“How did you get your Start in the Grid?” is a monthly feature which focuses on longtime industry leaders talking about their careers, personal hobbies and thoughts about the future of the profession. Ben Fowke is chairman of the board, president, and chief executive officer (CEO) of Xcel Energy.
Previously, Fowke has served in various executive positions at Xcel Energy including chief operating officer, chief financial officer and vice president of energy markets. Prior to working with Xcel Energy, Fowke served 10 years with NextEra Energy and he has also held positions outside the energy industry with DWG Corp and KPMG.
Q. How did you get your start in the power grid?
Well, I admit that I landed in this career somewhat by accident. I’ve always been a numbers person and got my CPA while working for an accounting firm shortly after graduating from college. I had a couple of jobs outside the energy industry including working for the legendary and infamous Victor Posner, pioneer of the leveraged buyout. I began my career in the energy business working for NextEra Energy in the finance group where I was involved in a number of the company’s non-regulated businesses. I left NextEra in 1997 to work for New Century Energies in Colorado which would become Xcel Energy.
Q. Describe a time in your career when you overcame a significant challenge.
More than a decade ago I led a team that worked through some really difficult financial issues associated with a non-regulated subsidiary that we owned. We worked together to resolve them and I was privileged to be part of that team. We ultimately overcame the challenge and Xcel Energy has gone on to have outstanding success. For me personally, the challenge turned out to be an opportunity for tremendous professional development and I certainly gained an even greater appreciation for the role of teamwork in the success of an organization.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Getting out of the office and spending time talking with employees. It is great hearing their ideas and getting their perspective on the challenges we face. We have a fantastic workforce and a ton of talent and I learn from employees every day. As a result, we’re delivering results that range from superior financial performance to environmental leadership to employee and public safety.
I also recognize our workforce is changing and many of our employees are retiring. It is my personal goal to hire more military veterans as we bring in the next generation of workers. Doing the right thing for military veterans also matches up with doing the right thing for the business, as veterans bring outstanding leadership, teamwork and experience to their jobs. Last year, more than 14 percent of our new hires were veterans. We’ve doubled our goals in just two years.
Q. What attracted you to the business? What keeps you there?
Just imagine a world without power for a few weeks…it makes you realize how vital the energy industry is to society. Every day I learn something new about energy and the industry will continue to evolve over the next 10 to 20 years. The dynamic nature of the business keeps me motivated—as well as the people around me. Looking forward, I believe we can achieve deep carbon reductions without sacrificing reliability or affordability. It will take the right policy and regulatory framework and we’ll have to work hard to make that happen. But we have a can-do culture at Xcel Energy and we’re showing it can be done—and that’s what keeps me here.
Q. What helped to shape your leadership skills in that early part of your career?
My mother always encouraged and inspired me—I have been so fortunate to have her in my life. She taught me to tackle problems head on, not give up and to deal with people honestly. I was always willing to take on a difficult assignment but quickly learned that sustained success comes from building a trusted team that works well together. I also think everyone needs an opportunity to learn and grow. I’m grateful to have worked with people like Dick Kelly, who preceded me as CEO. He gave me opportunities to demonstrate how I could contribute to the success of Xcel Energy.
Q. What is your favorite hobby when you’re off the job?
I really love spending time with my wife and family. I live in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, so in the summer I enjoy boating and wake surfing in addition to tennis and biking. Winters are a good time to catch up on movies and to travel.
If your grid-sector company or utility has an interesting person to feature in this series, contact Senior Editor Rod Walton at [email protected]
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