By Tracy Correa
It’s an ambitious goal but one that Tony Earley, PG&E’s CEO, chairman and president, believes employees can meet: raise a collective $5.6 million for worthy organizations and schools through the utility’s annual Campaign for the Community.
The Campaign kicks off today (Sept. 18). And, for the first time, PG&E’s top leader – who has a long history of giving — will lead the employee challenge.
Earley joined PG&E in 2011, after three decades running utilities in Michigan and New York. In Detroit, Earley was involved in the effort to revive that city’s fortunes, including its educational system. He also worked with the United Way and the Detroit zoo.
During his first year at PG&E, Earley concentrated on the company’s immediate needs, temporarily putting volunteer work on the back burner.
Now, he said, “I am starting to look at what would be of interest and where I could make the most difference. There are a couple of areas I’m looking at and where I’ve been asked to become involved.”
And this includes running the employee-giving campaign. The goal is to surpass last year’s record $5.3 million that was dispersed to 4,500 organizations selected by participating employees. In the past, employees have designated money to nonprofit organizations such as the Tehama County Special Olympics and to South Bay School in Eureka. The company often matches those donations.
Giving back says a lot about a company and its people, Earley said in an interview with Currents.
“The success of our company is important. But it’s also important for people to give back,” he said. “It says that our workers understand the important role they play in our state and our commitment to community.”
PG&E’s past campaigns have been successful because of employees, Earley said. “Our employees understand the unique circumstances in California. People are struggling in this economy and it’s putting extreme pressure on these organizations – and our employees realize they can step up.”
Last year, about 41 percent (or more than 8,000) employees took part in the Campaign, as did many retirees. Earley hopes to encourage more employees to participate this year.
Earley’s commitment to giving
Earley has a deep-seated and personal commitment to civic involvement and community charity — he doesn’t just talk the talk.
The busy CEO earned respect and admiration for his giving and for his community service in both Michigan and New York. When he oversaw DTE Energy, Michigan’s largest utility headquartered in Detroit, he contributed to and served on the boards of several nonprofits, including the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, the Detroit Zoological Society and Cornerstone Schools. He also served on the board of the United Way of Long Island.
At Cornerstone, a system of independent, nonprofit schools serving inner-city Detroit students, Earley not only served on the board and contributed financially, but he and his wife Sarah volunteered as student mentors. The school has a rigorous academic program that challenges students from neighborhoods with a low graduation rate. According to Cornerstone, 95 percent of its students go on to graduate high school.
For years, Earley mentored a young student who was in second or third grade when the two first met, said Ernestine Sanders, Cornerstone’s president and CEO. “Tony gave of his time, talent and treasure with this young man,” as did Sarah Earley, she said. “Tony even went to some of his ball games.”
The young man is now in high school and doing well.
Sanders said Earley isn’t your average CEO, because he goes above and beyond. “He could write the check. But he also came to activities, talked to families… did things he didn’t have to do. He has a great heart.”
When told that Earley would be shepherding this year’s annual employee-giving campaign at PG&E, Sanders said he will be a great motivator. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you meet or exceed your goal,” she said.
Earley said that working with Cornerstone was “incredibly rewarding.” Earley’s son now works with the Detroit school, picking up where his father left off.
As Earley enters his second year at PG&E, and in California, he has begun to seek opportunities.
That includes the United Way of the Bay Area and the new Exploratorium, a museum “of science, art and human perception” building a new facility. Earley is already on the executive committee of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored, public policy advocacy organization.
The United Way would be a familiar role for Earley, who said he respects the organization’s “ability to deal with the challenges of poverty in the area in a coordinated way.” He called the Exploratorium a “perfect fit” with PG&E as the company shares in supporting science and technology education.
But Earley’s immediate focus will be motivating PG&E employees to give during the Campaign for Community.
“I want employees to know just how important this is for the organizations in their communities,” said Earley.
His goal: “To get those who gave, to give a little more. And to get those who didn’t to do so.”
Click here to learn more about PG&E’s Community Investment Programs.
Email Tracy Correa at email@example.com.