DEFINITION of Robert B. Catell

Robert B Catell is a former chairman, president and CEO of KeySpan Energy Corporation. KeySpan is an energy holding company formed by a 1998 merger between Brooklyn Union and Long Island Lighting Company. Catell began his career with Brooklyn Union in 1958, and worked his way up the ranks until he became its president in 1990, president and CEO in 1996 and chairman and CEO in 1997. As CEO of KeySpan, in 1999, Catell led the company to acquire another energy company, Eastern Enterprises, to make KeySpan the largest natural gas distributor in New England and the fifth largest in the United States. 

BREAKING DOWN Robert B. Catell

Robert B. Catell was born in 1937 in Brooklyn toward the end of the Great Depression. His father died when he was young and by fourteen, Catell had his first job stocking shelves at a local drugstore. Like many boys in his time and place, his wishful thinking about a dream career had him as a professional baseball player, but he quickly learned that he lacked the dedication for pro ball. He opted instead for a degree in mechanical engineering which he obtained at the City University of New York. Catell earned first a Bachelor’s degree and then a Master’s before signing on in 1958 as an employee with Brooklyn Union, a company he would then spend the rest of his life working for. Though he would eventually attend Columbia University's Executive Development Program and Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program to hone his skills as a corporate manager, Catell cited his early work experience as giving him a lot of what it took to develop a work ethic that enabled him to work well with others.

'Robert B. Catell' and Brooklyn Union

As an employee for many years as a junior engineer before promotions to the executive track, Catell would ultimately be placed in a variety of positions that would teach him everything about the business of energy distribution, including a period of time where he was required to learn to fix broken meters. Over time, he was assigned various management jobs as well in various aspects of the company, including energy regulation, marketing, customer service and finance. By the time he had completed this time, he began to be groomed for the front office and in 1977 became an assistant to the vice president of the company. He credited much of his success to his hands-on exposure to different departments in order to fully understand the many issues involved in running the company.

In 1990 he became the chief operating officer after having held many other positions within the company (over thirty years of service to Brooklyn Union), One year later, in 1991 he became president, then president and CEO in 1996. As an energy company professional coming into his own in the midst of the 1990s when concerns about the environment were affecting the public consciousness, Catell advocated the positioning of the company and its primary product of natural gas as being a better alternative to oil and began to advocate that people make the switch for the sake of the environment. This attitude and changes both inside and external to the company helped for Catell to take Brooklyn Union to the $1 billion in annual sales for the first time.

In 1997, the company began its merger with a company that controlled another territory, namely, the Long Island Lighting Company, and with Catell at the helm of Brooklyn Union, the two companies merged into a holding company for both entities called first called KeySpan Energy Delivery in 1997, then changed to KeySpan Corporation in 1998. Together under the KeySpan name, the companies combined output made it the largest energy distribution company in New England and the fifth largest in the entire nation at the time.

Throughout his career in energy, Catell believed in and advocated for the importance of ethics within the business, both in terms of employees and worker’s rights and also for the company’s moral stance on issues of the environment. The details of his striving for profit and good ethics may be found within the pages of “The CEO and the Monk: One Company’s Journey Toward Profit and Purpose,” which he co-authored with two employees of the company, Kenny Moore and Glenn Rifkin. According to Amazon, this book “is a story about a real business and how two dedicated humanists can keep their eyes on profits and ethics at the same time.”


Robert B. Catell is a recipient of the Richard A. Cook Gold Medal, an award granted annually “in recognition of outstanding contributions made to the city of New York.” Past recipients include people like former Mayors of note like Fiorello LaGuardia and Rudy Guilliani, as well as entertainers like Oscar Hammerstein and Tony Randall, and business leaders like members of the Rockefeller clan.

KeySpan was eventually acquired by National Grid, U.S. and Catell was retained as the chairman of this new company. At 81, he serves on numerous boards related to energy, technology, and education, and among these would include the chairmanship of the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center at New York University at Stony Brook.