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Having a plan when the lights go out

Less than a month after Mike Doran was named regional president of Metropolitan-Edison, a FirstEnergy electric company based in Reading, Pa., Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast.

The 2012 super storm felled trees, blocked roads and left 280,000 First Energy customers without power for more than a week.

“It’s one of those experiences you never want employees or customers to go through,” said Mr. Doran, who is now vice president of operations at Duquesne Light. “A huge challenge and a very important part of that event would be providing information to customers.

“Customers simply want and need information so they can make decisions. It’s bad enough to be out of power for multiple days, but when you’re not getting information and don’t have a sense of the restoration process, you just become frustrated.”

Needless to say, Mr. Doran knows what to do when the lights go out. That’s a good quality to have when you oversee more than 800 employees who deal with power restoration, engineering and instillation, facility maintenance and support services in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Mr. Doran was named vice president of operations in August. He replaced Tim Kuruce, who spent 39 years with the Downtown company.

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While Mr. Doran has been involved in utilities for more than 30 years, this will be the first time he has worked in an urban area. “When you look at the basics, all utilities operate about the same,” he said. “The one major difference with Duquesne would be the Pittsburgh environment. The density of Pittsburgh is different than what I’m used to.”

Mr. Doran started his utility career in 1983 as a lineman for Monongahela Power in Sistersville, W.Va. He has since worked for companies such as Allegheny Energy, as director of safety, health and workers’ compensation; Allegheny Power, as director of distribution operations; and West Penn Power, as director of operation services.

Q: You have been with Duquesne Light for about six weeks. What are your thoughts so far?

A: Duquesne does a lot of things right. I’ve been able to recognize the pride and passion Duquesne employees have. In my history, that environment and culture is very important to be successful. It drives safety and customer commitment. When you start to lose that component, it makes success very difficult, but I’ve quickly recognized its here and I have to make sure we don’t lose it.

Q: What is your leadership philosophy?

A: My leadership philosophy is you have to prioritize, and you have to get safety right. These are demanding jobs; they’re physical jobs, and the risks and hazards associated with our employees [are] significant. You have to make sure you’re in the right spot, have the proper training. Once you establish that, other areas that would follow would be customer service. We, as a service provider, have to make sure we have processes in place where we can provide information to customers. We have to make sure we are aware of changing customer needs.

Q: You are filling a position that was held by someone for almost 40 years. How will you go about implementing changes to policies or procedures that have been in place for a while?

A: I think it takes a little time to make sure you know the people, the processes and the organization. I’m still into the first phase of my assessment in those areas. It would be premature to knee jerk and start making changes. They’re going to be driven by through analysis and review.

I think in general humans don’t welcome change. Humans need to understand why we are changing. If you are implementing change, you can’t just implement it. You have to own it and make sure the organization understands where you’re headed. Thinking back through my career, there have been changes where we have had to put together a really robust training plan to make employees understand why we’re doing it. Once employees understand, eventually you’ll get there.

Q: Have you ever faced a data breach or cyber attack at Metropolitan-Edison or West Penn? If so, how did you combat it? If not, what steps you would take in the event one happens at Duquesne Light?

A: Not to my knowledge. That’s very important to make sure we have internal controls to keep that from happening. Due to the fact we have customer data, we have to make sure that doesn’t occur.

That is a high corporate priority that does not only involve me, but our technology folks and our corporate folks. It’s not overlooked at all. That’s something that’s talked about at a very high level on a very regular basis, to make sure we have protections in place to make sure that never happens. We also have contingency plans in place if something would.

Q: Are you finding enough talent in the field to replace retiring utility workers?

A: We’ve had some openings that were here when I got here and one manager position we were able to fill internally, so there is talent here at Duquesne. But when you look at the wave of retirement, it’s going to be a mix of internal and external candidates to fill those roles.

We have to take a look at the skill set and knowledge we will be losing due to natural attrition and retirement of our workforce. What you do is look at workforce planning, your training programs and hiring practices, when those retirements will be occurring. There’s extensive training needed to replace that individual that’s been working on the property for 20 to 30 years.

There’s a learning curve there, from a utility standpoint, to make sure they understand our infrastructure, processes, and are able to generate the plans and projects that we need to address our future needs.

Q: If the entire world suffered a two-week long blackout during which no one could turn any kind of power back on, what would your plan be?

A: We have plans if that would take place. The reaction would be you would have to be disciplined enough to implement your planned practices and procedures. To customers and others, that would be a surprise, and would not happen every day, but all utilities practice those on a regular basis, and employees know what they are do if that did occur. We’re disciplined to follow the plan.