Georgia Power’s Bowers now one of state’s most plugged-in CEOs

By Maria Saporta
Friday, November 19, 2010

After seven years serving as Georgia Power Co.’s president and CEO, Michael Garrett offered the following advice to his successor, Paul Bowers.

“The people in this city and this state embrace whoever sits in this chair because of the impact that this company has on this city, state and region,” Garrett said. “You are only going to be here a short period of time. You have a unique opportunity to have an impact. It’s up to you what you do with it.”

And then Garrett added: “The seven years went by really fast.”

Garrett and Bowers, in a sit-down interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle, made it clear they understand the weight of serving as Georgia Power’s president and CEO.

Immediately that executive becomes one of the most influential in the state because of the penetration that Georgia Power has in the political, civic and business circles in all but four of the state’s 159 counties.

In his seven years, Garrett served as chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the Woodruff Arts Center corporate campaign and the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc. campaign.

And that’s not all. Gov. Sonny Perdue called on Garrett to lead the effort to reach a multi-state agreement on the allocation of water between Georgia, Alabama and Florida, with negotiations still under way.

But Garrett said that serving as Georgia Power’s CEO is the best job in the four-state system run by its parent company, Southern Co., and a job he dreamed of having when he joined the company 42 years ago when he was only 18 years old.

Bowers, who will lead the company starting Jan. 1, is mindful of the leaders that have come before him: Bill Dahlberg, Allen Franklin, David Ratcliffe and Garrett.

“You see their contributions,” Bowers said. “In a broad sense, you can aspire to one of those positions. But you also have to work really, really hard and have a little bit of luck.”

Bowers, 53, joined Southern Co. subsidiary Gulf Power in 1979 as a residential sales representative. He eventually became Georgia Power’s senior vice president of marketing and sales. He also served as president and CEO of Southern Co.’s former subsidiary in the United Kingdom; as president of Southern Company Generation; as Southern Co.’s chief financial officer; and since Aug. 13, as Georgia Power’s chief operating officer.

“The system has a discipline about succession and development, getting people to run different parts of the business,” Bowers said, adding that he has enjoyed every job he has held with the company.

“It’s what you make it,” Bowers said, before quickly adding: “This is going to be the best job ever.”

But he knows it won’t be easy. The company is developing and building two new nuclear power generating units at Plant Vogtle, the first modern-day nuclear power plants to be built in the United States.

The $14 billion project is the largest in the company’s history.

The company has several other efforts under way. There’s a rate case before the Georgia Public Service Commission, which should be decided next month. It is converting coal-burning plants to natural gas; and Bowers said the company must be prepared to respond to “environmental initiatives coming out of Washington, whatever they may be.”

Speaking like his predecessors, Bowers said Georgia Power and Southern Co. will do all they can to “make it least impactful on the customer” in terms of price.

Asked about the development of alternative modes of energy, such as solar and biofuels, Bowers repeats the company’s mantra that the utility will have to use “all the arrows in the quiver.”

Georgia Power’s policies hold tremendous influence because of all its tentacles in every corner of the state.

“If we use influence to better the state, I don’t know why anyone would complain about that,” Garrett said. “We have tried to use what influence we have had to try to meet the growth demand for this state. Georgia is expected to add another 2 [million] to 3 million people by 2030.”

That growth will bring more cars and transportation challenges, increased water demands, more children needing education, and a greater demand for electricity, Garrett said.

Bowers then observed that Georgia Power is involved in every community in the state. The company’s employees are involved in 1,700 different organizations. And then Bowers looked up at the company’s seal, and recited the motto: “A Citizen Wherever We Serve.”

That means Georgia Power will play a role in the state’s economic development, education, transportation, water, energy and infrastructure. “All has to fit together for the well-being of this state,” Bowers said. “It’s about quality of life.”

As it works out, Bowers will assume his role as Georgia Power CEO at the same time that Gov.-elect Nathan Deal takes office.

“It’s great timing,” Bowers said. “Mike has had a strong relationship with the current governor and the leadership in this state. I look forward to establishing new relationships.”

But Bowers added that the company worked with Deal when he was in Congress.
“It’s not starting anew,” Bowers said. “It’s just a new player in this role. We will work with him in trying to move the state forward.”

When it comes to his personal civic passion, Bowers said it always has been education.

“It’s about the prosperity of the state and the opportunity for wealth creation for individuals,” Bowers said. “We know that we have a lot of work to do in the state of Georgia. It’s about the value chain. Where are we going to get the workers for the future — those who can work at a nuclear power plant? Who is going to be available?”

Meanwhile, Garrett said he basically turned over Georgia Power’s operations to Bowers when he became chief operating officer in August.

“It’s been a great opportunity to learn,” said Bowers, who has been traveling around the state, working on the rate case and getting to know the inner workings of the company. “The overlap has been great. It’s been advantageous to have this time with Mike.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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