One Era Ends, Another Begins

Recently, we had the pleasure of hosting a retirement dinner for one of our most senior and admired leaders at Blaschak Coal Corp. Francie Curran has decided to retire from his role as mining superintendent. He is 77 years old, and has been a fixture in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania for 60 years.

Born and raised in and around Hazleton, PA, in the heart of “coal country,” Francie is an experienced surface miner and mining superintendent. He also is a master mechanic, with expertise in the assembly, maintenance and repair of “Yellow Iron.” As was typical in the region, he was a “self-taught” man, who mastered his trades, and went on to lead the mining and equipment maintenance activities of Blaschak Coal for more than 15 years.

Prior to his time with Blaschak, he worked for a number of companies in and associated with the anthracite mining industry, and traveled extensively to inspect and disassemble equipment for redeployment, and then reassemble that equipment in Pennsylvania. Francie is a living legend in the region, and he will be missed at Blaschak.

I tell this story to illustrate not only the importance of having skilled, experienced people in an organization, but also to highlight the need for constant development and renewal in order to be ready for what will come next in any company. Nine years ago, when I came to the company, it was immediately clear that we had talented and experienced people in key roles, but also that many of those people were “on the back nine” of their professional life.

“Succession planning” is an often-used phrase when discussing corporate development. At Blaschak, it was a clear and immediate need that had not been addressed and was, in fact, a part of the motivation behind the Blaschak family seeking to divest the company when they did.

One role of leadership is to assure that the organization is ready for what is next. In this case, it was clear that we needed to pay immediate attention to succession planning in order to assure that Blaschak would remain a viable, successful company. In the years since Milestone Partners acquired Blaschak Coal Corp, one of my priorities has been to plan the future of company leadership. We have identified, developed, prepared and installed new leadership across the top levels of the company in mining and processing operations, safety, sales, finance and engineering. This new, prepared generation includes the individual who will replace me as President when the time comes to relinquish that role (and it will be here soon). We also have in place a new generation of supervisory leaders who are actively being trained in 21st century leadership approaches that will serve the company well into the next decade.

An interesting aspect of leadership is that it needs to be never-ending. All of the new leaders who have come through at Blaschak have been challenged to identify and develop who comes after them.

In the past, I have written about the importance of people in developing and maintaining a successful enterprise. This story just reminds me that the effort never ends.

Posted on 11/22/17