TULSA — ONEOK Inc. managed to prosper during the last year while many of its industry peers struggled. CEO John W. Gibson said officials at the diversified energy company understand supply and demand, so they have been able to develop ways to connect the two. Gibson said that has allowed ONEOK, and subsidiary ONEOK Partners LP, to continue to grow, even during the challenging economic times plaguing the oil and natural gas industry. "In 2009, our natural gas distribution segment, which includes our three natural gas utilities, essentially closed the performance gap between actual and allowed returns as it again improved year-over-year earnings,” Gibson said. "This was achieved largely through innovative rate designs that provided more timely and appropriate returns, while mitigating risks.” ONEOK is the parent company of Oklahoma Natural Gas, Texas Gas Service and Kansas Gas Service, making it one of the largest natural gas distributors in the United States. It serves more than 2 million customers in those states. Gibson said ONEOK also is taking steps to reduce the earnings volatility and working capital requirements of its energy services segment without affecting customer service. "We are on track to realign contracted storage and transportation capacity with the needs of our premium-services customers — primarily utilities — while improving our financial results,” he said. Gibson said he expects ONEOK to sustain the performance that landed it at No. 8 on the Oklahoma Inc. list this year. "ONEOK has a strong balance sheet with total debt of less than 40 percent, an investment-grade credit rating, exceptional liquidity and a track record of financial discipline,” he said. Gibson said ONEOK strives to set itself apart from similar companies by focusing on "providing services to our customers and producers … and how we can create long-term value for them, as well as for our shareholders. "We also concentrate on those things we do well, which is part of our vision to be a premier energy company,” he said. Gibson said ONEOK remains committed to key strategies that haven't changed much over the years, including the execution of strategic acquisitions that provide long-term value. He expects the company to benefit from the growth of ONEOK Partners and continued strong performance of its own distribution and energy services segments. "ONEOK expects to grow its net income by 8 to 10 percent, increase its dividend by 50 to 60 percent and to generate $150 (million) to $200 million a year in free cash flow — all over the next three years,” Gibson said.