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During the hustle and bustle that has been the last few months of 2021, Pulaski Electric System has welcomed a familiar face to serve as Chief Executive Officer of the public utility.

Dr. Scott Newton was chosen in September to serve as CEO in a full-time capacity after serving as Acting CEO following the resignation of previous CEO, Richard Kelley, in late March. Newton and the Power Board agreed to a five-year contract that pays $135,000 in the first year.

Power Board Chairman Marcus Houston said recently that, from the early feedback the board has been getting, bringing Newton in as CEO has been a successful hire.

“It’s working out tremendously well,” Houston said. “The feedback we are getting is that our team likes the way he does things.”

Developing team chemistry, developing the next generation of leadership at PES and keeping PES Energize on track to meet broadband funding deadlines were among the main reasons Newton was ultimately hired as full-time CEO after serving just over three months as acting CEO, Houston said.

In April, Newton took a leave of absence from the Power Board to serve as acting CEO while the board sought a permanent replacement for Kelley.

By June the Power Board had narrowed its candidates down to five, including Newton, who had initially thought he was not interested in serving permanently.

With grant deadlines fast approaching, Newton said he realized how important having a CEO with knowledge of the system was going to be to PES being involved in the government expansion of broadband service.

“I felt PES would be best served with consistent leadership through the process,” he said. “Over the following months things have changed and the deadlines have been pushed back but at the time we had no indication that would occur.”

Newton officially resigned his position on the board of directors after being named CEO.

Before all of that took place, Houston said he met with the leadership team at PES to gauge their interest in the CEO opening and get their input on what the new CEO should look like to continue the progress made with Kelley as CEO.

“We see ourselves at PES like we’re the most progressive in the county just based on what we are,” Houston said, noting that the search for a CEO also brought with it a desire to make sure that no matter who was hired this time, the next CEO could come from within the PES ranks. “The most valuable thing you have is your people and when you go through this you realize what you have — we’ve got a really good team here. What we ended up with was looking for somebody who had a general knowledge of business, how to run a business, how to manage people and as much as possible we wanted them to have some kind of background with electrical and some form of touching base on an IT or technical side.”

With none of the current leadership looking to move into the role of CEO at this time, the Power Board went through the process of seeking candidates. Ultimately, they landed five, two of which emerged as the top choices, according to Houston. Newton was one of the top choices along with “a young lady from this area” who was very strong in Houston’s eyes.

“We liked both and would have been happy with both,” Houston said, noting that he thought it would have been great for Giles County and Pulaski to have a female CEO at Pulaski Electric System. “The only thing she was missing was her familiarity with IT, broadband, TV side. Going through the last two years, dealing with the pandemic, you see how important cable, internet, wifi broadband is to the community.”

With the federal and state governments channeling billions in broadband expansion, the new CEO, Houston said needed to have some knowledge in those areas.

“That was key to us, and that’s what made the deciding factor was the fact that Scott had a familiarity with that from being on the board,” Houston said. “He had an understanding of the issue. There was no catch-up time. The broadband money and the grant money were coming now and we needed to make a decision.”

Houston said it was also very important for the community, from PES employees down to the students in Giles County schools to see that the opportunity to advance here in their home community is available.

“It was important to get somebody here who was from here,” Houston said. “It’s important for our kids in our community to see that if you’re invested in this community and you have knowledge acquired somewhere else, but you also have the love and desire to come back, we need to reward those people. That’s important for our kids to see — you can come home.”

For the Power Board, Newton provided a strong mixture of knowledge, business acumen and a desire to help develop a new generation of leadership at PES that meets the same requirements the board was looking for in this year’s search, Houston said.

“Scott is big on leadership and career development,” Houston said. “Everything we are doing here now is about everybody working together to achieve a goal.”

By everybody, Houston stressed that Newton’s previous role as a board member has helped integrate the board into its proper role as a member of the team as well.

With over a decade as a board member and a few months as CEO under his belt, Newton answered a few questions about PES, including some of the biggest challenges moving forward.

Q: What has worked well?

A: PES has great employees who are eager to serve the community which has made the transition rather smooth.

Q: What has been a big challenge?

A: Learning and negotiating through municipality rules. An example, as a private company if you need a service or equipment to solve a problem, you simply analyze the product/service available, make your decision and purchase. With a municipality you have that leeway with small purchases but larger ones require multiple steps to achieve the purchase.

Q: From board member to CEO, what’s the biggest difference?

A: As a board member we focused our attention to the overall direction of the company, providing a vision, and leaving the details of how to achieve the vision to the CEO and staff.

We also served as a check and balance for the recommended strategies and ensured fiscal responsibility. As the CEO, I work with the team to design and implement the strategies as well as hold the team accountable for the results. 

Q: Coming from the perspective of a business owner and a PES customer, what would you tell the average customer that they don’t know about PES?

A: First, PES is in sound financial standing. The electrical and Energize divisions have their eye on the future and are in the process of making significant changes over the next 5 years that will improve the reliability, quality and competitive structure while remaining affordable.

Q: What are some the biggest challenges you see moving forward?

A: On the electrical side we see an “electrification” of vehicles on the horizon.

The major car and truck companies along with new startups are pushing a major change within the decade. The increased need for home charging will place more demand on our transformers. Transformers are intended to work near their max level for efficiency but adding more demand will require replacing with larger transformers.

As for the ability to service the increased electrical load, we and TVA have more than adequate capabilities.

On the Energize side we see the large amount of federal money being provided for broadband and we have to navigate through the regulations to ensure we fight for every possible dollar for the citizens of Giles County.

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