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ESMO 2019: Q&A With Mark Gabriel of Western Area Power Administration

With just a few more days until the early bird deadline on March 25, today is the day to register for ESMO 2019, which is sponsored by IEEE PES and hosted by American Electric Power. 

In the opening session, "Field Engagement is Key," Mark A. Gabriel, administrator and CEO of Western Area Power Administration, will focus on the importance of integrating field personnel into all aspects of running a utility. In the following Q&A, he talks about his session as well as his career in the utility industry. 

 

Q: How did you get involved with ESMO 2019?

A: My good friend Rick Bush invited me to be part of the panel.

 

Q:  How do you feel about being part of the opening session at the event? 

A: I am honored to have been invited to this prestigious event and look forward to hearing what other utilities are doing in this area.

 

Q: In the session, you plan to talk about the importance of integrating field personnel into all aspects of running a utility. Can you provide examples of how a company can make this happen?

A: When I first arrived at WAPA, one of the first tasks we undertook was to refresh our strategic plan, now called Strategic Roadmap 2024. When we began rolling it out and asking for feedback, I heard from many field personnel that strategic issues were not relevant to them. Their job was to fix the transmission assets, and it did not matter what the organization at large was doing. I made sure they were included in the Roadmap development, including exercises to see how they fit into the big picture. That was the beginning of integrating field personnel’s thoughts and experiences into the larger organization. We did something similar when modernizing our asset management program –-the people using the new asset management tools played critical roles in selecting and incorporating those new tools. Another important piece is empowering field personnel to innovate and develop their own improvements to the way they do their work and grow as leaders and technical experts. Finally, we made sure to recognize their innovations and career growth and development through award ceremonies and the employee newsletter.

 

Q: At Western Power Administration, what are some ways that you encourage maintenance employees to be more proactive in improving their productivity? 

A: We give them the authority and support to make those improvements on their own. The field personnel are the ones who need to complete the work and are best able to determine what works for them. We encourage them to attend conferences and seminars on the latest tools and maintenance techniques and utilize train-the-trainer methods to keep our training costs low. We also have an annual award program in WAPA called the Inclusion, Innovation and Technology Symposium where employees across WAPA are recognized for innovations that improve efficiency and contain or reduce costs. Our field personnel take great pride in what they do to support customers and consumers, as do the rest of WAPA’s employees. This pride and continuously striving for improvement is part of the culture at WAPA and one of our core values: “Be curious, learn more, do better. Repeat.”

 

Q: How are you developing the next generation of field leaders at Western Area Power Administration? 

A: We have a Craft Leadership Development Program, which is a two-year leadership program designed specifically for field personnel to prepare them for foreman and management responsibilities. The program focuses on 13 leadership competencies that are meant to broaden skill sets and serve as a foundation for future leadership roles. The program includes mentors, detail assignments outside maintenance, reading assignments, training and concentrated effort on Individual Progression Plans to help participants identify their career goals and how to reach them.

 

Q: How did you get interested in working in the utility industry?

A: In the late 1980s the utilities were beginning to recognize the need for outside expertise in management and marketing. I had a limited amount of exposure to the electric utility business doing projects for a privately held utility in the areas of co-generation and energy efficiency. One day the CEO of the industrial concern where I worked had lunch with the COO of Central Vermont Public Service. Next thing I know I received a call from the utility, and the rest is history. That was in 1990! 

 

Q: Talk about the different roles you've had at Western Area Power Administration over the years. 

A: I was hired to be WAPA’s Administrator and CEO in 2013. It was my first and only role at WAPA and as an employee of the federal government. Joining the government workforce has been a fulfilling experience, although it has its own trials and tribulations that are different than the private sector. 

 

Q: Discuss some of the highlights of your career in the industry. What are some different roles that you've had over the years? 

A: I have extensive experience in the electric industry. I served in executive roles at Black & Veatch Management Consulting and at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), where I served as acting president for EPRI Traditional and Client Relations and as the global marketing officer. While at EPRI, I led the nationwide collaborative effort titled The Electricity Sector Framework for the Future. I was the CEO and president of the energy management consulting firm Power Pundits LLC, senior vice president for energy for the national engineering consulting firm R.W. Beck, and CEO of Positive Energy Directions. My book, Visions for a Sustainable Energy Future, won the 2009 Indie Excellence Award for environmental writing.

 

Q: Why do you think it's important for power industry professionals to attend ESMO 2019, and what are some of the benefits of attending the event? 

A:  Anytime you can get people together to network and discuss leading practices is a good endeavor. We can learn from one another instead of re-creating the wheel every time our industry changes, which is frequently. This is an interconnected industry, and it is only by working together that we are able to keep the lights on for the American people.

 

Register for ESMO 2019 and join us from June 24-27 in Columbus, Ohio. We are looking forward to seeing you there!

 

 

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