By David Kligman
SAN FRANCISCO — Calling it a humbling and exciting moment, Geisha Williams today (March 1) began her tenure as the top executive at PG&E Corporation, a milestone moment for the venerable energy company.
Williams is PG&E’s first female CEO and president in the company’s 150-plus years and the first Latina to serve as CEO and president of a Fortune 500 company.
Her first day on the job began with a keynote speech to top business leaders at a San Francisco Chamber of Commerce event. Other speakers included San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Tallia Hart, the chamber’s new CEO and the first woman to head that organization.
Business leaders cheered loudly as San Francisco Giants public address announcer Renel Brooks-Moon introduced Williams, highlighting the historic firsts her PG&E leadership represents.
“I am so incredibly delighted and grateful for the opportunity to lead PG&E — this iconic company that truly is part of the fabric of California’s rich history,” Williams told members of the chamber.
Williams succeeds Tony Earley, who now serves as executive chair of the PG&E Corporation Board of Directors. As part of PG&E’s new leadership team, Nick Stavropoulos becomes president and chief operating officer of PG&E.
In her speech, Williams talked about immigrating with her parents to the United States from Cuba when she was 5. Speaking no English, they arrived in Minnesota and later settled in New Jersey where her family opened a grocery store.
“Despite all the hardships, my parents really were able to build a great life for us,” she said.
The theme of the Chamber’s CityBeat event was “The Changing Climate,” appropriate for PG&E’s efforts to significantly increase the amount of clean energy it delivers to millions of Californians.
It was a message that resonated with the business crowd, which applauded when she noted that almost 70 percent of the electricity that PG&E delivers is free of greenhouse gases. Nearly 33 percent of PG&E’s energy is from state-qualified renewables, four years ahead of California’s 2020 goal.
And PG&E supports almost 25 percent of all private solar rooftops in the nation — nearly 300,000 rooftop solar customers.
She acknowledged that California by itself can’t solve climate change. But the power of California’s example can have great influence, she said.
“Other states, even other countries, are watching California,” she said. “Our efforts over the next 10 to 15 years are going to have an impact far beyond our borders.”
She pointed to three things that are needed to make this clean energy future a reality:
- Recognizing the critical importance of our energy infrastructure, especially the electric grid
- Making sure that communities and people aren’t left behind during that transition
- And being open to new ways of thinking about the support needed to build and maintain the system
Beyond clean energy, Williams said customers can expect to see PG&E continuing to focus on safety, continuing to invest and integrate technology into its system, reducing costs and advocating for smart energy policies while keeping rates affordable and equitable.
“We also know that we can’t do things alone,” said Williams, who pledged to work closely with business leaders. “We’re better together. So, you’re going to see us reaching out and engaging, working to build coalitions, establishing partnerships.”
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.