high-profile oil and gas basins.
Dehaemers is now focusing on the future through an organized program to identify tomorrow’s company leaders. Dehaemers identifies leaders as those who readily speak what he calls the five most important words in business: “I’ll take care of it.” Beyond that, he looks for individuals who appreciate the company’s essential values: safety, employees, investors and growth.
“Those are things I am trying to promote,” he says, explaining that the leadership program is designed to get tomorrow’s leaders “prepared to take my job.”
While still driven to improve the company’s financial fortunes, Dehaemers says money is no longer a motivator in his personal life. Most important, he insists, are the happiness and health of Tallgrass employees.
He says his wife, Barbara, also a CPA, has enabled every step of his entrepreneurial travels — “I wouldn’t be much without her” — and the couple now serves the next generation in yet another way, through donations to some 30 charitable organizations every year. A sizable portion of their generosity goes to inner-city Catholic schools where young people are beginning their own travels in life.