August 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Community Leadership Role Comes With Top Job At Wwp

Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Revi
 

Whoever succeeds Paul Redmond as chairman of Washington Water Power Co. will emerge as a powerful force in the community.

The role of community leader - front row center - goes with the title.

Traditionally the chief executive of Spokane’s largest home-based employer thinks big, stands tall, takes the dare, and digs deep. So it was with the 1974 Spokane World’s Fair. And so it was with Momentum.

“That has, indeed, always been the case,” observes George Reitemeier, retired president and chief executive of the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce. As titular leader of the Spokane business community for a quarter of a century, Reitemeier worked intimately with three different CEOs of WWP, each of whom took a turn chairing the chamber.

“The job of Washington Water Power chairman is a vital cog in the community, no doubt about it,” reflects Wendle Satre, who stepped down from the chairmanship of WWP 12 years ago to make way for Redmond. “Whoever holds that position, they have a higher calling than just running a company.”

Satre was born and grew up in Post Falls, and started working for WWP practically as a kid.

As for Redmond, when I arrived on the scene as a cub reporter 35 years ago, he was already a young talent on a fast track to stardom at WWP.

Before Redmond and Satre, the celebrated Kinsey Robinson guided Spokane’s private power company. The boy wonder from the Idaho Power Co. came to Spokane in 1938 to take over the reins. He ramrodded the utility an astounding 37 years - more than a third of a century - in the process earning a national reputation as “Mr. Private Enterprise.”

With such close ties to the community, what could be more natural than for these good old boys to use the power inherent in the position to help their home town as much as they could?

Indeed, the relationship could scarcely be otherwise, considering the uniqueness of WWP’s position in the community. WWP quite literally owns the franchise on Spokane, the carrot for mega-billions of private investment in power plants, transmission lines, and substations.

As a regulated private utility, WWP is authorized to charge its customers a unit price for gas and electricity that will allow the utility to earn a rate of return arrived at by a state commission. This is about as close to a government license to mint money as private enterprise comes.

In exchange for this license to make money, the regulated monopoly is required to operate in the public interest - even though it is a private corporation.

This dual responsibility to the general public and to consumers as well as private investors has helped make WWP the potent force it is in the life of the community.

In announcing his intentions last week, Redmond said he plans to retire as soon as a successor can be found. The search both inside and outside the company is expected to take six to nine months.

There’s no shortage of excellent candidates already on board, both Satre and Reitemeier agree.

But from the outside anyway, this time there does not appear to be one obvious heir apparent.

Ask those in the know, and they will immediately mention: Les Bryan, president and chief operating officer.

Gary Ely, senior vice president for energy trading and market services.

Jon Eliassen, senior vice president and chief financial officer.

Rob Fukai, vice president of external affairs.

But what if the next chairman is picked from outside the area? Might he or she be like so many CEOs in these times of fleeting allegiances and shifting loyalties - here today, gone tomorrow?

Deregulation of the energy industry on all levels is proceeding apace with wrenching change. WWP is a growing company, building new revenues at the rate of a billion dollars a year. Our area utility is positioning itself to become a major player in the national energy markets. It has non-regulated utility service operations and non-energy subsidiaries throughout the country.

In this changing climate, can we be certain that WWP’s next CEO will identify with Spokane and the Inland Northwest, and enthusiastically assume Washington Water Power’s mantel of Spokane godfather?

“I know from personal experience how much the business community can’t help worrying that the world may be coming to an end,” reflects Reitemeier. “But that’s just so much B.S.

“The next chairman of WWP will take up exactly where Paul Redmond leaves off in the hierarchy of community leadership.”

To this, Satre adds, “I can’t imagine that the board would not make a continuing commitment to community almost a requirement for the job of chairman.”

What they really are saying is that the job makes the man or woman. Singular demands are placed on the individual. Living up to these expectations becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes a notes column each Wednesday. If you have business items of regional interest for future columns, call 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes a notes column each Wednesday. If you have business items of regional interest for future columns, call 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email