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The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. Each two weeks we’ll connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network...

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Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast Episode #29: 'Rising to the Moment, But Creating a Movement' with Garrick Rochow, CEO of Consumers Energy

Posted to Energy Central in the Utility Management Group

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Taking a new job is always a big moment filled with excitement and nerves, but imagine taking over as CEO with the company with which you’ve spent nearly two decades. Now imagine also doing so amid a global pandemic and economic crisis. That’s the situation that Garrick Rochow found himself in just a few months ago when he became the CEO of Consumers Energy, the public utility that provides power and gas to 6.6 million people in Michigan. But rather than approach this new appointment as just a challenge, Garrick has embraced his role as CEO at this critical juncture in our nation’s history as an unprecedented opportunity to ensure the utility was doing all the right things—from clean energy to diversity & inclusion to supporting local communities, and more. Garrick has sought to ensure Consumers Energy continues to fulfill not only its obligations as a public utility, but also go several steps further in creating the type of change that’s needed for the future.

In this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast, Garrick joins host Jason Price and producer Matt Chester to share his vision for everything a public utility can and should do for its customers, whether during normal times or at a moment of crisis. Garrick’s passion for his co-workers and customers, as well as the industry at large, are indeed palpable, and this episode seeks to catch that enthusiasm and make it contagious for all listeners. In discussing important topics like utility transformation and decarbonization, steady and calm leadership, and supporting communities in need, Garrick shares his many goals and aspirations for Consumers Energy in the years to come, and under his guidance this utility will surely continue to be one to watch for years to come.

Prefer to Read vs. Listening? Scroll Down to Read Transcript.

Thanks to the sponsors of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West MonroeEsriAnterix, and ScottMadden

 

Key Links
Garrick Rochow's Energy Central Profile: https://energycentral.com/member/profile/garrick-rochow/about 

 

TRANSCRIPT

Jason Price:

Welcome to Energy Central's Power Perspectives podcast, podcast series devoted to the energy and utility industry. Since 2019, we have discussed the dynamics of our power system with leading minds in science and technology and policy and industry. Today's episode is part of our leadership series, where we step into the C-suite and discuss directly with executives about the challenges facing the utility of the future. I'm your host, Jason Price of West Monroe, recording from New York city. And joining me from Orlando, Florida, is Energy Central's community manager, Matt Chester.

Jason Price:

Matt, we usually jump right into the discussion, but I want to take a moment to reflect on the people in the state of Texas who have faced hardship from the recent storm. On behalf of Energy Central, I want to give special attention to all the men and women pulling all nighters, servicing the grid, braving through blizzard conditions, up on the power lines and utility poles to bring power back for everyone. If you've seen the photos, then you know what I'm talking about. We must not forget that these professionals are putting their lives on the line, literally, to get the electrons, gas, and water flowing.

Matt Chester: 

You're absolutely right, Jason. And for those outside the industry, they may not think too much about the hard work that utility workers put in day in and day out to keep the grid humming 24/7. They don't recognize how critical it is until something goes wrong, which happened recently for so many in Texas. So, our thoughts are with those who are impacted, and we thank the people in the field working to restore power, and those who are working constantly behind the scenes all the time, even when the spotlight isn't on them.

Jason Price:

That's right. Thank you, Matt. I could not have said it any better. Before we dig in, let's thank our sponsors who have made this episode possible. To West Monroe, West Monroe works with the nation's largest electric gas and water utilities and their telecommunication, grid modernization, and digital and workforce transformations. West Monroe brings a multidisciplinary team that blends utility operations and technology expertise to address modernizing aging infrastructure, advisory on transportation electrification, ADMS deployments, DER and cybersecurity. To Esri, an international supplier of geographic information, GIS software, web GIS, and geo database management applications.

Jason Price:

To Anterix, focused on delivering transformative broadband that enables the modernization of critical infrastructure for the energy, transportation, logistics, and other sectors of our economy. And to ScottMadden, a management consulting firm serving clients across the energy utility ecosystem. Areas of focus include transmission and distribution, the grid edge, generation, energy markets, rates and regulations, corporate sustainability and corporate services. The firm helps clients develop and implement strategies, improve critical operations. We organize departments and entire companies, and implement myriad initiatives.

Jason Price:

Back in August of 2020, Patti Poppe, then CEO of Consumers Energy joined us for the leadership series. We were only six months into the pandemic, and you may recall Patti brought us into the C-suite and walked us through what those early days of the pandemic felt like from the desk of a CEO. In December, only three months ago, Patti took the helm of PG&E, and the baton was handed to the distinguished veteran within the ranks of Consumers Energy. Today's guest is Garrick Rochow, the new CEO. Consumers Energy is number 443 in the fortune 500 largest public companies, and number 22 of the top 25 IOUs in the fortune 500. Garrick joined Consumers Energy in 2003 on the generation side of the business, and now leads the company nearly 20 years later.

Jason Price:

Garrick has a lot on his plate, and we're thrilled to have him join us in the virtual studio where he will discuss what the transition to the role of CEO was like during these unprecedented times, and dive into the vision for the utility moving forward, one that centers around leadership, transformation, and community. Garrick Rochow, CEO of Consumers Energy, welcome to the Power Perspectives podcast.

Garrick Rochow:

Thank you, Jason, for having me today. I also want to comment quickly on the situation in Texas. Our hearts go out to the residents and our utility partners in Texas as they dealt with statewide outages and historically cold temperatures in February.

Jason Price:

Absolutely. Garrick, let's start off with, I want to congratulate your appointment to Consumers Energy. When you first got into the energy business years ago, did you ever see yourself becoming a utility CEO?

Garrick Rochow:

I've worked in the utility business for my entire career. And when I came to Consumers Energy in 2003, to be honest, it felt like coming back to home. I was not just returning to Jackson, Michigan from the West side of the state, but I was returning to accompany my dad worked at. I love being out with our coworkers, meeting with line crews, or gas crews, witnessing our commitment to serve, that is what makes me excited each and every day.

Jason Price:

That sounds great. So tell us, you've been Consumers CEO since December, has your leadership style evolved since taking over as CEO, and what are you doing to involve your coworkers in to the leadership style?

Garrick Rochow:

One of the things I believe, I believe in leader intent. Which is simply a concise statement of what we must do to succeed. From my perspective, the importance of leader intent is just the thoughtful recognition that empowerment can not be achieved by telling people what to do, but where we're headed. If the intent is known, the leaders will view all of their decisions through that lens. We'll make the best decision given the direction and conditions in the moment.

Garrick Rochow:

I've been very transparent with my coworkers at Consumers Energy on my leader intent. Number one, leading the clean energy transition. And my guess is, we'll spend a lot of time on this today. And then number two, our pursuit of excellence through the CE way. And number three, cultivating our culture, ensuring our leaders create the environment that reflects our values.

Jason Price:

I know you've been in the role for only a few months, but it's been clear early and often that the name of the game for you is transformation, and particularly the commitment to net zero. Let's start with the basics here, because it's not always clear when you look to the transition to net zero, how are you defining that goal?

Garrick Rochow:

Quite simply for us it means eliminating the impact of carbon emissions created by electricity we generate or purchase. Yes purchase, that's included as well, for all our customers by 2040. Most only look at their own generation. We look at all. We have set the bar higher. If I could elaborate a bit more, we are in the midst of transforming the industry. My coworkers are leading the way in delivering clean, renewable, and increasingly affordable energy. We are proud to be a clean energy leader in Michigan and the nation, having already retired seven coal plants, with plans to close the remaining five by 2040.

Garrick Rochow:

But we aren't satisfied with where we stand today. We're aiming to transform the energy industry, and to do so it's going to take increased innovation with a focus on excellence. In terms of how we get there, our clean energy plan is the starting point. We will also eliminate coal, boost renewable fuel sources and help customers reduce energy use and waste. We may also offset the remaining fraction through strategies such as carbon sequestration, landfill methane capture, and or large scale tree planting.

Jason Price: 

All right. So with the understanding of decarbonisation and whether it is possible, and where perhaps there will be tougher challenges, what are the specific priorities you're putting in place programmatically and technologically to achieve this type of transformation?

Garrick Rochow:

We're obviously relying more heavily on clean, renewable sources such as wind and solar. We plan, for example, to add more than 6,000 megawatts of solar by 2040. And those efforts are well underway. Earlier this month, we began operating our sixth wind farm. We're also working to optimize, in lower peak demand through tools like energy efficiency and demand response. Our customers, they're important to success here. We needed them to join our movement by participating in a wide variety of programs to help them save energy and money. Our natural gas operations are equally important. We've cut methane emissions by 15%, and we have a plan to achieve net zero methane emissions by 2030.

Garrick Rochow:

Those efforts include accelerating the replacement of aging pipe, rehabilitating or retiring outdated infrastructure, updating our compression fleet with modern, efficient and clean technology. We're beginning to look beyond our operations to help customers and suppliers reduce greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas sources. We want to lead a smart, clean energy transition to help the environment while continuing to safely deliver the energy our customers need in a cold weather, Midwestern state.

Matt Chester: 

So Garrick, it seems one of the key task is cutting through almost all the buzzwords and actually talking about change. So it's great to hear you speak about how well thought out the goals that consumers are. I'm wondering if you could also touch a bit more about how you're making sure this transformation isn't just a check box at the management level, but is actually something pervading all the decisions that are being made in the work being done.

Garrick Rochow:

What'll offer is this, there are many companies out there with ESG type pursuits, environment social and governance type pursuits. And I will offer this, over the course, even my career in the utility industry, two decades, we used to operate 12 coal plants. I led much of the operations of those 12 coal plants. Seven of those plants are retired, and some of them are even back to green grass. And so we've got a, even before ESG was a thing, and was frankly cool, we have been active in retirement, active in a pursuit of the planet. Because we recognize the climate change is real. And we play a role in that. And we, again, need to make a difference. We need to do our part. So one of the things we do, we talk about really across our company is not just our history, but we need to continue to be on that trend and continue to lead this clean energy transformation.

Garrick Rochow:

Often we talk about what I call catalysts. And what catalysts are, is really a springboard that, again, move us forward in our strategic direction. Net zero carbon by 2040 is example. These catalysts are how we measure, they become proof points. And the proof point is in fact the documentation that we're moving along that path. And so I look for these catalysts, I look to see that we are making progress on our journey. And we measured these across the company. We measure them in terms of our strategic roadmaps in these catalytic type events that are the springboards that move us forward in this direction.

Garrick Rochow:

So example, we're going to file an integrated resource plan in June, year of 2020. And that will be that's our version two, and it'll be a leap forward in terms of our transition here. And, again, us leading this clean energy transformation, that is a catalyst. It is a springboard that will move us forward. And so, that's how we ensure that is in fact, not just words, not just buzz words, but it's actions in these proof points across our company.

Jason Price

Let's talk about that a bit more. Let's talk about this commitment to operational excellence and how you operationalize these efforts internally. Where and how do you see this fitting into the overall transformation that you started talking about?

Garrick Rochow:

Well, excellence is at the core of our purpose. Our purpose as a company is world-class performance, delivering hometown service. I'm going to repeat that, world-class performance delivering hometown service. That is the mark of excellence. And it's about running a company that does good things, and again, on the blocking and tackling, but is also prepared to lead the clean energy transformation all while caring for our customers. And so it's a lot of yes and yes, and we can do all of the above. So what does this look like? It's redefining our relationship with our union workforce, ensuring that they are as much a part of our corporate culture as any employee. It's safety. Safety is key to what we do, that's throughout the industry. I have a particular passion in this space. And it is about deepening our focus on keeping our coworkers and our customers safe.

Garrick Rochow:

It's in the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion. That also is part of our journey and excellence. I'd love to talk more about moment versus a movement. Also regarding lean, we reference it as a CE way. It's called lean. These lean principles give us the tools to better service our customers. It's the pathway to excellence. It's also continuing to deliver an exceptional customer experience. The results matter, the blocking and tackling of our business matters. And so we can look forward, and we do look for and prepare for the future, but we need deliver excellence every day across our company.

Jason Price:

Garrick, the utility business is a very local and visible member of the community. A top priority for you has been the service to the community in giving back, especially because of the hardship that COVID has caused. Can you talk about why you find this to be such a pillar for utility, and how do you go about making sure the programs you're putting in place are helping the people as best as possible?

Garrick Rochow:

Our coworkers have a heart of service. That's one of the things that I love about our company. And for utilities, but I would say with Consumers Energy, the safety and of our communities has always been a top priority. And that is especially true during this COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us have experienced what this pandemic looks like, and we sprung into action. Our company and our charitable foundation, in the midst of it all, adjusted our strategy, our charitable giving strategy changed. And we focused on basic needs for our customers, just like everyone saw on food and shelter, in particular. We've worked with nonprofits and economic development agencies to understand their needs, and we've worked hard, particularly in this small business area. They have been particularly impacted and affected by the challenges of this pandemic.

Garrick Rochow:

Through our nonprofits, $5.4 million to these efforts. And then our company offered another $15 million help customers with their energy bills. We've also provided over $1 million to help small businesses in a variety of ways, in very creative ways. We've matched gift cards, dollar for dollar being and sold in over 50 communities. And we supported a program in Jackson, and this was really unique, where local restaurants, local restaurants, they made meals using local ingredients, those meals went to those in need, hungry and vulnerable members of the community, really unique program. And one of the last things we did, we partnered with a local hospital in our company's hometown of Jackson, Michigan. And we've had nearly 300 volunteers, my coworkers, volunteer at this vaccine clinic where they're doing the COVID vaccine distribution. So like I said, we have a heart of service, and I love our amazing coworkers and the way they serve, not only our customers each and every day, but our communities.

Matt Chester: 

So the past year, obviously it's been really trying both for businesses and customers, and especially for utilities, the trust and satisfaction factors are so critical. I'm just curious if you found, because of the past year, if there's been any new issues with customer dissatisfaction or the need to regain any trust from customers, or did you find that they were with you each step of the way?

Garrick Rochow:

We have found that our customer, we measure customer satisfaction through Forester and a customer satisfaction index. And so we would see it on a daily basis. We measure it from a field perspective and through some of our other contact points, whether that'd be through the website or traditional means like through our contact centers or call centers. We've seen our customer satisfaction increase. In 2019, we were in second quartile from a customer satisfaction perspective. Over the course of 2020, we move quickly in the first quartile of performance. And we've stayed there even in the first couple months of 2021.

Garrick Rochow:

So we've seen an improvement through a variety of means, but many of the programs we offer, how we're working with our customers during this time of need, how we've improved the way we interface. Again, going back to that point on excellence. Those are a variety of ways. In fact, utilities record the number of complaints, and we are at a record low. We have never served our customers better. Record low number of complaints from our customers. And so, we have been very happy with the way that we've navigated this pandemic. And we feel like the relationship with our customers has improved, which is truly important, given just the nature of things around us from a pandemic and community perspective.

Jason Price:

I've also heard, you mentioned the importance of culture of the consumers energy workforce, support and engagement of your coworkers is essential. Can you talk about what priorities you've emphasized to the Consumers Energy workers as you became CEO?

Garrick Rochow:

I wanted to talk about this. There's a difference between a moment and a movement. A moment, as you know, is an instance in time or an event in time. And a movement most literally is emotion from point a to point B. In social terms movements cause transformations. And I happened to be listening to a webcast on this topic of diversity, equity, inclusion. And they had this debate, whether the events of 2020 were a moment in time or a movement. And at the end of that webcast, they debated it and never really came to conclusion. But I thought after that message, it's the leadership that makes a difference. Leadership in companies, in utilities, in the community is what makes the difference.

Garrick Rochow:

And we get to decide, we get to lead, whether that's just a moment in time or a movement. And as a leader within the company, within Consumers Energy, and a leader within the community, as a leader I choose movement. We all know we must play a role in fostering DNR state. I mean, that seems very obvious, but when you choose movement, it's commitment to make a difference. We have more than 8,000 employees that live here, that work here in our communities. And we believe that a movement is what we need for our communities and for our company.

Jason Price: 

We've mentioned that you're still somewhat new to the CEO role at this stage, but you've also been looking to shape the future of consumers from various roles for nearly two decades. So, I want to close by looking forward, something I know you've spent a lot of time doing personally, what does the future hold for Consumers Energy with you as CEO, and what will customers be able to count on in the years to come?

Garrick Rochow:

Well, you got me so excited about moment versus movement. I want to touch a little bit more on the diversity, equity inclusion. We need to do more in this space as a company, internal the company and with our communities. And frankly, we've got a great record of performance, and you can look at various awards we've won in diversity, equity, inclusion, but it is not enough. To my earlier point, this is movement. I choose movement. So we're embedding diversity, equity, inclusion in everything we do. Much like we've done in safety in the past. It's all about everything we do for the betterment of our employees, customers, and communities. Like I said, I choose movement as a leader, and we choose movement as a company. We stand for diversity, inclusivity in a workplace where all are respected, all are heard and valued, and everyone belongs. That's an important piece.

Garrick Rochow:

That's what our customers can count on. And one more thing, this concept we talked about earlier in the podcast, leading the clean energy transition. Our industry is an important inflection point, it really is. And you can see that whether it's what's going on from federal policy perspective, what's going on in the business community, what's going on from a climate change perspective. And as I stated earlier, we have the opportunity to lead. We get to do that. We have the opportunity to incorporate an energy system, both electric and gas that is safe, reliable, affordable, and clean.

Garrick Rochow:

We don't have to pick and choose. We don't have to stick funds one for the other. We will interface with our customers in new ways and offer a new service and change the way we interact with them, and they interact with energy. Our first major announcement will come with the filing of our integrated resource plan in June of this year, which I talked about earlier. Our customers can count on us to be a leader in this clean energy transformation.

Jason Price: 

I can't think of a better way to close out this with that message you just shared with us, Garrick. Thank you so much for being with us today. We definitely wish you immense success in your work, and in your new role. Thank you for sharing your perspective and your vision with all of us.

Garrick Rochow:

Thanks for having me today.

Jason Price:

You can always reach Garrick Rochow through the Energy Central platform where he welcomes your questions and comments. Once again, I'm your host Jason Price. Plug in and stay fully charged in the discussion by hopping into the community at energycentral.com, and see you next time at the Energy Central Power Perspectives podcast.

 

 


About Energy Central Podcasts

As a reminder, the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is always looking for the authors of the most insightful articles and the members with most impactful voices within the Energy Central community to invite them to discuss further so we can dive even deeper into these compelling topics. Posting twice per month (on the second and fourth Tuesdays), we'll seek to connect with professionals in the utility industry who are engaging in creative or innovative work that will be of interest to their colleagues and peers across the Energy Central community. Some podcasts may be a continuation of thought-provoking posts or discussions started in the community or with an industry leader that is interested in sharing their expertise and doing a deeper dive into hot topics or issues relevant to the industry.

The Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is hosted by Jason PriceCommunity Ambassador of Energy Central. Jason is a Business Development Executive at West Monroe, working in the East Coast Energy and Utilities Group. Jason is joined in the podcast booth by the producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, who is also the Community Manager of Energy Central and energy analyst/independent consultant in energy policy, markets, and technology.  

If you want to be a guest on a future episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast, let us know! We’ll be pulling guests from our community members who submit engaging content that gets our community talking, and perhaps that next guest will be you! Likewise, if you see an article submitted by a fellow Energy Central community member that you’d like to see broken down in more detail in a conversation, feel free to send us a note to nominate them.  For more information, contact us at community@energycentral.com. Podcast interviews are free for Expert Members and professionals who work for a utility.  We have package offers available for solution providers and vendors. 

Happy listening, and stay tuned for episode #19 in a few weeks! Like what you hear, have a suggestion for future episodes, or a question for our guest? Leave a note in the comments below.

All new episodes of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast will be posted to the relevant Energy Central community group, but you can also subscribe to the podcast at all the major podcast outlets, including:


Thanks once again to the sponsors of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West MonroeEsriAnterix, and ScottMadden

 

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