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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Aug. 2, 201805:10 AM EST

The Cawton Report: JEA sets qualifications for next CEO

The utility’s board of directors wants to have the position filled by Jan. 1
by: David Cawton Associate Editor

If you think you’ve got the chops and are interested in leading the nation’s eighth-largest municipally owned utility, you’re in luck – the job now is open to applicants.

The JEA board of directors on Monday approved the job requirements and outlined the necessary qualifications for potential candidates seeking to lead the utility in 2019.  

Paul McElroy, whose contract expires at the end of September, is no longer running the electric, water and sewer utility. In his place in the interim is Aaron Zahn, confirmed by the board in April.

Zahn’s appointment came with some pushback from City Council members because he did not have experience leading a utility. Also, he spent just one month on the board of directors.

Zahn previously was managing partner and CEO of Pascal Partners, a distributed infrastructure investment and development company.

Chief Financial Officer Melissa Dykes also applied for the interim CEO position, but instead was promoted as part of a restructuring of the executive leadership team.

Dykes now is chief operating officer with direct reports from the heads of the electrical, water, wastewater, legal, information technology, human resources, compliance, customer relations, environmental services and supply chain departments.

Zahn described her role as “leading the day-to-day operations” of the company, while he focuses more of his attention on long-term strategy and meeting with board members, council, the mayor’s office and other stakeholders.

When asked Monday if he still plans to apply for the permanent role, Zahn said “absolutely.”

Dykes was not available to comment. It is unclear if the COO position will remain when a new CEO is appointed.

Executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles is leading the recruitment efforts.

“Heidrick & Struggles is prepared to publicly post the position for the next 45 days,” said board Vice Chair Husein Cumber, who also is the search committee chair.

“They will then work on coming up with a qualified list of candidates for us,” he said.

Beginning in October, Cumber said the CEO search committee will meet individually with each candidate. He said he expects a narrowed list of candidates by midmonth to present to the board.

“We haven’t put a number on it because until you see the field and where people shake out, we don’t want to arbitrarily say it’s three, four, five, et cetera,” he said.

By November, all seven board members will meet the candidates on their own.

“On Nov. 27, we’ll have a public interview with each one of those candidates,” Cumber said.

He said the board could then move to nominate a candidate or call a special meeting in December.

He said the goal is to have a CEO in place by Jan. 1.

“I think that’s important from the standpoint that when Heidrick goes out, they’re able to communicate a timeline to candidates,” Cumber said.

According to the eight-page position summary, applicants need to be a “forward-thinking, innovative leader capable of conducting a strategic review of JEA and the industry landscape to establish the long-term plans and objectives ensuring JEA will be relevant and agile to adapt and thrive for decades to come.”

While utility experience is preferred, prospective candidates who have successfully led a “sizeable business unit” or larger company will be considered.

“We did not get into how many years of experience the person needed to have,” Cumber said.

He said given the “comprehensive nature of the position specifications,” the subcommittee believes that anyone who applies will bring a considerable amount of experience from the industry.

Some of the basic requirements include experience working in a “complex organization with multiple lines of revenue,” and experience setting and executing “a transformative disruptive long-term strategic vision including the commercialization of new services and products and technology transformations with complex groups of stakeholders.”

One of JEA’s newest board members, John Campion, said the position requirements and statement “captures the job.”

“I think like all things, it’s the personality and the experience and that person’s vision, what they bring to the table, and how they convince this board that they will be the best person for the job,” he said.

“It’s going to be very interactive,” Campion said.

According to the requirements, candidates need to be sharp strategists, drivers of results and able to build talent, inspire and influence employees and create “deep customer relationships.”

In the section outlining the desired cultural fit qualities, a large emphasis is made on being “an authentic leader,” someone who is passionate, approachable, a talented communicator and “tough-minded.”

Customer service and communications remain a top priority, according to Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Kerri Stewart.

In a presentation before the CEO search discussion on Monday, Stewart presented the results of a J.D. Power Residential Survey that showed JEA failing to meet goals tied to customer service and communications.

Compared with the previous year, customer satisfaction suffered from a spike in “storm fatigue” after Hurricane Irma and because of the debate and media coverage about the utility potentially being sold.

A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university is required and a master of business administration is preferred.

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