ELECTRICLIGHT&POWER | 7 Jan|Feb|2016
Every year Electric Light & Power magazine names CEOs
of the year for both large and small utilities. The task of
doing so is never easy, with many strong candidates and enthusiastic,
persuasive supporters nominating them.
This year’s winners are separated by thousands of miles, but
they are connected by past achievement and openness to future
change. Both met the challenges of market
pressures and customer expectations. Both
helped their utilities raise their renewable
energy profiles. Their leadership styles
reflected lifelong lessons learned.
The editors of Electric Light & Power
selected Terry Bassham, CEO of Kansas
City Power & Light (KCP&L) and its
holding company, Great Plains Energy,
as Large Utility CEO of the Year. This
category is for utilities with 400,000 or
more customers. KCP&L serves more
than 800,000 customers in 47 northwest
Missouri and eastern Kansas counties with
a service area covering 18,000 square miles.
The Small Utility CEO of the Year is
Robert Grimm, who leads Alaska Power &
Telephone (AP&T). AP&T, which started a
small regional provider in 1957, now serves
most of the nation’s largest state area-wise.
Bassham joined Great Plains as chief
financial officer in 2005 and became CEO
in 2012. Grimm joined AP&T in 1972
and took leadership 12 years later. He
announced in December that he will retire
at the end of 2016.
Electric Light & Power’s Chief Editor
Teresa Hansen presented the Utility CEO of the Year awards Feb. 8 in
Orlando during the Distribu TECH awards dinner.
Prior to the awards ceremony, Electric Light & Power
interviewed Bassham and Grimm.
EL&P: Tell us a little bit about your backgrounds, how you
grew up and what led you into the power utility industry?
Bassham: I grew up in a small town of 500 in East Texas. I graduated
fourth in my high school class and did not make the top 10 percent.
I graduated from the University of Texas-Arlington where I received
an accounting degree. Knowing I did not want to be an accountant by
profession (had a pretty good GPA except in accounting); I applied
to Law School and attended St. Mary’s Law School in San Antonio,
Texas, where I clerked for the Western District of Texas Bankruptcy
Judge. As a result, I took a position with a law firm in El Paso, Texas,
as a bankruptcy lawyer. After a year or so, the senior partner in our
firm representing the local utility, El Paso Electric, pulled several
young associates into the company’s first rate case involving its partial
ownership of the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant in Phoenix. That case led
to a series of cases in Texas, New Mexico and before the FERC over
the next eight years. I was hooked. After 10 years in practice, I joined
El Paso Electric as its general counsel and have worked inside the
industry ever since.
Grimm: I grew up in rural Washington. My father’s side of the family
immigrated to the United States from Europe prior to World War I. I
was blessed with an upbringing fostering self-sufficiency and strong
work ethic. I was fond of all things mechanical and electrical, and
loved taking them apart to see how they worked. This resulted in a
hands-on approach that continues to challenge me. I was introduced
to the public utility industry through family connections, and have
remained on that path since 1972.
EL&P: Both of you started your careers in this industry
several decades ago. When did you first realize it was
changing, shifting from fossil fuels to renewables, from a
generation focus to efficiency and demand response?
Bassham: After 20 years in the business, 10 representing El Paso
Electric and 10 working for El Paso Electric as general counsel and
later as CFO, I moved to KCP&L in 2005 to take the position of CFO.
On one of my first meetings with my new CEO, he said we were
focused on energy efficiency as a generation resource. I reminded
him I was the new CFO and was troubled by the basic math around
by Rod Walton, Senior Editor
Bassham and Grimm Believe Teamwork Key to Leadership
of the Year
Kansas City Power & Light
Robert “Bob” Grimm
Alaska Power & Telephone