New GM Brings Varied Background 08/15/2016

Following 27 years working in a variety of engineering, marketing, finance and customer service jobs in the private sector, Frank Lawson decided to come home.

The South Eugene High School graduate wanted to be closer to his father and was interested in working for a customer-owned electric and water utility. He landed at EWEB as the electric systems engineering supervisor in 2010, and later served as the interim strategic and power planning manager.

When General Manager Roger Gray announced his departure earlier this year, Frank decided to pursue the position. EWEB commissioners, impressed with Frank's strategic vision and leadership, unanimously selected him in May to be the next general manager of Oregon's largest public utility.

"Working in a public organization where your intent is to help the community, and in our case the customers who are also the owners, is a tremendous responsibility," he said. "It's personally rewarding to do that in my hometown."

Frank's background is diverse. "I've worked in various sizes and types of organizations, the smallest being 80 people and the largest being 80,000 people," Frank said. "So, the different jobs and experiences I've had really help me understand how to get things done."

Frank knows the elected Board of Commissioners and the community have high expectations. Since taking over in late June, he has been workingwith the Board of Commissioners to implement a strategic vision that will guide EWEB through a rapidly changing and dynamic market place that will require utilities to become more efficient and nimble.

"Over the next 10 years, we'll prioritize working with our community and customers to develop strategic tools we can use to make everyday decisions," he said. "The value of strategy is it helps you decide what to do, but it also helps you decide what not to do."

Frank's plan for the next dozen or so years can be broken up into three overlapping phases.

Over the next few years, he wants EWEB to concentrate on building credibility with customers by making it easier and more affordable for them to interact with the utility. "It's key to develop and enhance trust with our customer-owners," Frank said. "Delivering water and electricity safely and reliably is critical in that effort."A second phase revolves around introducing new or enhanced services and new ways for customers to interact with EWEB." We need to better balance supply and demand by giving customers more flexible ways to do business with EWEB while giving them more control over their own energy and water use," he said.

A third component will be to capture value and deliver additional benefits to customers, Lawson said. "Are these new products and services really helping customers and are we able to return value to them?" he asked. "A lot of that value will be measured through the services and affordability of what we are offering."

Board President John Simpson said he expects Frank to lead the utility in a way that builds credibility and emphasizes the needs of customers.

"Frank Lawson's approach will deal directly with affordability, capture benefit, and return value to thecommunity," Commissioner Simpson said.

Frank plans to work with the Board of Commissioners and the community to develop strategic criteria that will also be used to guide key projects. EWEB has several large upcoming initiatives, including the development of an alternative water source and the relicensing of the Carmen-Smith hydroelectric project.

"We need to guide these projects based on how they impact our customers in terms of cost, social, and environmental impacts under both normal and new circumstances," Frank added. Both projects are large investments, and have substantial benefit to the community – especially when addressing vulnerabilities to our single water source or the Northwest electric grid.

Having spent almost three decades in the private sector where he worked to provide benefits for stockholders, Frank said he plans to make sure EWEB delivers the hallmarks of efficiency, accountability and affordability to the utility's customer-owners.

Frank said he's thrilled to be back in Eugene, where he's able to have lunch with his 91-year-old father, Herman, once a week. He has three grown daughters, and lives with his wife, Rhonda, and stepdaughter, Lily. He is an EWEB customer.