“How did you get your start in the grid?” is a new feature of Electric Light & Power Executive Digest that will run intermittently (or until executives and engineers quit wanting to tell us how they rose in their careers). The second chapter in the series continues with Rick Riley, right, president and CEO of Entergy Arkansas.
Q) How did you get your start in the power grid?
“I started my career at Gulf States Utilities, Inc. in 1985 as a distribution engineer in Beaumont, Texas. Upon graduating from Lamar University with a BSEE, I interviewed with one in-state and three out-of-state electric utility companies and two Louisiana-based petrochemical companies, received offers from both electric utility companies and petrochemical companies, but chose my local utility because 1) I wanted to be in the utility industry more so than the petrochemical industry, and 2) it was close to home.”
Q) What was the toughest part about that job?
“GSU was undergoing financial difficulties at the time due to the construction activities of a new nuclear plant, and it impacted the morale of the overall organization. I loved the job itself, but definitely could sense that the organizational health at the company was low. I frequently wondered “˜”why wasn’t everyone else having as much fun as I was?'”
Q) Did you have an important mentor, who was that and what did he or she teach you the most?
“I did not have a single mentor during my career; rather I watched and learned from just about everyone I came in contact with. Technical lessons from seasoned engineers, management lessons from both good and bad supervisors, and books on every topic related to management, leadership and the industry guided me along the way.”
Q) What attracted you to the business? What keeps you there?
“I was always fascinated with electricity as a child. My earliest memory of the existence of electricity came when I was roughly 4 years old, and placed my index finger in an empty Christmas tree light socket. Talk about shock and awe! By the 9th grade I knew that I wanted to be an electrical engineer, and specifically at an electric utility. I liked the fact that the power engineering career path for an electrical engineer would afford me the opportunity to work on large systems with big prime movers, complex system protection schemes and high voltage lines.
“Today, I realize what an important role electric utilities play in our communities and economy and how we truly “Power Life”. We make a real difference to the lives of our customers, employees and the communities we serve through economic development activities and philanthropic donations. I also find the history of the industry fascinating, and enjoy collecting vintage utility equipment and documents. Finally, I truly enjoy being around the people I work with and for at Entergy. You won’t find a better group of people to spend your waking, work-day hours with.”
Q) If you had everything to do over, what would you do differently in that early part of your career?
“In the early years of my career, I would have worked in other parts of the company outside the wires business. I spent a long period of time in the distribution and transmission organizations, and missed out on learning experiences in other parts of the business. It becomes more difficult to move around as you ascend higher in an organization. I believe that breadth of experience is an important asset for leaders of the overall business. “
Rick Riley, CEO of Entergy Arkansas
Editor’s Note: If you are part of utility or grid-sector company who has someone with a story to tell and want to be part of the “How did you get Your Start in the Grid?” series, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous “Get Your Start” story about Greg Ferree of Southern California Edison.