Consumers Energy’s Colin Dunham grew up on a farm. The lessons he learned there have shaped the way he overcomes adversity and has lived his life. Listen as he shares his journey.
Bill Krieger: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Me You Us,” a well?being podcast. It’s another well?being Wednesday here at Consumers Energy. I’m your host, Bill Krieger.
Today, my guest is Colin Dunham. He is the gas operations welding manager here at Consumers Energy. Colin, if you’d introduce yourself, we’ll get the conversation started.
Colin Dunham: Sounds great, Bill. Great to be here and thanks for having me. My name is Colin Dunham, as Bill said. I am the gas operations of welding manager. Been with the company for about 18 years.
During that time, did a couple of different positions. I got to see quite a bit of company and enjoyed my time here and getting to know a lot of great people, learning about the culture and what Consumers Energy is and continues to represent for the customers and the state of Michigan as all.
Bill: It’s interesting because when I talk to a lot of my coworkers, 18 years, 20 years is not unheard of. People come here to work and they stay here.
Colin: That’s right. I talked to a lot of my friends that I graduated from high school or college with, and their career has taken in many different places, multiple jobs, multiple companies, and they’re very surprised to hear that I’ve been with the same company for this entire time.
That’s not the norm across industry, but it seems to be very much the norm here at Consumers Energy. I think that speaks volumes of what the company is, what culture we have, and what we continue to strive for.
Bill: I couldn’t agree more. Let’s go back to what you do, though. You’re a gas operations welding manager. I’m going to ask you, what do you do for a living? Because many of our listeners may not know what that title means.
Colin: Great question. I’ve been in this position since the beginning of 2022, so still very much feeling my way through it, trying to learn the business, trying to identify where I can make some improvements. What changes are and might be needed, and then more so connecting with the people to understand how best to do those.
Welding’s a pretty niche area, not something that many will know or understand what it is, but whether it’s within generation or gas operations have a specific role in part of our story. Specifically, what I do, it’s within gas operations. Have a number of welders.
OM&C exempt and non?exempt employees report up to me, all focusing on the gas operation system. Supporting efforts within compression, storage, transmission, gas distribution, and also, gas construction.
We have a very vast gas delivery system. Our welders are out there in every part of it, ensuring that its integrity, that it continues to be safe and reliable for our employees to work on, and the public to be around as well.
Bill: Welding is a very interesting skill. Something I was never quite able to grasp. [laughs] Took a few classes and didn’t do too well at it. Our welders do a pretty amazing job. When I first think about gas operations, I really think about the field operations of welding on the pipelines and things like that.
You’re talking compressor stations and all sorts of different welding that has to go on. It’s not just one type of welding. It could be different things on different days. They have to know all of that.
Colin: We have welders that specialize in different areas, whether it’s distribution, new service within construction, and then the larger bore pipeline and transmission storage. Very talented organization. Highly regulated environment, as you might understand, and what we all appreciate. Definitely rely on those skills.
I, myself, am a bit of a welder, but by no means a skilled welder. I grew up on a farm just outside of or in Grass Lake, Michigan. While I’ve welded quite a bit, I would by no fathom or definition of welding say that my welds are good. Certainly, would not meet code regulations.
Bill: Understood. Leave it to the experts, is what I say.
Bill: Let’s talk about that a little bit, too. You grew up in Grass Lake, Michigan, on a farm. Now, here you are at Consumers Energy for 18 years. Let me go back. What skills or what schooling did you have that brought you to where you’re at now?
Colin: I grew up on a cattle farm in Grass Lake, Michigan. Size of the farm ranged over the years, as well as the type of animals. Usually, it was the standard farm. Cattle, chickens, pigs. Then at some points, we had buffalo, ostrich, llamas. All sorts of things. Great experience.
Definitely learned and appreciated the value of hard work and what it takes to be successful, not only in terms of today, but having that longer?term vision of what it takes to be successful for this harvest season. Very fortunate to have that experience growing up with my father?figure brothers and sister.
Then also, my mom was a businesswoman. She worked for Jacobson’s Department Stores, so I got to see very much what physical work represented and what it took to be successful there, as well as that business environment.
Really like to say, I’m the best of both worlds for my parents and apply that towards my career here at Consumers as well as life in general. Education?wise, graduate from Grass Lake High School and then also got an associate’s degree from Jackson College.
Then went to completed undergraduate at the University of Florida. Then several years later, I got my business degree from Stanford.
Bill: All good schools.
Colin: Yeah, good schools. I’ve never been wanting to back down from a challenge. It’s an environment that I’ve always tended to thrive in and just enjoy pushing myself and seeing what my body and mind is capable of doing.
Bill: I’m going to step back, I’m going to ask you a goofy question.
Colin: Go ahead.
Bill: This comes from a conversation I had with my son. My son and his family were visiting my house recently, and I got up in the morning and I was making eggs. My son made some wisecrack about wanting to make an omelet with an ostrich egg because they’re so big. Is that possible? Do those eggs taste good?
Are they as big as we think they are? Can you give me a little background on [laughs] that? I know this has nothing to do with work, but I was curious when you said ostrich, it immediately brought me back to that conversation.
Colin: You can definitely make an omelet with an ostrich egg. It will only take you one egg, and that will likely give you leftovers unless you’re feeding multiple people. An ostrich egg is between the size of a college football versus the NFL football, so probably equivalent between 16 and 20 regular size eggs.
I certainly cooked a lot of them. I would say they have a unique taste of them. Not all that different from a chicken egg, but in my opinion, it doesn’t taste as good as a chicken egg. If I had a choice, I would choose a chicken egg versus an ostrich egg.
Bill: Thank you for allowing me to indulge in that question I had to ask. I’m glad that I know if my son is listening to this, I hope he heard everything you said. Maybe that’ll…
Colin: It is a lot of egg white for one yolk.
Bill: [laughs] All right, good to know. I want to go back too and talk about going to University of Florida. Now, I don’t know if all of our coworkers know, but you are an athlete. You have run marathons. Talking prior to this recording, we talked about taking care of cells and being healthy.
I heard that you played football for the University of Florida. Is that true?
Colin: I did. When I first went to University of Florida, I was by no means equipped to play football. It’s something that in high school, I focused on distance running and then got to a point where I wanted to try a new challenge.
Over the course of a couple of years, I positioned my body and mind to be able to attempt to walk on to Florida’s football team. It was one of those cases at first definitely did not succeed, but didn’t back down from a challenge and after a couple of years was able to walk onto their team.
Overall, it was a great experience. It was not a Rudy?type experience…
Bill: [laughs] Colin, I was going to go, “Hey, did you have your Rudy moment and all of that?” [laughs]
Colin: No, it wasn’t that. I was on the practice squad, so my job or my responsibility was learning the plays of the team that we were going to place next, and then lining up against our first and second team so that they understood what to look for in terms of line ups. Then the ball was hiked and I would go against them.
I saw the laws of physics be broken almost every day, every play. It’s a very talented athletes that can move very fast.
Bill: Breaking laws of physics, but hopefully not breaking any bones in the process. [laughs]
Colin: Great experiences. I walked away after a couple of years of a changed person, and some of which I continue to feel those effects today.
Bill: When I tell people today, when I fall, I don’t bounce anymore.
Bill: I stay where I’m at for a minute.
Colin: One of the ways I like to describe that period was I was a glorified crash test dummy. I have a tendency. I can take a lot of hits and be able to keep on getting back up, line up, and take some more.
Bill: College football season is one of my favorite seasons. I love to watch college football. We watch the guys out on the field doing their thing, but not a lot of people know what goes into that. That there’s this whole part of the team that doesn’t get out on the field, but is very important to making sure that the team does get out there and be successful.
Colin: Our job was to help make our first and second team as successful and prepared as possible. While we didn’t see the glory of the game time, game film, we knew that everything we put into it was helping the team have a better result on an individual player basis, and then overall, as an offensive or defensive unit.
Bill: What an awesome lesson in teamwork. Teamwork doesn’t always mean that you’re in the spotlight. Sometimes teamwork means you’re that person behind the scenes doing it.
Colin: While I didn’t receive any individual accolades on it, there were a number of people from that practice squad that came at the End of Year Awards.
They were recognized as one of the key contributors to success even more so than some of the All?American athletes or all SEC conference athletes that we had. Their role in helping to prepare them for the game time or a game.
Bill: That’d be awesome to see. You did you time at University of Florida. You had some fun on the football field. You headed over to Stanford. Got your degree there. Now, I know you’re married and you have three children. At some point, that all happened. Can we talk a little bit about that?
Colin: A lot of things happened. I graduated from Florida in December of 2004. Then began my career here at Consumers later in 2005. After quite a few years, decided that I wanted to continue my education and continue that challenge of investing in myself.
I had never really envisioned myself as pursuing a master’s in business, but told myself that I’m going to apply towards one school. If I manage to get accepted, then that’s a sign. In 2014, I applied to Stanford University. Ultimately, was accepted. Then pursued a master’s degree in business.
Bill: That’s interesting. I know a lot of people go to high school, go to college, and then start their career. I did my college a little bit late in life. I actually didn’t get my undergrad until I was about 40. I didn’t get my master’s until I was 50. I did it, I think, a little bit reversed. It sounds like you did the same thing.
That’s interesting that you said, “I’m going to apply to this one school. If I don’t get in, I don’t get in.” You managed to get in. That’s pretty awesome. Would you mind telling us a little bit about your family?
Colin: Absolutely. I’m married and have three kids. I’ve been married for over five years now. Actually, I met my wife while I was in business school. We started dating. In 2017, graduated from business school in May. Got married in July. New homeowner that same time period. Very busy month.
Happily married. My wife’s name is Jillian. As I said before, we have three kids. Alyssa, 14 years old, another daughter who’s four, and then a son who’s two. Between a two?year?old and a 14?year?old, very interesting family dynamic. They definitely keep my wife and I busy and on our toes.
The needs and interest of each of them is very different. That’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve had in my life, is being a husband and father to them. Trying to be there for them not just time?wise, but emotionally and physically there to go through each one of those life lessons and to share my experiences with them. It’s been a lot of fun.
Bill: I can only imagine. My kids are all out of the house. I’m an empty nester. I remember those days. I remember, when my children were very young, thinking, “Oh, it’s going to be so great when I don’t have to pack all these bags every time I want to go to the store, or go to the park, or whatever.”
All of a sudden, they were driving cars. Then they were in college. Now, they’re married, have children, and all of those things. I’m sure everyone you talk to says this to you. You’re going to blink an eye and it’s all going to be changed. Enjoy what you’re doing now. It sounds like you are making sure that you take the time to be there for them.
Colin: Yep. Absolutely. I recognize that time definitely is getting faster. That’s advice that my parents gave to me when I was growing up. Never really took them seriously until I really have a family for myself. You can see the changes in each one of them on a very regular basis.
That I recognize the weeks that are pretty busy at work that I’m not able to spend as much time with them. I come home after that and can see that their vocabularies have changed, minor physical differences, and then overall, maturity. It’s amazing and it’s great to be part of.
Bill: I think something else you’ll find too as they’re younger, and then they get older, and they get even older, at least I found this out, is that I was a really smart person when they were younger. As they got into their teens, apparently, I wasn’t that smart. Now that they’re in their 20s and 30s, I’ve become smart again. It’s really changed me too, apparently.
Colin: Definitely. It’s a two?way street, where I’m learning from them, they’re learning from me. The relation I have with each of them is a little bit different. I expect that to continue to evolve as they age and mature. Same with me.
Bill: I want to talk a little bit, too. We talked earlier about athletics. Of course, you were on the football team, but also, you’re a runner. You’ve run marathons in the past. As we were talking, again, prior to the show here, you had said that you don’t run competitively anymore.
What’s it like to condition yourself to be a marathon runner? With everything else going on in your life, how did you find time to do those things?
Colin: I’ve always been an athletic person, dating back from some of my earliest memories. Always athletic, always competitive, and have always found there to be value to be physically fit. It’s part of what makes me, me. When I can’t do that, feels like there’s part of me missing. That I’m not as well as what I’m used to being.
I’ve always made physical fitness part of my life. Made sacrifices to be able to accomplish that, whether it’s early mornings, late nights, sometimes both. I’ve always recognized the value and, obviously, the need to do that, just to help me be me.
It’s kind of an interesting story. I’ve been a runner my whole life, ventured into triathlons for quite some time, competing in all distances, whether it’s a sprint, triathlon, all the way up to an Ironman distance. Something I’ve always enjoyed doing, seeking that challenge and then trying to be the best I can.
Bill: I think sometimes, especially when it comes to our physical fitness, there’s a lot of times where we can find excuses not to do it. You’re having a busy day, or whatever. Life gets in the way sometimes of the things that we want to do.
I listened to a speaker the other day who talks specifically about that. When we talk about the things that we want to do with our lives, are we doing them, and what are we doing to make them happen.
In order for you to do those things that you like athletically, you really do have to say, whether that means I got to get up early or I get a little bit late, I’m going to find time to do this.
Colin: I take one of the lessons I learned growing up on the farm, that hard work pays dividends. Growing up on the farm, I would get up and have a number of chores to do before I went to school. That meant often getting up at 4:35 o’clock. Then as I moved off of the farm, I still had that same desire to be active and to do things.
I don’t remember a time where I haven’t gotten up before 5:00 AM since middle school. I found that’s the most productive time for me to invest in me. Whether that’s working out, having dedicated sessions to focus on strategic things for work or for the family, I consider that to be my time.
Nowadays I get up sometimes much earlier than that. Again, whether it’s working out or investing in myself, I make that decision to do that, to help me be me. There are days it’s hard to do that. Alarm clock goes off and it would be very easy to hit snooze or even reset the alarm.
There have been days I’ve done that, but what I found is that entire day, I never feel right. There’s always something a little bit off because I’ve gotten out of my routine. I didn’t have that endorphin rush and I enjoy doing that. The sacrifice is getting up early is definitely worth it to me and I’ll say worth it to my family.
Bill: I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I joined the military very soon after high school. That’s one of the things you get up at 4:30 or five o’clock every morning. I find that there are times where I could hit the snooze button and definitely sleep for a little while longer but if I’m in bed past six o’clock, I feel like I’ve overslept. It’s strange.
There are times, though, on the weekend where I think, “God, I wish just one more time I could sleep till noon like I did when I was in high school on that Sunday after the really rough Saturday,” but I just can’t do it either. I don’t even feel good if I sleep too much so I completely get that.
Something else I wanted to talk about too that we had discussed a little bit was that at one point you had suffered a closed head injury and that really impacted your life. Can we talk a little bit about what happened and then what the outcomes of that were?
Colin: Absolutely. University of Florida and football were never in my plan. It was prom night, my senior year of high school prom. It ended, and a group of friends and I were going out to another location and I was hit by a drunk driver. Now, thankfully, no serious injuries to anyone else. Ultimately, I had a closed head injury and that, as you said, changed the trajectory of my life.
At the time, I had received an appointment to go to the Air Force Academy and was a month and a half away from beginning that portion of my life. That no longer was possible after that. Having a closed head injury, no longer medically fit to serve our country, and I had to develop a plan B.
That ultimately led me to Jackson College where I was able to finish my associate’s degree, something that I started while I was still in high school. That allowed me at the time to help figure out what that plan B looked like. Trying to identify what options existed and what I wanted to do.
Never someone to accept defeat. That’s where I was going to go to the University of Florida. Recognizing that up to that point I had been a runner and accomplished quite a few things, I wanted a new challenge.
That’s when I tried to change myself or transform myself from a runner into a football player. Then while also continuing academic challenges with chemical engineering as a way to prove to myself and others that I was still as medically fit and capable as anyone else.
An engineering degree in itself is very challenging and rewarding, and I was going to take it one step further by trying to combine that with athletics and something that I didn’t have much of any experience with.
Bill: That’s interesting. I have to ask, though, from the point of the accident to the point where you went to Florida, I’m sure there’s a long time in there. I understand how it must feel to have an appointment to a military academy, it’s pretty amazing.
That says a lot about who you were as a student and as a member of your community, probably things we haven’t talked about. I hope I’m not asking too much, but was there ever a point where you were like, “What the heck?” I don’t want to say why me, but why me? Because you’re very positive.
Anybody that sits down and talks with you and I haven’t known you that long, but you’re a very positive person. You have really good energy. Was there ever a point when that happened where you’re like, “I don’t know if I can do this?”
Colin: Yeah. When I first woke up and I was in the hospital and I was trying to understand the gravity of the situation, there was a couple of dark days there. I credit both my mother and grandfather. Both of them have been very and continue to be very influential in my life.
One of the messages that they shared with me is that God never puts more on our shoulders than what he is confident that we are able to handle. That was difficult for me to hear because I was doing a lot of self?reflection and was not in a very positive light.
Just allowed that to set in and then recognize that I have been given certain gifts, certain qualities. I was 18 years old that I still had a lot of life ahead of me, and there was nothing physically preventing me from continuing to be able to do those things.
I had to accept that this had happened to me and then identify who I wanted to be and how I was going to get there. I relive that experience quite often, but also recognize that, that was a moment in time, and I’m not willing to let that moment in time, that mistake by someone else to determine who I am and what I’m capable of.
Bill: I’m a firm believer that everything that we’ve done in our lives brings us to the point where we’re at today and where we’re supposed to be. I appreciate what you said about what your grandfather and your mother said to you. Sometimes those are things that we don’t want to hear.
Because it’s a lot easier to go to the pity party every day and get involved in that. It doesn’t sound like that was something that is even in your nature. It’s like, “Let’s drive on and figure out what to do from here.”
Colin: I credit my entire family and seeing their work ethic and living that every day. Life as a farmer is difficult at best. There are going to be some times where you have a very healthy crop and other times despite your best planning, best execution of that plan, that things don’t line up.
The stars don’t align and you don’t have a very successful harvest. When that happens, if you want to continue being a farmer and continue to provide for your family, you have to continue to get your boots on and go about your business. I credit my father and his work ethic and determination and who I am today and my approach on things.
Bill: Colin, it sounds like your family was very supportive and very helpful through this difficult time, but it sounds like it wasn’t just this difficult time that helped you get through it, it’s all these things that you learned growing up. I’ve heard it said, people will have things go wrong for them.
It doesn’t matter who you are, you’ve not lived a life where something hasn’t gone wrong for you. There’s a difference between saying why me and saying why not me? There’s something to be learned from all that.
I appreciate you being willing to talk through that and also share the inspiration that your family gave you that is really inspirational for others who may hear this story. I did want to ask though, I did talk to Carly McNeil because I do a little stalking every once in a while and I’m going to have somebody on that I haven’t met before.
One of the things that she mentioned was that she calls you the historian. I know you’ve been a consumer for 18 years. What does she mean by that?
Colin: In my 18 years with the company, I’ve always enjoyed history and always felt that if in a different life where maybe there was more financial means of a history major, I would have pursued a degree in history, but ultimately chose a different route. I still have always loved history.
When I first joined the Consumers Energy family, I didn’t know much about the company other than we were a service provider and some of my neighbors growing up were employees, but didn’t know much about that. My first position, I was an engineer supporting generation.
I had a lot to learn, and I found the best way to learn that was to go through a lot of notes, a lot of files, which at the time was kept in offices. I devoted a lot of nights and weekends digging through files, learning about the company’s history as it related to my specific job and what I was starting out to do, but then realized that there was a lot more to the company’s history than that.
Went from spending time focusing on my job to what is the company’s history? I’ve read “Future builders” quite a few times. I keep a copy of that at home and then in my office here, reference it quite a few times every week.
Then also, have taken it one step further, and that recognizing we’re a statewide company that have had some pretty significant impacts on the growth of the state.
Then the stories of individual communities that each time I’ve worked around the state, I have spent time looking through files of local communities about what Consumers Energy has and continues to mean to them.
One of the things that is part of the Consumers Energy identity is our river hydros. We’ve owned a lot of them throughout the years and they’ve had a pretty substantial impact on the state and the company itself.
As those river hydros expanded in numbers and then were reduced down over time, visiting those local communities and going through their files of what their story is and how Consumers Energy has helped those towns grow and continue to thrive today. Very amazing story if you have the time and interest to look into it.
Bill: We’ve been around for a long time and we are a company that has a very rich history as an integral part of the state of Michigan. As you said, I think it is important to understand our history so that we can help shape the future.
Certainly not to live in the past because things change and evolve, but to understand our past so that we can carry on some of those traditions that help us and also change some of the things that hinder us as we make future decisions.
Colin: Absolutely. It’s been interesting as looking through company archives, community archives, it’s very apparent that our focus today, our triple bottom line of People, Planet, Profit, that same driving forces has been used very consistently by Consumers Energy across our entire time frame of 135 years.
It’s been very impressive to help identify us as a state and us as a company to help make those decisions.
Bill: When you talk about the triple bottom line, I think about things like the AuSable River Marathon and not just the paddling that goes on, but all the work that goes into those dams and the way that the canoers can pass through there and taking care of the environment.
All those things that started out because of a marathon that happens in Grayling every year. Colin, I appreciate you coming on today and sharing your story and answering some tough questions, especially when it comes to ostrich egg omelets. We are getting close to the end of the podcast.
Before we go, I would like to ask you what you would like our audience to take away from our conversation today?
Colin: I appreciate it. Certainly enjoyed my time and sharing my experience. I guess my motto in life is that, we are all here for a reason. Sometimes we don’t know what that reason is and that’s going to continue to evolve with time, with experiences, and through building those relationships.
Whatever is on our plate today, no matter how over or maybe underwhelming it might be, always know that tomorrow was a new day full of possibilities and opportunities. One of the things that I don’t take for granted is, we all have the opportunity to determine how each interaction, each day is going to go.
We can have that choice to make it a positive one and then develop that plan to do so. Be open about things, be willing to listen and accept, but then also do the things that you feel are right for you. I’m confident that by doing that, that’s going to improve your own experience as well as help change and better the experience of everyone around you.
Bill: All right. Thank you for that message, and I know that’s going to resonate with a lot of our listeners. Again, thanks for coming on the program.
Colin: It’s been a pleasure.