T&D World Magazine

A Simple Man

David McMullen's Recipe for Success is Basic: one part faith, one part family, a sprinkle of friends and a generous pinch of hard work. A 34-year veteran of Georgia Power, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., the senior transmission specialist takes the lessons he learned as a young boy growing up in the rural South and applies them to both his career and personal life.

“I grew up dirt poor,” remembered McMullen. “All my clothes were hand-me-downs, many with patches. However, Momma would always save money to buy me good shoes, because she knew cheap shoes would not last and would end up costing her more money down the road — not to mention cheap shoes make your feet hurt.”

During his more than three decades at Georgia Power, the engineer has grown to share his mother's philosophy, particularly with regard to transmission line switches.

“I began my career with the utility in 1974 as a transmission line design engineer,” said McMullen. “Over the next 15 years, I turned out more than 100 turnkey design packages for constructing new transmission lines and upgrading existing ones. In 1989, I swamped over to the operating and maintenance side of the business. So when it comes to the transmission line world, I've seen this business from two different perspectives.”

When his company began experiencing several transmission line switch failures, McMullen decided to get to the bottom of the issue. To do so, he studied the NEMA, IEEE and ANSI specifications, and visited numerous switch manufacturing plants to speak with their engineers. He also attended as many field installations as possible and investigated each of his territory's transmission line switch failures

“In addition, I've preformed more tests on quick-break devices for line de-energizing switches than possibly anyone in the United States,” he said.

McMullen's conclusion: The least expensive switches resulted in the largest number of failures, costing his company more money in the long run. Momma was right.

Other values instilled by his mother include the importance of hard work and self-motivation. When the family's electric lawn mower broke, McMullen took it apart, found where two wires had become loose, reconnected the wires with a screwdriver and put the now-working lawn mower back together.

“I couldn't have been more than six or seven years old when I fixed that electric lawn mower,” laughed McMullen. “Then, as a teenager, I climbed up into the attic of our old house and rewired it, because I was concerned about the condition of it. You could say I've always been fascinated with electricity.”

This fascination eventually led to an electrical engineering technology degree from DeKalb Community College in Clarkston, Georgia. Like most young people, however, McMullen changed his mind a few times before deciding on a vocation.

“At one point, I wanted to be a lawyer,” he recalled. “Considering the way I talk and run off at the mouth, that may not have been a bad choice.”

Almost 35 years later, McMullen says he picked the right career path. As a senior transmission specialist, he is responsible for the operation, maintenance and reliability of his territory's transmission grid.

“I'm in a field that is fun and exciting and gives me a chance to be innovative,” he said. “It is boring only if you allow it to be, because no two projects in transmission ever seem to be alike. Each one comes with a different set of challenges.”

In addition to his regular duties, McMullen has served on Georgia Power's switch standards committee since 1999, which has allowed him to do research work with Georgia Tech's National Electric Energy Testing Research and Applications Center. He also assists in the training of new engineers.

“Give me a hungry young mind, and I'm in hog heaven,” he said. “I love passing my knowledge on and being around a kid fresh out of school, because it makes me smarter. I get back as much as I give.”

When he is not working at Georgia Power, McMullen has a passion for golf. His favorite activity, however, is spending time with his wife, children and two young grandsons.

When it comes to his future professional goals, McMullen says he would like to spend the rest of his career at Georgia Power, although he is not sure in what capacity. One thing he definitely does not plan on is retirement.

“Those who know me are aware that I am a very religious person,” noted McMullen. “And I have never found a single verse in the Bible that supports retirement. When my days at Georgia Power are over, I'll move on to something else.”

McMullen encourages those new to or considering entering the power T&D field to think about going to work for a utility. “The utility business is great,” he said. “After 34 years, I still get up every morning and I'm excited about going to work. To me, that's success. Forget that I live in a modest home and my cars are getting aged. I don't worry too much about material possessions. I'm happy.”

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