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New TVA chief is tested and proven

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By BILL SANSOM
TVA board chairman
The leadership transition at TVA is well under way.

With the new year, the second CEO for the Tennessee Valley Authority will be in charge and continue the shift from over six decades of management by a three-member board to a more traditional corporate structure and part-time board.

As the first CEO, Tom Kilgore set TVA on a clearer path tied to low rates, cleaner air and a diverse energy mix.

During the TVA board’s search for a new CEO, a primary objective was a candidate with a track record of day-to-day application of a diverse and balanced energy generation portfolio.

We found that candidate.

We conducted the inspection, “kicked the tires” of our new CEO, Bill Johnson, and we found quality all around.

Johnson is a seasoned utility executive who led then Raleigh, N.C.-based Progress Energy.

He knows the energy business. He recognizes that demand, regulation and customers drive performance and spark improvements.

He built an achievement record at Progress based on solid leadership, actively engaging employees and adapting to new opportunities and approaches.

TVA’s mission over the next several years will remain essentially unchanged.

But the requirements for responsible and reliable energy production will continue to evolve for the entire industry and us.

The drive will be toward an even more balanced energy portfolio that relies less on coal and more on nuclear, natural gas, hydro and other alternative sources.

That is the challenge and the opportunity for our new CEO.

When you look at Johnson’s tenure at Progress Energy and compare it to TVA, both share an energy portfolio tied to diversity and balance.

There are investments in new energy resources and technologies to meet current and future customer needs.

Johnson, like other corporate leaders, knows how to weigh the pros and cons of a decision, to solicit and listen to a range of advice and then to make the best choice.

The test for a CEO is being able to chart a strategic direction, align employees with the approach and recognize hard spots that need to be addressed. Johnson is a tested chief executive.

In his 2012 Progress Energy Corporate Responsibility Report he shared that the electric utility industry is characterized by change and ambiguity; emerging technologies; public policies and regulations that are in flux and uncertain economic trends.

His mission at Progress — similar to the mission of TVA — was to produce reliable, affordable electricity that was clean and safe.

He embraced the community and knew the value of engaged employees.

When he takes the leadership reins at TVA, there inevitably will be a little fine-tuning.

But as Johnson shared with us: “In the near term, I’m going to keep in mind that old saying, ‘Don’t take down a fence until you know why it was put up.’”

He wants to know the what and how as well as understand the why.

There is no ambiguity in building a solid path to the future. At Progress, Johnson and his team established a consistent pattern of performance. For seven years, Progress Energy was named to the Dow Jones Sustainability North America Index that is based on energy consumption, corporate governance, knowledge management, climate change strategies and human resources development.

TVA’s mission of service in low-cost and cleaner energy, environmental stewardship and sustainable economic growth is as important today and into the future as it is historic.

That is the mission that Johnson will further define for the people of the Tennessee Valley and the leadership that will move the Tennessee Valley Authority forward as a leading energy innovator for the country.