El Paso Electric CEO Shares ‘Life Lessons’ with UTEP Students
Adrian Rodriguez, Interim CEO of El Paso Electric, visited the UTEP campus to share career stories and advice with business students.
Rodriguez, a native El Pasoan, provided an overview of the utility's past, present and pending $4.3 billion acquisition the Infrastructure Investments Fund advised by JP Morgan.
"What's really great about talking to a roomful of business students and professors is that we start from a baseline where you have an understanding of business and industry," Rodriguez said. "You all see how finance, accounting and other aspects of business fit together and we can have a good conversation about this."
Rodriguez also detailed his life and career in El Paso before taking questions from the audience.
Below are excerpts from Rodriguez’s speech.
On Being an El Pasoan Leading an El Paso-Based Corporation
It's a rarity, for anybody anywhere. Whether a person is born in New York, Los Angeles, or whether they're born in a small town, it is a rarity in business, for most part, to be the chief executive officer of a corporation in the city in which you grow up in. This is a great opportunity for me to be home. To be with my family, cousins and in-laws and to have my children grow up with their cousins in a way that I grew up with.
Another unique aspect of growing up in El Paso [and running a corporation here is] that I get to bring and talk to people who are outside of our community and let them know about who we are and what we do. Most importantly, I get to share with them the values that we have here.
On Formed Professional Relationships
[While attending the University of Texas at Austin,] I worked in the state legislature, taking advantage of an internship there. This is another life lesson that you will need to have as students that I didn't necessarily recognize at the time: That internship and the people you meet in those internships are the people that you’ll reconnect with at different points in your life, in different locations and careers.
One of those colleagues is right here. [College of Business Administration Assistant Dean] Laura Uribarri is a person that I worked with in the Texas State Legislature more than 25 years ago as an intern. She was an intern in graduate school, I was an intern and undergrad.
The impressions that you make – the colleagues, the business experiences that you have – are experiences that are going to carry you through the remainder of your careers. [Laura and I reuniting] is not just an anomaly. That is most especially true today in a world where you have Facebook and LinkedIn – I would say things like MySpace, but nobody knows what that is anymore. The life lesson that I remember now is that I'm really glad I was nice to Laura when I worked with her (laughs). These interactions come full circle.
It’s something to think about as you all are doing an internship, and thinking, "today, do I really want to get up and go to do that internship?" No, get up and go. Get up, be there, be on time because that impression is something that's going to carry you through the remainder of your career.
Early Career Experience
[After graduating from UT Austin, I] went and did public relations for a number of years. So before you're thinking, “wait a minute, this is kind of a weird way to get into the electric utility industry?” Absolutely. It was.
I did public relations campaigns communications after-policy analysis. In Washington and Austin, I did consulting work. And the life lesson there, is that it was something that I honestly didn't even know that I would fully do for the remainder of my career. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school and I knew I thought I wanted to go to law school, but I didn't really know what the path was.
If somebody had told me that I was going to go into law school and come out being an electric utility lawyer, I would have probably quit law school right then and there because it sounds terrible. But I did law school, had a great experience, and went to work at a law firm that has an energy background. I worked on everything from oil and gas to renewables, solar and wind, nuclear, real estate...I mean, just a whole mix of projects and I really enjoyed. I truly fell in love with the electric utility industry of all things.
How He Arrived At El Paso Electric (And Became CEO)
My resume ends up across the desk of Mary Kipp. She hired me on as an attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the company. I eventually became the general counsel of the company, upon the retirement of my predecessor. Who said to himself, "you know what, I don't have any dependents and dad's getting up in years and I want to spend time with dad."
So, again, the lesson there: Life gets in the way of your business career. Not just for me, but the people around us as well. Somebody's business or personal decision ended up becoming a business opportunity for me.
I was promoted to be the general counsel of the company. Eventually I ended up working on a variety of different departments coming in my direction. I had a background in public affairs, public policy and communication, so I started interacting with the folks that deal with our regulatory department, communications departments, Governmental Affairs...and then life got in the way of my predecessor, who I am very close with and still speak with Mary Kipp every two weeks. [Kipp] ended up with a business offer that took her to Seattle.
Now is it an inopportune time for the all the big news that's going on with El Paso electric company? Maybe. But as I noted: Life gets in the way.
I was named the interim chief executive officer of the company on June 1 and effectively taking over on August 1. Now leading the corporation as we go through a large transaction in which the ownership of the publicly traded stock is being purchased by one entity.
On the Importance of Listening
The key [difference between being an Interim CEO and my previous positions] and I think this helped me primarily as an attorney – because, I think, the one thing that attorneys like to do is hear themselves talk way more than they should – is to listen. It's amazing how much you learn from the people that are around you.
The other lesson as you become business leaders and form your own partnerships and LLCs, is to make sure you’re not afraid to have the people around you be smarter than you. That is the greatest thing. I've got to take a Chief Financial Officer who knows more in his pinky than I will ever know about accounting and finance.
I have an SVP of Operations and an Interim Chief Operations Officer, who are fantastic engineers. I sit and listen to them about how the plants are running. I've learned more about engineering. And they probably humor me because I am not an engineer, but I am willing to listen.
On Finding a Hobby
There have been really great articles that have talked about the amount of hours that Americans put into their jobs. If you looked at it from 20 or 30 years ago, they really did work, even at high level, high paying professions 40 hours a week and, usually, as you ascended in a career, it meant that you had more leisure time. Today the inverse is actually true: As you ascend in your career, you're probably going to have less leisure time. You'll make a lot of money but you're not going to be able to spend it because you won't have the time to.
Find that time to carve out and keep the hobby. I do varsity, middle school and high school football officiating during the fall and watch a lot of it on TV. So I find that time to balance out the career.
Making Post-Graduate Choices
It is imperative in this economy that you have a Bachelor of Arts. The University of Texas at El Paso is a great place to get your bachelor of arts. Then, figure out what is required based on the career trajectory that you have.
As I mentioned earlier, you need to figure out how these paths will affect your family, positively and negatively. In some cases, the masters is what you need for the type of career that you're looking to get into.
It is very important that you look at the career path that you're thinking about taking and being mindful of the opportunities and opportunity costs. Oh boy, we get to talk about another economics term – opportunity costs. [When making these decisions, ask yourself] what am I giving up, what am I trading off? Am I trading off the work experience that might be necessary in order to move up in that particular business versus the time spent towards Ph.D.?