CEO of Tucson Electric Power to Share Her Journey at EMACS 2021
By Russ Henderson, Senior Research Manager –
This year’s virtual EMACS, the Customer Experience Conference, will start off tomorrow with a keynote presentation from one of the most exciting new leaders in the industry: Susan Gray, President and Chief Executive Officer of Tucson Electric Power.
You can still register for the conference here.
Gray’s story is an remarkable one: She began her TEP career 26 years ago as a student intern. She was hired as a system engineer in 1997 and advanced through several engineering and leadership roles before being named Vice President of Energy Delivery in 2015.
She was promoted to Senior Vice President in 2018 and in January of this year became President and Chief Operating Officer of UNS Energy and its subsidiaries, including Tucson Electric Power and UniSource Energy Services.
Chartwell sat down for an interview with Gray last week to discuss her journey, recent challenges and future leadership at the Arizona company.
“I’m fortunate to have inherited a really well-run company, so I have the opportunity to take it from great to even better,” Gray said.
Gray had the added advantage of having spent her entire career at TEP.
“A lot of leaders really spend the first year getting their feet under them. Getting to know the people, understanding the company and the culture and practices. And I was able to hit the ground running,” she said.
Gray regards her years at TEP as a training ground for her leadership role.
“I’ve learned from some amazing mentors along the way, especially (previous CEO) David Hutchens. He’s just an incredible leader and someone I really admire. I’ve learned a lot from him. But I also learned what I didn’t want to be as a leader. Not every boss I had was a shining example.”
Like any effective leader, Gray has also learned from her own mistakes.
“When I was first promoted to superintendent from supervisor, that was really my first role as a leader of leaders. This was in the line construction group. There were three other line construction supervisors that had applied for the job. All of us shared our vision for the department.”
Gray immediately began implementing her own vision without integrating any of the aspects of the other leaders.
“Once I was awarded the position, I set out to implement my vision. It was not a collaborative vision. I didn’t incorporate the other three guys’ visions and I just charged forward with mine. Three months later, I looked back and realized that I was completely pulling them along. There was no buy-in. There was no energy around my vision.
“I think that, before that, I thought that collaboration was more like checking a box – that you had to run your plans by these three people, and now your plans have been signed off on. Let’s go! Now, I would say that I’m much more of a listener. I really want to hear the diverse opinions in the room. I really want to create that safe space where people feel comfortable sharing their opinions. That’s not easy to do.”
As Gray came into her leadership position in January, a major priority was to refresh the company vision, its mission statements and its values.
“We really wanted them more employee-centric, so we went through an employee-centric process to get feedback from employees. In some ways our values are aspirational. You know, it’s not just a reflection of who we are today, but really who we want to be going forward, and so some of that we have some work to do, particularly in like in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Gray will discuss those values in her presentation, tomorrow.
A major trend in the industry in recent years is an increased amount of turnover. Not so long ago, employees stayed at their utility for many decades. Now, there is a lot more movement within the industry as well as to and from other industries.
Asked what advice she would give someone new to the industry, Gray said her best advice is simple:
“Be curious. Ask a million questions. You need to learn how to do your job and do it in an excellent way. But also understand how your job impacts the rest of the organization. Start to reach out and figure out the touch points of what you do and how it impacts other parts of the organization until you ultimately understand how all of it works.”
Gray will discuss these and other themes in her presentation tomorrow, Leadership During Transformative Times: A Personal Journey. You can learn more about our exciting agenda for this year’s EMACS here.