3 Prominent Arkansans Join Summit Utilities Board

3 Prominent Arkansans Join Summit Utilities Board
From left: Kenny Gunderman, Kelly Eichler and Benny Petrus. (Arkansas Business and the Arkansas State Legislature)

Not long before closing a $2.15 billion deal to buy CenterPoint Energy’s natural gas distribution infrastructure in Arkansas and Oklahoma, Summit Utilities CEO Kurt Adams said Arkansas was the most important place for his company, which serves 625,000 total customers, including a half-million in Arkansas.

The Denver-based company upped the Arkansas ante Wednesday, announcing the addition of three Arkansas business leaders to its board of directors. They are attorney Kelly Eichler, Uniti Group President and CEO Kenny Gunderman and former Arkansas Speaker of the House Benny Petrus.

Summit finalized the CenterPoint asset acquisition on Jan. 10, gaining 525,000 customers and 17,000 miles of gas pipeline in Arkansas, Oklahoma and the Texas side of Texarkana. Summit is hiring nearly 600 CenterPoint team members to its 400-member workforce, and for 12 months CenterPoint will continue to provide some customer services and marketing on Summit’s behalf.

Eichler, Gunderman and Petrus join Kathy Alexander on Summit’s board, where Summit’s independent directors with strong ties to Arkansas now account for the majority of independent board seats. Alexander is a Little Rock attorney with a long career as a utility counsel and executive.

“At Summit, our customers, the communities we serve, and our team members are at the center of what we do,” Summit Utilities Board Chairman Henry Fayne said in a news release. “With our newly expanded footprint in Arkansas and the addition of hundreds of new team members living and working in that area, it’s critical that our board reflect those we serve and understand the important issues facing our customers today— particularly as we work to transition all operations … over the next 12 months. Kelly, Kenny, and Benny all bring with them diverse viewpoints, expertise, and skill sets, as well as a deep understanding of the community that will strengthen our company and our board.”

Eichler, of Little Rock, has been a policy adviser to Gov. Asa Hutchinson and was chief counsel to Gov. Mike Huckabee when he was in office. She is also on the University of Arkansas board of trustees.

“This is a pivotal moment in Summit’s history, and I’m honored to be joining the team as we become the largest gas distribution company in the state,” Eichler said in a statement. “As Summit works over the next year with CenterPoint Energy to transition operations of the company – including billing and customer service – it’s important we do all we can to curb disruption … I’m excited to be part of that transition and to support the strategic direction of the company in the coming years.”

Gunderman has 20 years telecommunications, investment banking and private equity experience. The company he leads, Uniti Group, is a Little Rock fiber and telecommunications company that was spun off from Windstream Holdings in 2015.

“I’m excited to bring my years of experience in business and infrastructure development to the board of Summit Utilities,” Gunderman said, according to the release. “Summit is a unique utility poised for increased growth in years to come. It’s an honor to be joining the team.”

Petrus, the former state House speaker from Stuttgart, is president and CEO of Adams Fertilizer Equipment Co. in DeWitt.

“As a lifelong Arkansan, I know this state is one big, small town, which is why I couldn’t be more excited to be joining the board of an energy provider who puts people and communities at the heart of their operations,” Petrus said, reviewing Summit’s history in the state. “Since acquiring AOG in Fort Smith in 2017, it’s been clear that Summit doesn’t just talk about being a good friend and neighbor, they show it by supporting customers, engaging communities and working with businesses to grow the economy.”

Summit Utilities operates in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas through Arkansas Oklahoma Gas, Colorado Natural Gas, Summit Natural Gas of Maine, Summit Natural Gas of Missouri, Summit Utilities Arkansas, and Summit Utilities Oklahoma. Overall, Summit entities operate more than 23,400 miles of pipeline.