It’s been less than a week since CPS Energy Chief Financial Officer Paula Gold-Williams took over as interim president and CEO, but October marked her 11th year with the utility.
The question on most people’s minds as they listened to her speak at the Pearl Stable on Thursday morning during a breakfast hosted by St. Mary’s University, her alma mater, was: Is she interested in shedding the “interim” portion of her title?
Gold-Williams has no shortage of experience with the financial side of the largest public utility in the country, and during her address she spoke easily and thoughtfully about CPS Energy’s past and future, demonstrating an in-depth understanding of its operations and priorities.
She doesn’t know if she’s one of the eight candidates currently being considered for the job and she was coy about whether she will express interest in the permanent position.
“I don’t even know how to do that,” she said. “My hat is … in the ring relative to this interim role. (But) what I need to do is focus on day-to-day operations.”
Korn Ferry, a Los Angeles-based recruitment consultant, has been hired to guide the CPS Energy board’s personnel committee, led by board Chair Nora Chavez and board member Edward Kelley, in a national search for former President and CEO Doyle Beneby’s replacement. After two months of “relentless” efforts by the board to retain Beneby, he officially left CPS Energy on Oct. 31 to lead New Generation Power International (NGPI), an international independent renewable energy company based in Chicago.
(Read more: It’s Official: Beneby Leaving CPS Energy)
“What we need to do is make sure that in times of transition that we have continuity. That’s my primary goal,” she said. “I want to make sure that the board has enough time to make a very thoughtful decision and that we keep going in all of our initiatives. … Where that leads to in the long run (for me), I have no expectations.”
CPS Energy is in the middle of developing Beneby’s New Energy Economy initiative, a plan for its new headquarters, deploying smart meters, managing pilot programs for solar hosting and community solar, and it recently kicked off organizing and fundraising efforts for an innovation and education center, EPIcenter, in the Southside – plenty of emerging focus areas for Gold-Williams to maintain while keeping an eye on $11 billion in assets across South Texas, more than 3,000 employees, and $2.6 billion in revenue.
Gold-Williams will likely be overseeing the release of a request for qualifications (RFP) in the coming months that will attempt to integrate battery storage units with personal or commercial alternative energy systems.
She’s looking forward to the challenge.
“Every part of my career has been about growing and trying new things,” she said.
Originally a fine arts major at San Antonio College (where received an associate’s degree), Gold-Williams was attracted to the “balance” involved in accounting ever since a high school teacher, Mr. Garcia, at Sam Houston High School inspired her.
“There are no engineers, architects, accountants or finance people in my family,” said the San Antonio native.
Her father, an U.S. Air Force veteran was at first skeptical of her interest in accounting. “I don’t know, Paula, it’s very stressful,” she recalled his reaction. But he soon came around when he saw how passionate she was. She went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with a concentration in accounting, from St. Mary’s University, and master’s in finance and accounting from Regis University.
Her humble beginnings make her especially focused on people, like those 3,000 plus employees, and the opportunities that CPS Energy could provide for them.
“People are the most important part,” she said.
While it’s a good sound clip, it’s also good business practice.
“Like any other business you want to make sure it’s viable – to be around for 150 years, you have to think about the business aspect of using all of your people in such a way that it’s efficient, that people are growing, and it’s deliberate. We don’t think of ourselves in any other way (than) running a very strong, viable business – because that makes you focus on metrics, operations, and people at the same time.”
Gold-Williams was the latest speaker for the Entrepreneurship Breakfast Series, hosted by the Meadows Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at St. Mary’s University. Daymond John, founder of FUBU and “Shark Tank” television star, will take to the stage on Feb. 11, 2016 and USAA CEO Stuart Parker will speak on April 7, 2016.
*Top image: CPS Energy interim President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams speaks at breakfast hosted by St. Mary’s University. Photo by Iris Dimmick.