Jim Lusby, a long-time Black & Veatch executive, stands in front of the kitchen counter with chief cook and bottle washer Bruce Fritz, Rick Bush and the dining-room diva Dianne Fritz.
I was at Kinko’s picking up a disk that contained scans of retro Transmission and Distribution covers from the 1950s. These scans now have been placed in a photo gallery that you can see on our home page. Talk about a nostalgic trip back in time. I was pleasantly surprised to see the level of sophistication our engineers demonstrated back in the day. Here is a snapshot of what I found: aerial surveying, helicopter-aided tower construction, mobile substations, cable laying and underground residential distribution. How cool is that?
I struck up a conversation with Sylvia at the Kinko’s counter and had her pull up the scans on her computer screen. Then I realized that the biggest difference between then and now isn’t the technology but the pace of work. Our lives are so hectic and so compressed today. Back when I joined Georgia Power in 1971, work progressed at a more casual pace. We had time to mentor and to be mentored. We had time for one another.
Sylvia mentioned that she had a previous boss who focused primarily on upward mobility, and as long as you understood where the boss was coming from, you could do all right.
In my job as editor of Transmission & Distribution World, I have met hundreds of executives, and I am quite qualified to state that two out of three executives in the energy space have their primary focus on what is in it for them. However, that still leaves plenty of executives whose first love is serving customers. I call these guys accidental executives.
When I got back to the office and started reviewing the covers with our art director, Susan Lakin, I found myself in quite a reflective mood. I started to run through some of my friends who have become accidental executives over the years.
One buddy Lawrence Webb was selling cable for General Cable when I first met him. When his marriage hit hard times, Lawrence’s wife headed to England, so Lawrence then picked up stakes and relocated to England to be near his son. To support himself, he started a business marketing and selling cable in conduit. He rolled out more products in the telecom space and his business took off. Lawrence found himself to be an
accidental executive. Years later, I asked Lawrence, “How did you manage to grow the business? What led to your success?” His answer, “Rick, I just kept doing the do.”
Twenty years ago when I joined T&D World, I found myself bumping into Jim Lusby, who was managing the T&D business for Black & Veatch. Jim was always encouraging the folks in his division to reach higher and make a bigger difference. Jim and I collaborated to hold several industry executive roundtables to provide our readers with a bigger vision of what was transpiring in all areas of T&D. Never one to grab the spotlight, Jim was content to provide thought leaders in our industry with an opportunity to share their perspectives.
Another buddy Keith Lindsey owns a small manufacturing company that makes everything from voltage sensors to sag monitors to emergency towers. Every time he sees a need, he tries to fill it. But many of the needs he fills do not generate any revenue for his company. For example, Keith has been serving on IEEE and CIGRÉ standard writing committees for as long as I’ve known him, which spans at least 35 years. He is a selfless man and another accidental executive.
And the list of people I consider greats — precisely because they don’t think of themselves at all — goes on and on.
Now this guy is a classic: Johnny Priest. He put in one full career at Duke and then went to run for-profit Duke Energy Services. I first met Johnny at an Edison Electric Institute meeting. He was working the room hard. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him who he was and what he was doing. Most of the executives were complaining about one thing or another. Not Johnny. He had no interest in looking back. This guy is flawed in that he can’t stop “doing the do.” He’s moved on to run other delivery services companies, but two things remain constant: he believes in quality, and he believes in his workers and safe work practices. He is another accidental executive.
Recently, I was talking with Alan Sneath who develops business at Black & Veatch, and he mentioned that my buddy Jim Lusby was retiring after 45 years with the company. Alan hinted that I might want to provide Jim a little printed send-off, although that is exactly what Jim would like to avoid. So I invited Lusby out to lunch to his favorite place, Fritz’s. This is a chili joint straight out of the 1960s. Fritz’s still has original red-and-white-checkered linoleum floors and white-speckled Formica tables. This place is the epitome of Americana.
Fritz and his wife, Dianne, have been serving up chili right here for decades. This is Jim’s favorite dive, and I say that in a complimentary way. Jim and I have been eating lunch here on and off for years. Now, Jim is so cheap that we always went Dutch. That bugger. But what wide-ranging conversations we have had on the future of energy. We solved so many issues — in our own minds — right there eating soda crackers and chili with beans (I get mine with onions and cheese for an upcharge). When we said our last goodbyes, I wouldn’t take no for an answer and picked up Jim’s $7 tab. That makes me the last of the big spenders.
I’d like to conclude this piece by lifting up a glass (of Diet Coke) to all of you out there who came into this industry to serve. So, whether you ended up in a corner office, or you are an engineer cranking away in a cubicle, or your corner office is a bucket truck, you are tops in my mind. Because what I believe truly satisfies a person is to be able to say at the end of a day, a week, a month, a year or a career — I did my best and made a difference.