What's next for EQT's CEO Dave Porges?




At 59, Dave Porges is two years older than his predecessor Murry Gerber was when he decided to retire from the helm of EQT Corp. 

Mr. Gerber stepped down as CEO in 2010. Ever a showman, he marked his retirement with a cross country trip in a red, white, and blue Hummer retrofitted to run on compressed natural gas. His life now is lower profile — Mr. Gerber splits his time between Pittsburgh, where he runs a shotgun store, and the Virgin Islands, where he owns a restaurant. He also sits on the boards of Halliburton, BlackRock and U.S. Steel.

Mr. Porges — who oversaw EQT’s transformation from a local natural gas utility company into a national exploration and production company, with billions of dollars in assets acquired and sold and two publicly-traded firms spun out in the past few years — has a different idea of post-corporate life.

Recently, he’s been feeling the tug of his many interests on his attention.

“There's one thing in particular that is just not compatible with a full-time job,” he said earlier this month. “[It’s] something that my wife and I have talked about — summer breaks from school overseas.”

Mr. Porges, a Chicago native, and his wife Gabriela have two daughters, ages 12 and 13, who have been spending summers in Europe since the youngest was 1. They are each on their third passports, Mr. Porges said.

“What we love to do once school gets out is pick a country,” he said, “rent an apartment, take classes, and stay there for 8 to 10 weeks.”

The standbys are France, Spain, Italy and Argentina, where Ms. Porges was born. This summer, some in the family are angling for England.

“Then the idea would be we’d move out of some of those countries and go further afield,” he said.

The rest of the year will be split among Mr. Porges’ numerous board appointments, which include the Allegheny Conference on Community Development; the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium; the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust; the Carnegie Museum of Art; and the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

He is also a trustee of Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Rand Corp. and the Winchester Thurston School, where his daughters are students.

Of particular interest to Mr. Porges is his work with Rand, a nonprofit think-tank with an office in Oakland that explores policy questions including education reform. “I’m not so wild about the politics going on right now, but public policy, I find, is an interesting topic,” he said.

He and his wife sponsor scholarships at Winchester Thurston for kids who would be the first in their family to go to college, as Mr. Porges was.

“We wound up valuing education because my parents weren't able to do it,” Mr. Porges said. But, “I realized that a lot of the kids who make it are a lot more like my daughters, who’ve got advantages that they may not even be aware of.”

The divide between the haves and have-nots in education is stark, he said. One example is the summer slide, a topic addressed in Rand’s research on how much knowledge and skill are lost during a summer break from school.

“Our kids — they were forced to tour the Versailles palace; they were forced to tour the Louvre. They're around parents who read. We've got books in the house. What if you're too poor for that?”

Mr. Porges’ list of extracurricular interests is so long that, after a Post-Gazette story in October about his retirement announcement, a reader e-mailed to suggest the CEO may not have time to give his best to any of them.

“They're right,” he said. “I wind up participating in all of the meetings, but a variety of initiatives I’d like to pursue, I don’t get to pursue.”

For example, he’d like to delve into the audience declines at Pittsburgh’s performing arts institutions to see if there’s a common pattern. He’d like to help find ways to get younger generations more involved “as ticket holders, audience members, and community members.”

“Every not-for-profit in town is wondering how do we do a better job connecting with this growing community of tech users,” he said. “That’s fascinating to me.”

Mr. Porges expects corporate life will be an easy habit to kick.

“After 19 years of obsessing over every quarterly report, I'm happy to read the box scores,” he said.

So he won’t be looking over the shoulder of his successor, Steve Schlotterbeck, an engineer who now leads the company’s exploration and production efforts. His simple advice to Mr. Schlotterbeck is “don’t screw it up.”

“Or as our general counsel likes to joke — ‘It was a winner when we gave it to you,’” he said.

As evidence of the company’s winning shape, Mr. Porges notes the returns that shareholders have reaped over the past two decades since he joined the company.

Then called Equitable Resources, the company’s stock was around $7 per share when Mr. Porges became its CFO in 1998. Now, it’s around $70, a climb that he listed as his top accomplishment.

“Frankly, that's what they're paying me to do,” he said. “I'm glad a lot of the employees own stock and they've done well owning stock.”

It’s the stock appreciation, more than the salary and bonuses, that allowed Mr. Porges and Mr. Gerber to retire earlier than many are able to do. In 2015, Mr. Porges’ salary was $850,000 and his bonus $1 million, but his total compensation was more than $12 million that year. 

“That’s caused us say, there’s no need to stick around till 65 — till they kick us out,” Mr. Porges said.

He is set to retire in the first quarter of 2017.

Anya Litvak: alitvak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.

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