Illinois Utilities Business Diversity Council


Diversity as a Business and Personal Mission

Feb 27, 2024

By Torrence L. Hinton — President, Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas

Having worked at Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas for more than 24 years now, I know what it takes and what it means to grow a career. I started out in an entry-level engineering position. Today I am President. One of my top priorities is to ensure other people across the Chicago region — all of them — have similar opportunities to grow and succeed. A crucial part of making a city, region or state successful is to have local communities that are successful. This also is true for companies. Companies thrive when the people they serve have chances to thrive. So economic opportunity needs to reach every community they serve. This concept is part of everything I do at Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas. It’s on my mind every day.

I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, in the South Shore neighborhood. I am a graduate of Chicago Public Schools. My higher education was completed in Chicago as well. I attended Illinois Tech, University of Illinois-Chicago and, later, the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. Through and through, I am a Chicagoan.

For me, this means the work my team members and I do together is not just business, it’s also personal. I owe Chicagoans — across the city and suburbs — safe, reliable, environmentally sustainable access to energy for their homes and businesses. And I owe Chicagoans my support creating opportunities for them to go as far in this world as their skills and ambitions will take them.

Diversity is the Business Model

Hiring top-notch people is crucial to our business strategy. Diversity, equity and inclusion is an integral part of our business model — it is more than just words. To find the best people for your team, you need to access the full talent pool. Our diversity, equity, and inclusion work ensures we actively do that, every day. Our workforce is more than 75% diverse. They live in every corner of the city and northern suburbs, and they serve customers in every corner of those places. We also foster an inclusive environment by providing resources and opportunities for employees to engage in our business resource groups. I have personally participated and supported our business resource groups on many occasions. I know they provide a mechanism for employees to share insights, strengthen connection throughout the company and support our local communities. Employees are encouraged to participate in any and all business resource groups based on their diverse affiliation or interest in supporting the mission.

The contractors we hire also are diverse. Again, this is vital both for our communities and to achieve our business goals. Illinois is transitioning to clean energy sources. Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas are investing in energy delivery infrastructure that will support the transition. The future will include renewable natural gas, hydrogen, and potentially other new energy technologies — and our system will be needed to deliver those fuels to homes and businesses in the Chicago region. That requires construction and modernization, and we need top-notch contractors to work alongside our in-house workforce and drive progress. The contract work involves many disciplines; highly complicated planning, design and compliance work, and hands-on construction work. We need engineers, technology experts, pipe fitters, welders, maintenance workers, financial experts, legal and professional services, and much more. To fill those needs, it is again crucial that we leverage the full talent pool.

Our partnerships with contractors provide access to additional people in the workforce who have the required abilities and resources. Minority-owned contractors, women-owned contractors, and veteran-owned contractors are a huge part of this and have proven they are up to the task. We rely on them as we prepare to deliver new sources of energy. Diverse contractors have stepped up to every challenge and do vital work for Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, and all the customers we serve.

The Impact of Diverse Hiring

The impact of these supplier contracts has been large. Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, across the past eight years, have spent a total of $927 million with diverse suppliers. In 2022 alone, we spent $118 million with diverse firms. It was the fifth consecutive year we exceeded our goal for our supplier diversity program. Additional data shows:

· 67 percent of our diverse spending in 2022 was with companies based right here in Illinois. That represents more than $79 million invested with diverse local businesses.

· 66 percent of our total diverse spend was with businesses owned by minorities. Minority Business Enterprises earned more than $77 million through our supplier diversity program.

Much of this work by diverse suppliers has been focused on modernizing aging infrastructure beneath the streets of Chicago that dates all the way back to the 1800s. The old iron pipes in this underground network are rapidly corroding and need to be replaced for the sake of safety, reliability and environmental sustainability. The scale of work has been large, spanning every city neighborhood. This requires a lot of smart, skilled, dedicated workers. Diverse contractors get the job done. In 2022, they performed $58 million of work to help us modernize Chicago’s heating system. This represented one-third of our total expenditure for the modernization program.

This is what broad-based economic opportunity looks like.

A Full Industry Effort

A key resource supporting my companies’ efforts is the Illinois Utilities Business Diversity Council (IUBDC), of which Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas are founding members. I personally serve as an IUBDC board member. The IUBDC helps my team take a systematic approach that leverages statewide reach. It brings experienced people from all member utilities together to develop and deploy strategies to attract the very best contractors — from the full Illinois talent pool — to raise their hands and let us know they’re out there and ready to do the important, required work. The partnerships we’ve created through the IUBDC have helped us grow our supplier diversity program and, in turn, deliver great service and value to our customers.

From an economic opportunity perspective, IUBDC’s work is extremely important for the communities we serve. It benefits everyone across the Chicago region in tangible ways. Opportunity needs to reach every community we serve. For Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, the IUBDC greatly enhances our efforts toward this.

To Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, and to our team members and myself personally, success means we reflect the communities we serve and, on an on-going basis, we extend opportunity that helps each community and each person. This means opportunity for all — to work alongside us, to thrive, and to help shape the world.