By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on August 28, 2015.
When it comes to civic involvement, the Atlanta community should not be overly concerned about Southern Co.’s proposed $12 billion acquisition of AGL Resources.
AGL CEO John W. Somerhalder, in an interview on Aug. 25, said AGL will continue to be a stand-alone unit with its own management team and board. And he said if one wants to look at how AGL will operate in the future as a Southern Co. subsidiary, all you have to do is look at the Georgia Power model.
Georgia Power’s president and CEO, Paul Bowers, is one of the most active executives in Atlanta and the state. And Southern Co. encourages community engagement with its “a citizen where we serve” policy.
“The Georgia Power model will allow us to continue with what we’ve done historically,” Somerhalder said. “Since the gas company is a major corporate citizen, it will be very appropriate for us to stay involved. I really would anticipate that you would see AGL play a very similar role in the community to the one we currently have.”
But Somerhalder acknowledged having some “mixed emotions” — especially from a sentimental standpoint.
For starters, AGL Resources — the parent company of Atlanta Gas Light — “is the oldest major company in the state” with roots that date back to 1856. If and when it is acquired by Southern Co., those bragging rights would go away because it would no longer be an independent company.
“We still have that legacy and that history,” Somerhalder said. “The companies that we have acquired, each one continues to have its own history. But AGL Resources will no longer trade as a stand-alone company.”
That also will end its most recent milestone. For the first time in its history, AGL Resources became a Fortune 500 company this year — ranking as No. 465.
Somerhalder said that it will be hard for AGL to lose that standing — something that would likely happen in 2017 because the acquisition is not expected to be closed until mid-2016.
“We’ve worked hard to grow this business,” Somerhalder said. “We are a long-standing corporation, and from an emotional standpoint, we just became a Fortune 500 company.”
But Somerhalder said those mixed emotions are more than offset by two key factors.
“This deal is a really good value for our shareholders, and we will be able to invest more in this business,” Somerhalder said. “In the end, you come out with positives. We will have good opportunities going forward.”
Somerhalder also pointed out that once the acquisition takes place, Southern Co.’s standing on the Fortune 500 list will move. It currently is No. 163. And given the fact that Southern Co. calls Atlanta home, Somerhalder said it was important to not that “those headquarters are still here, and our employees will still be here.”
Somerhalder also expects that he personally will remain involved in the community. He chairs the board of the Atlanta BeltLine Inc., and he serves on the boards of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Atlanta Committee for Progress and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Somerhalder also went above and beyond the call of duty when he chaired campaign for the United Way of Greater Atlanta for two years in a row, 2009 and 2010, a difficult economic time for the region and a time when few other CEOs were able to serve.
“The good news is you can look at Georgia Power’s commitment, and you can look at our commitment — the model will be very similar,” Somerhalder said. “Our management team will continue to play a very important role and be involved philanthropically.”