Immediately after accepting the CPS Energy board of trustee’s offer to become the next president and CEO of the public utility, Paula Gold-Williams deftly carried out the routine duties she had been performing for more than nine months in the interim.
She gave an overview of a $3 million grant CPS Energy recently received for its battery storage pilot program, a progress report on an initiative to improve customer interactions with utility staff, and a summary of recent company happenings in her first CEO report without the “interim” title – though it was still labeled “Interim CEO Report” on the meeting’s agenda.
“I have, in my opinion, a huge advantage in already working for the company for (about) 12 years,” Gold-Williams, 53, told reporters after the board adjourned. “I have seen (CPS Energy) through many initiatives and focal points.”
Previously she served as the utility’s chief financial officer and has held senior financial and administrative executive positions within the company since she was hired in 2004. Gold-Williams is only the second woman to lead the almost 75-year-old organization. Jamie Rochelle served as general manager and CEO from 1999 through 2002. Jelynne LeBlanc-Burley served as interim general manager before former CEO Doyle Beneby was hired.
The prolonged process of finding a replacement for Beneby after he resigned in September 2015, said board member Derrick Howard, was worth it even though the utility found the “right person underneath our nose.”
She did not expect her role as CEO to go beyond interim, Gold-Williams said, but the board initiated discussions with her about possibly assuming a more permanent position about six months ago.
“It’s inspiring that she is a local person that has come up through the ranks,” Mayor Ivy Taylor told her fellow board members before casting her vote of approval, adding that her performance as interim CEO has demonstrated that Gold-Williams will “deliver outstanding customer service at competitive rates while supporting energy innovation and economic development in our community.”
Starting Monday, she’ll receive a base salary of $415,000 and details about metric-based incentive pay will be worked out soon, CPS Energy board Chair Ed Kelley said. Bonus pay for Beneby totaled up to 50% of his $500,000 base salary that was the result of increases during his five-year tenure in the position.
“It takes a very capable person to run this company and you have to pay those kinds of people a competitive salary,” Kelley added.
Gold-Williams could finish out this fiscal year on a modified version of her current contract with increased salary, he said, and then start a three-year contract on Jan. 31, 2017.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley, who has held her position for 10 years, receives a $425,000 base salary with $100,000 in bonuses that are contingent on benchmarks set by City Council.
CPS Energy hired international corporate head-hunting firm Korn Ferry and worked with Kelley and Howard to produce several promising candidates. At least three were well-liked by the board and several City leaders that were privy to final-round interviews, said Kelley. But the candidates, especially those that hailed from the private sector, wanted too much in terms of compensation from the public utility.
(Read More: CPS Energy Board Selects Gold-Williams as CEO)
“That was something we had to navigate, but at the end of the day I don’t think we had to give up anything to get where we are,” Kelley said. “We’ve got a very, very strong CEO now and she could be in the (private sector) world if she wanted to. We’re fortunate to have her in the (public) world.”
Gold-Williams will continue to carry out initiatives established by Beneby such as the so-called New Energy Economy that’s bringing renewable energy to customers and innovative industry partners in San Antonio, the expected three-year transition into CPS Energy’s new headquarters, and continued support for the EPIcenter education and research facility on the Mission Reach.
Her “people first” perspective will also bring innovation and “a renewed focus on customer and employee engagement,” Kelley said.
The philosophy to focus on “employees, customers, and community has been (there) at the onset of what we’re doing and we’re continuing to focus on that,” Gold-Williams said. “That has led to ending last year with the best results in employee safety in our entire history and we are on track to have a repeat year.”
She tried not to “hold back” on important decisions, like moving forward with the new headquarters location or with an energy storage (battery) pilot program, while working with the interim title, she added. “I would have made those decisions whether I was permanent or not. …(CPS Energy) is committed to (making) sure that we are balancing with our partners and staying committed while launching these refreshed perspectives.”
Nevertheless, Kelley said, removing the “burden” of the interim title will allow Gold-Williams to take further charge of the future of CPS Energy.
Gold-Williams acknowledged that while previous CEOs like Beneby had training and executive backgrounds on the engineering and technical aspects sides of utilities, she will bring her experience on the financial side to CPS Energy.
“I have nothing but the biggest appreciation for engineers. And we will always be a complex technical organization and we will have engineers all throughout our organization,” Gold-Williams said. “But in this environment where most solutions are not always about technology … it really is about the blend of understanding what impact that has from an economic standpoint to understanding the regulations and the complexity of legislation on the horizon and then balancing all of that in a financial market that is pretty difficult to maneuver.”
Not to say that Beneby didn’t, she said.
“What we did under his leadership was create a lot of systems where a non-engineer is able to (more easily make good technical decisions),” she said.
After a prolonged departure, which included a controversial 11th hour offer from the board to retain him, Doyle was slated to become the next CEO of Chicago-based New Generation Power International (NGPI).
It’s unknown at this time why Shahzad Qasim is now listed as CEO of NGPI.
Top image: CPS Energy board members and executive staff applaud President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams. Photo by Iris Dimmick.