July 14, 2024

The Boss: Energy at an Early Age

At 13, I became a window cleaner. My mother lent me the money for ladders, a bucket and some chamois leathers. The city had a lot of smog, so I always had work.

After my father’s death when I was 16, I decided to learn a trade. I worked as an apprentice toolmaker for four years and took engineering classes at night at what was then the Salford College of Technology. I probably made $11 a week, so I kept the window-cleaning business on the side.

When I was 21, I enrolled full time in a three-year engineering program at Salford and afterward got a job as a production engineer.

In 1972, the coal miners went on strike. At the ad company where my wife worked, the employees worked by candlelight and wore gloves to keep warm. I decided to apply for jobs in other countries and found a position working on jet engines in Canada.

Next, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry, took night courses and earned the designation of professional engineer from the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario. In 1978, I joined Schlumberger, which sold metering, data collection and other software applications to the utility industry. I started as a production superintendent and later was director of operations. 

Then came the worst job I ever had, when I was promoted to vice president and general manager of a division in Oxnard, Calif., in 1987. The group made pressure transducers and pressure transmitters for the aerospace and industrial industry. Some products, which measured the fuel tank pressure, were used in satellites. It turned out that the products needed a total redesign. The job was a nightmare and it took three years to break even. The division was eventually sold.

Once, when we didn’t deliver on time, I had to visit a concerned customer. About 30 people were present, including government executives. We didn’t meet our second date, either, so I had to return and appear before the top brass who were seated at a U-shaped table. I was determined to meet the final date, and we did. A manufacturer cannot miss a satellite launch.

The biggest risk I ever took was to leave Schlumberger and join one of our suppliers that sold thermal printers. A few years later, the company became overleveraged and filed for bankruptcy. The turnaround firm that was brought in suggested that I take a two-week vacation, which was a humbling experience. I eventually left on good terms.

I rejoined Schlumberger in 2000 and was appointed president of the Resource Management Services division, which was sold to Itron in 2004. The division made meters — including new, electronic ones — for measuring electricity use.

In 2009, after spending time in Europe to manage a new acquisition, I became Itron’s C.E.O.

It’s an exciting time to be in this industry. People have been talking about a viable energy policy in this country since 1973, but can’t seem to agree on what to do. The way we manage the world’s energy and water will shape this century. We want to be part of that.

Because I travel so much, time at home is precious. I sometimes like to get my hands dirty. Recently I bought seven trees and planted them. It was nice to do manual work and to be outside.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a3bd2588be2792ea41d4df4793afb55e

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