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NextEra CEO Prepares to Pass the Baton

Jan. 26, 2022
Jim Robo joined the parent of FPL nearly two decades ago and has been instrumental in growing its clean-energy portfolio.

The CEO who helped lead the growth of FPL Energy into clean-energy industry titan NextEra Energy Inc. will step aside March 1 in favor of a 19-year company veteran and former CFO.

Jim Robo has led NextEra since mid-2012, a near-decade during which the parent of Florida Power & Light Co. and competitive energy business NextEra Energy Resources has grown its top line to $17.1 billion from about $14 billion, nearly doubled its profits to $3.6 billion and seen the company’s market capitalization grow from $29 billion to about $150 billion. The 59-year-old joined the company in March 2002 as vice president of corporate development and strategy and later that year was named president of NextEra Energy Resources. In 2006, he was promoted to president and COO of the parent company, which changed its name from FPL Energy in 2010 – a year after it became the country’s largest producer of wind and solar power.

Preparing to fill Robo’s seat is John Ketchum, who has led NextEra Energy Resources since March 2019 and before that was the parent company’s CFO for three years. Ketchum has held a number of other finance-focused roles since joining NextEra nearly two decades ago.

“Working closely with Jim, the board identified John as his successor and will ensure a structured leadership succession process that fully supports our shareholders, employees and customers,” Sherry Barrat, the NextEra board’s lead independent director, said in a statement. “John is a talented and experienced leader […] and we know that he is ready to be CEO. His vision has helped craft a strategic and operational runway for NextEra Energy to lead America’s energy transformation, and he has the complete endorsement and support of the board of directors.”

The NextEra board has tapped current CFO Rebecca Kujawa to take over from Ketchum as president and CEO of NextEra Energy Resources. In turn, Kirk Crews will move into the CFO role from his current job as VP of business management at NextEra Energy Resources. FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy, meanwhile, also has been named chairman of the utility.

On a conference call with analysts and investors, Robo said he has been in talks with NextEra’s board about a succession plan for years and that he let directors know in 2016 that he intended to retire soon after the company wrapped up its 2020 rate case. But some investors were surprised by the news and NextEra’s shares (Ticker: NEE) fell more than 8% Jan. 25, closing at their lowest level since early last July.

Robo and NextEra announced the CEO’s planned retirement and other executive changes alongside the company’s fourth-quarter earnings report, which showed net income of $1.2 billion on revenues of a little more than $5.0 billion, improvements from a small net loss on $4.4 billion in sales in late 2020. Operating profits grew to nearly $1.4 billion from $941 million thanks mainly to NextEra Energy Resources, where operating expenses were essentially flat while revenues jumped to $1.6 billion from about $1.2 billion in 2020’s fourth quarter. Robo and his team also raised their earnings forecast for this year.

On their conference call, NextEra leaders also said that:

- their forecasts are not incorporating any possible tailwinds from the passage of all or parts of the Build Back Better infrastructure investment act being contemplated in Washington, D.C. Robo said he is less optimistic today about passage of the bill than he was three months ago but that he still thinks something will come from the process at some point in 2022, “more likely sometime in the fourth quarter after the election.”

- the company expects to comfortably beat its goal, announced three years ago, to install 30 million solar panels in Florida by 2030. Based on the progress made and plans in the pipeline, Robo said his team now expects to get to 30 million panels by 2025.

- the company’s NextEra Energy Partners limited partnership has “significant flexibility” when it comes to buying wind, solar or natural gas pipeline projects in 2022, although such deals are more likely to come later in the year.

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