Q: Does First Energy have to expand its efforts because of growth in Cleveland?
A: Interestingly enough, despite the fact that you see growth in Cleveland, please realize that, when it comes to electricity, that the growth is not there. It has been flat. It has been flat for almost a decade. The average customer has light bulbs, coffee pots etc…When they go to the Home Depot or Lowes to buy bulbs, every light bulb which they purchase, allows them to use1/8th to 1/10th of the electricity which they formerly used. A 100-watt bulb now uses 8-watts. The use of energy efficient bulbs has decreased the use and demand for electricity; therefore, the rate has been flat for electricity usage. New appliances replace old appliances and there are more energy efficient appliances. In Ohio, First Energy has done what needed to be done to take advantage of purchasing and using low cost energy and efficient electrical items, which have brought down the cost of use to consumers. We gave customers energy efficient kits, which had light bulbs, low flow showerheads and a blanket to cover the hot water tanks whether it is gas or electric. This has helped them to reduce electrical costs. We have replaced and installed 25,000 new electrical meters within a year. The new meters just make up for what energy efficiency is doing. Our footprint has basically stayed the same as it pertains to regulated usage.
Q: How is First Energy working to address the problem of inequity and disparity in Cleveland? Are you aiding in addressing problems relative to unemployment, Re-Entry and felonious records in Cleveland?
A: We are aiding, as I stated earlier, in the areas of becoming more energy efficient, keeping customer bills low and reaching out through our foundation. We are reaching out into areas of the community where people are finding it difficult to find gainful employment. We want to train them and bring them onto our payroll. I have been pushing diversity and inclusion in our company for five years. It has not been getting enough traction. Last year, 2018, I tied the compensation to every manager, and above, to achieving certain hiring goals so that we can become a more diverse company. We did not make it nor did we achieve the goals, which I expected. I have a performance review process for myself that is unique for CEO’s. Doug and Lorna get to fill out my performance evaluation. They do it once a year and they can say whatever they need to say about me. It is anonymous and the top 350 leaders in First Energy get the opportunity to say anything they want to say about me as a leader. The evaluation goes directly to the Board of Directors.
I told our Board in December of last year that the tone of the response toward me will not be as good this year as it was last year or the past couple of years. A Board member replied, “Oh Chuck, between the bankruptcy, the generation business and morale being somewhat low I am sure that you will still have an excellent performance evaluation. I said, “No, you’re not going to hear about that! I am going to get whacked over the head about diversity and inclusion.” Ms. Julia Johnson, who is an African American Board member, stated, “You’ve been pushing that since you were CEO.” I responded, “I know Julia but something different happened in 2018. I made it compensable and they got paid zero.” So in my talk to talk survey I got feedback stating that I am, “Pushing too hard.” “I don’t see the problems at First Energy that Chuck sees.” “Chuck may be illegally referencing minorities and women over white male candidates.” So, on an employee broadcast I let the employees know that this is the feedback that I received. In addition, that this is from the top 350 leaders. I got it because I stated that 10% of their compensable income would come from their performance. Because they could not do it the last year, it has been raised to 15% this year.
The important thing is this year we are at 69% of our professional hires. 7out of 10 of our professional hires: engineers, accountants, HR professionals, IT professionals, and that group is what I am focusing on the hardest, because that group is all the future leaders of First Energy. We don’t have anyone sitting on our executive team who did not go to college. Therefore, as we get more diverse it allows more opportunities in the community and in our recruiting. We are recruiting in three predominantly Black Universities, which never was done before. We picked those universities that are graduating students with the skill sets that we need. We are doing things differently and finally starting to get some momentum behind it.
Q: What do you consider the highlights of First Energy with the growth of First Energy and the growth of the City of Cleveland?
A: I believe the highlights are my being able to move around in the field and commit my time to moving around the five states where First Energy has its footprints. I consider it a privilege to meet with employees as we invite them to have breakfast with the CEO. Any employee from any part of this company can sign up. It is a random drawing but they can sign up and if picked they can sit with me and discuss anything pertaining to any area of the company where we can speak of improvements, problems and concerns. Many of our employees are truly excited about what they are doing and what the company is doing. We have turned over a lot of the responsibility of running the company over to the employees. Our employees are also concerned about our environmental footprint. We had a young lady come into our executive council of executive leadership who stated, “Did you know that we use enough Styrofoam cups at First Energy that if you stack them up on top of each other it is seventeen times the height of this building in one year?” I had the largest styrofoam cup as anyone because I didn’t like having to refill my tea. Since that time I have used a different cup and a recycling receptacle is by the central disposal. If you’re throwing something way you use that site. There are no trash cans in our offices. It all goes to the recycling site and that includes my office as well. My magazines are electronically sent to me so that we are saving the environment. When you listen to your employees, you learn items that make you a better leader and listener.
We rolled out flextime for our employees so that they can spend more time with family members and make events, which will enhance the family life for them. It is significant that they are able to spend time with their families and loved ones while they can. If they want to dress down coming to work they can do that. We expect them to be dressed properly when they have meetings and clients. The point is this: For people to come work at our company we want them to be comfortable and we desire to be more accommodating. This has always been important to me. People are important to me.
I have told this story before. My wife was the first woman electrical engineer hired by this company in 1980. Her first 10-12 years working here, the white male engineers tried to run her out of this company. They did not think that women should be infiltrating those ranks. She had bosses call her names. One boss called her a stupid “B”. He yelled at her loud enough for everyone around to hear him. He came back later, and apologized to her and told her, “I really need to apologize to you. I did not mean to call you stupid.” So that empowerment in her being smart and raising two boys, being an excellent mom made no difference in how she was viewed. She came to work every day, was never late, and has the same education as she and I and had zero chance of being the CEO of this company. All because of one reason: she is a woman.
A fellow by the name of Chuck Wilson was in the Naval Academy with me and they ran him away. I did everything I could to get in the academy because my parents could not afford to send me to college. I went to the library and took a book, which instructed me on how to get into the Naval Service Academy. I worked three 1/2years with Junior Achievement, volunteered working in children’s hospitals, Boys and Girls Clubs, the Red Cross and wrote letters to Congressman John Seiberling.
Chuck was a star football player from Washington Courthouse, Ohio and the number one football player in the State of Ohio. He left the Naval Academy after a year and a half. They literally ran him out. They harassed and were so mean towards him. Though I encouraged him to stay he stated, “I could stay but I don’t want to be a part of this anymore. The only place I have some respect is when I am on the football field. I could win if I wanted to win. However, the point is that I don’t want to win. I don’t want to be part of this environment anymore.” He left and went to the University of Indiana, played football there and now owns four or five car dealerships.
What I tell our employees is that these were two people who are very close to me who were treated wrong only because of how they looked. We cannot be that company anymore. We are still working on it. When I have top leadership that say that I am pushing too hard and they are saying that possibly I am being partial to minorities and women then I know that I have to work harder. I spoke to all 350 of them and told them that I can look around the room and know by your posture who is with this program and who is against. I let them know that I told the Board that their evaluations would be such because of their posture. I could also look and see those who were thinking that it is about time that First Energy adopted this mentality to make a difference in our company and our community. So now, when I have big staff meetings they all sit there with a stoic look so as not to reveal their true thinking. I also inform them that I am not upset with them because of their attitude towards this move of improvement. I know not everyone is on board yet and I have to be patient and work with them until they get on board.
Q: What is First Energy’s success as it pertains to its customers?
A: I believe that the singular most successful, in the states, which we serve, is that we have the lowest rates and we have the best service to and for our customers. The one case where that is not the case is New Jersey. That is because when it comes to New Jersey we have all of the parts of the state that have overhead poles and wires. There is a company called PSE&G that serves Newark and Trenton. Ninety percent of their service is underground. Underground service is more inherently reliable. We have the best service and the lowest cost. When you have that, you will be successful. I also believe that because, it truly matters to us about the communities which we serve. Lorna’s first job with First Energy was Community Outreach in Cleveland. We still have people in every major office of our company doing community outreach and that is there full time job. We must get out in the community, know what the needs are and do our best to meet those needs. We are also heavily entrenched in Economic Development. We have a group in our office that focuses on Economic Development so that when there is a project to bring jobs that we are heavily engaged in it. No other utilities do that anymore. Pat Kelly, who runs our Economic Development Department, does a phenomenal job. We are running this company for our community, our customers and our employees. If we do that, the right way the shareholder side will take care of itself. Within First Energy, the culture is changing and people can have confidence in us. They have confidence in us because it is the longest, since 1992 that we ever had to lay someone off, and we have never gone five years without a reorganization.