By Matt Nauman
Anthony F. Earley Jr., a utility-industry leader with decades of experience running electric, natural gas and nuclear operations, will join PG&E Corporation next month as its new chairman, chief executive officer and president.
The announcement was made today by the board of directors of PG&E Corporation. (Read about the reaction to Earley’s appointment.)
Lee Cox, the company’s interim chairman and CEO, praised Earley as “a highly respected, proven CEO who will provide fresh eyes and strong leadership as we focus on public safety and operations excellence.”
Tony Earley has been running DTE Energy, based in Michigan and one of the nation’s top gas-and-electric utilities, as executive chairman. From 1998 to 2010, he was CEO of DTE Energy, the parent company of Detroit Edison and Michigan Consolidated Gas Co., which provide gas and electric service to more than 3 million customers.
At DTE Energy, Earley’s focus was on operational excellence, safety and reliability.
Earley becomes the first top executive in PG&E’s 106-year history to come from outside the company. He brings a rare combination of life experiences and business acumen to PG&E. He supervised nuclear submarine technicians on the USS Hawkbill as a Navy officer. He was an attorney who worked cases and recruited new talent to help his firm grow. And as a utility executive in New York and Michigan, he dealt with a gamut of responsibilities from supervising daily operations to crisis management.
“The person best qualified’
“We looked across the industry and found the person best qualified to help us win back public confidence,” Cox said.
Earley, 62, will join PG&E on Sept. 13. He succeeds Peter Darbee, who retired as chairman and CEO in April.
“PG&E has a proud legacy,” said Earley. “It’s a great privilege to help an iconic company recover from its recent challenges and reclaim its standing as a utility others admire and aspire to follow.” To hear an audio interview with Earley, click here.
Earley’s hiring is the latest in a series of strategic moves by PG&E to enhance and improve its gas and electric operations. Actions include hiring a new leader for PG&E’s gas business, promoting a long-time electric industry executive to lead PG&E’s electric business and separating the gas and electric departments to improve efficiency, reliability, safety and focus.
Notre Dame, nuclear submarine and utilities
A graduate of Notre Dame University with multiple degrees (undergraduate in physics and graduate in engineering and law), Earley was a U.S. Navy officer on a nuclear submarine and an attorney early in his career. He joined Long Island Lighting in 1985, serving as that company’s president and COO from 1989 to 1994.
“I went from a nuclear submarine, to a law firm, to a utility,” he said. “If a career counselor had talked to me years ago, I doubt if they would have charted my course for success just the way it turned out. But I have tried to use each experience to learn new skills that would be a foundation for the next step.”
He moved to Michigan when he joined Detroit Edison as president and COO in 1994.
Throughout his career, Earley has been instrumental in formulating utility industry policy nationwide. During his recent tenure as chairman of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an industry trade group, he worked on crafting policies on such significant issues such as climate change, energy efficiency and the emergence of electric vehicles. He also is a past chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute.
“Tony pulled the industry together to develop a common proactive position supporting a reasonable and affordable approach to climate change enabling us to be a constructive force in the discussions,” said Tom Kuhn, EEI’s president and CEO.
“He is highly respected across our industry,” Kuhn said.
Earley also has shown his stripes as a leader during a crisis. During a massive, seven-state blackout in 2003 – which started at an Ohio utility – Earley held seven news conferences in three days to keep his customers informed and reassured. His actions drew praise from the Michigan governor, business leaders and customers. A Detroit newspaper columnist praised him as the “blackout’s bright spot.”
Jennifer Granholm, Michigan’s governor at that time, called Earley a “calming influence” and praised him as “a leader we could rely on to be open, honest and accountable.”
Getting ‘satisfaction from your job’
In a speech, Earley once told an audience that “life is too short not to get satisfaction from your job.”
He continued, “I sincerely believe that when you change, the world around you changes. In every job I held, I was convinced that I could control the situation, or at least make a difference. And that’s a pretty empowering feeling. It starts with the belief that one person can make a difference, and the realization that the one person is you.”
One of the places where he made a difference was Michigan, where he became known for his charitable works and civic involvement, especially with efforts to revive Detroit, a city that has suffered more than its share of economic woes. He chaired an initiative to raise corporate funds for redevelopment projects, and he made DTE Energy part of a plan to encourage employees to move to downtown Detroit.
He has said he will bring that same enthusiasm for where he lives and works to Northern and Central California when he joins PG&E.
To read more about PG&E’s announcement, click here.