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Restructuring Utility Leadership

How Exelon uses its human resources department as a strategic weapon.

Fortnightly Magazine - September 2005

your career with a manufacturer of building materials. What made you decide to join the utilities industry?

Snodgrass: I was at a stage in my career when I needed a great challenge. Rather than spend time tweaking human resource programs and initiatives that were already strong, I wanted the opportunity to make a lasting difference in an industry that I believe is vital to our society. And, in this industry, there were tremendous opportunities for both personal and professional growth.

I don't know of any other company, or for that matter any other industry, where you can make that kind of impact from the instant you walk in the door. It's very invigorating. That is why when I speak with executives who are contemplating changing industries, I look for that same type of infectious excitement and passion.

Shields: What career advice would you give an executive interested in transitioning into the utilities industry?

Snodgrass: It isn't for the faint of heart. Despite all of the opportunities for personal and professional fulfillment, it's a tough industry, a tough business. You've got to be committed to the long haul in an environment of chaos. If you're after the short-term gain, then don't come here. This industry requires commitment, perseverance and boldness. It takes time to change, so you've got to be willing to plant the seed, lay the foundation, nurture change and push the envelope, but while doing all of these things, remember that it takes time.

To manage a career in the utilities industry—be it as an insider or someone coming from outside—I highly recommend that executives seek out different assignments, as the route to the top is no longer linear. I also recommend that executives become financially or business savvy, as it is increasingly important in this industry, and we need talent with this understanding.

Shields: What do you foresee as being most important for the future of Exelon?

Snodgrass: Obviously, we've been doing a few things right. Under the direction of John Rowe and his leadership team, we are the largest—and continuing to grow—utility holding company in the U.S. in terms of market cap. We have the largest number of electric customers. We had the highest operating net earnings last year. We are pushing the envelope and we're leveraging our strengths. Are we perfect? No. Have we got a lot of work to do? Yes, but if you look at where we were before the merger, we were in the middle of the pack. Since the merger [between Unicom and PECO Energy] and the push for a cultural transformation at Exelon, the results speak for themselves. Talent at every level matters, and you can see the impact that our talent is making in our financial results, industry standing, and growth.

That is why, from a leadership perspective, there will always be a need for intellectual champions of change—not just at Exelon but throughout the utilities industry. We need dynamic, flexible leaders who will challenge the and drive results. We've gotten so far at Exelon, but we still have more to do.