Today’s guest is Paula Gold-Williams the President and CEO of CPS Energy. That should really be all that needs to be said but just because we love you so much, we’ll let you know that within this podcast is an in-depth discussion about the relationship between utilities, cities, and communities. We also go into Paula’s own rise to prominence in the industry and what she plans and expectations are. We also talk about bizarre Texan delicacies!

Dylan Lockwood: Hey everybody this is ETS On The Grid. I am your host Dylan Lockwood, joining me as always is Erin Hardick. How are you doing Erin?

Erin Hardick: I’m doing well Dylan. I’m back from my extensive holiday travels and it’s very nice to be back in Austin and back in my home quote unquote studio to record the podcast.

Dylan Lockwood: How was your break. Did you have some of that chocolate pecan pie you were raving about?

Erin Hardick: I absolutely did have some chocolate pecan pie and we peer pressured my mother into making yet another chocolate pecan pie after Thanksgiving was over, because we just couldn’t get enough of it. So I made had too much chocolate pecan pie.

Dylan Lockwood: You lucky duck. When I’m down there next January, I hope you can convenience your mom to make another one, because I’ve been-

Erin Hardick: I will try my hardest.

Dylan Lockwood: Excellent. And our guest this week, we have the CEO and president of CPS Energy in San Antonio, 2018 Thought Leader of the Year at ETS and just a friend to everyone here at Zpryme Paula Gold-Williams. Thank you so much for joining us Paula.

PGW: Dylan thank you so much for that great introduction and I’m really glad to be here, especially since we’re talking about food. I haven’t had breakfast, but it’s already gotten my attention that I’ve got to think about it. I’ve got one for you, both of you. Have you had brisket pecan pie?

Dylan Lockwood: Brisket?

Erin Hardick: Brisket.

PGW: Brisket pecan pie, have you had that?

Dylan Lockwood: I am not Southern enough to have even heard of this.

PGW: Hey, put it on your list.

Erin Hardick: I consider myself rather Souther, but I have not heard of it, nor have I had it. Where does one go to get brisket pecan pie Paula?

PGW: Well to start off this podcast I’m going to give a little secret. There is a place in San Antonio called Jazz Texas, which it’s not easy to get in. It’s a small place. They have a wonderful set up, but you make an appointment and you go and they actually have had a chef design their menu and they don’t have it all the time, but you can call ahead and ask if they have it and around the holidays they make it. And ultimately, I’ve had it more times than I need to, but it is an amazing combination of everything I love about Texas. The whole sweet and savory thing, totally awesome. So Jazz Texas in San Antonio maybe put it on your list. That’s kind of one of those wonderful pecan pie variations that can only happen in our great state.

Dylan Lockwood: That sounds amazing. I will make sure to check it out when I’m down in San Antonio in February for The City of the Future event. Great transition Dylan. You killed it. Yeah, The City of the Future Event where we partnered with CPS Energy to talk about future cities, smart city projects, data, all that great stuff that we know and love from this conference. This is going to be the second year we’ve had it in San Antonio. Paula, I can tell just by that you were able to pull obscure pie trivia out of thin air that you’re an active participant in the San Antonio community both as a citizen and in your role as CEO CPS Energy. So why do you see San Antonio as a hub for energy innovation? What is unique about that city that lends itself to that culture?

PGW: Well quite a few things. We thoroughly understand the privilege that we have in San Antonio. We have been the sole utility energy company for approaching 160 years. So, we talk to folks a lot about when we started there were only 8,000 people in San Antonio and now collectively if you look across our full metropolitan area, we have about 1.9, expected to grow another million. That’s maybe not abnormal in comparison to just Texas is doing great. We’re doing great at attracting people, businesses and interest overall. It’s a positive, but when we look at San Antonio and realize that our city alone, the seventh largest already and pick up another million, we are trying to make sure that we are thinking about innovation technology and new solutions for the benefit of all the customers who exist today and all the customers that we’re going to have in the future.

PGW: Additionally, we’re municipally owned. So our mission to serve is extremely deep. We look at our customers as also our investors and so we make sure that our services are affordable for customers, but we make sure also they get the best service that you can provide. We are constantly giving our customer the benefit of competition without the complexities of having to over shop. That’s not to condemn any other market, that’s just to say that we understand the value proposition. We are very well aligned to our owner, the City of San Antonio. We give them about a third of their general fund budget and that means that’s about $350,000 million a year that we give back. That money is used to support first responder, police and fire departments and we are in fact part of the first responder network in San Antonio. So when we look at things, it’s a deep integral matrix of opportunity, so what we want to do is bring all we can to San Antonio in terms of thought leadership. Provide energy. We explore globally. We bring those solutions and thoughts locally.

PGW: And I’d add, we were extremely encouraged and motivated by what ETS started out doing in terms of the work in Austin to think about energy. Zpryme, when we figured out how awesome Zpryme was. And you all have helped us leverage our interest and really kind of bring in that dialogue. Bringing in topics. Bringing in people, and creating a venue where energy can be such a positive force in the future of San Antonio, i.e. The City of the Future Conference. So it’s all what we believe is we’re in the right place at the right time, optimizing our strong history, deep roots and our ever evolving thirst to try to think about how great our future can be here in San Antonio.

Erin Hardick: So Paula, let’s talk a little bit about what you were just touching on, which is really this kind of intersection of the electric utility and city planning. How does what the electric utility does, in terms of providing service and services to the residents of San Antonio and how that intersects with other things going on at the city. And then maybe we can talk about City of the Future and how those conversations are going to revolve around this area, but I think it’s important to really make this connection. Where is the intersection between future city planning and the changing model of electric utilities? And I think really one of those keywords right there is the changing model. And you’re also talking about the changing economic landscape of Texas, of San Antonio. Why is it important to start to have discussions around this intersection of city planning, future of city planning and the changing business model of eclectic utilities?

PGW: Well every city, I would say probably thinking about this, and we’re not trying to indicate that we are unusual and nobody’s thinking about it. And in fact, when people ask me about what does CPS Energy believe a smart city is and how do you define it? What I typically say is I don’t try to define it, because I think every city has to again to look at its own landscape, look at its history, look at what their citizens are interested in. It’s a 180 view of what people want and so you can’t say what would work in San Antonio would work in Sydney, Australia or New York City or Greenville, whatever. But for us, we understand that we have a natural relationship with our owner, the City of San Antonio and we have a natural relationship because we are municipal. We’re kind of a hybrid. We are a business owned by a community to do a particular function, provide energy.

PGW: In some ways we’re not doing at all the same thing. In other words, when the City of San Antonio was trying to plan and forecast growth, it’s talking about city business. We’re talking about energizing city business. So they’re two strains of very different work, but what we thought about is, what if we strategically got on the same page and started to think that if we were building a smart city, it didn’t need to be a smart city just from an energy perspective. It was smart city from a perspective of the citizens and the community. So the city brings its expertise and when it’s doing city planning and coordination. We bring our expertise in terms of energy. Where we probably have a nexus point is developers, because developers have to deal with the city and they have to deal with us to make sure that they can build homes and businesses and apartments and all those things. What’s even more awesome in San Antonio is the City of San Antonio also owns the water company. We have an affiliate relationship with the River Authority. We have an affiliate relationship with the Transit Authority, and we all collectively think about what is good for San Antonio.

PGW: We believe that what is good for business is good for jobs, is good for San Antonio, and we all bring our expertise to the table and we’re all thinking about how do we optimize it? As an example, one thing we’ve done is together we collectively talked about creating these innovation zones across San Antonio. We had the CEOs of all the organizations got together and said, “Well how do we pick?” And so, we did want to pick the exact same types of areas for the same objectives. We were thinking about use cases and issues in those particular areas. So we initially came up with three and one of them is a medical center, because it’s a big employment area. Traffic is a problem down there. One of them is a downtown area. The real issues is everybody wants to revitalize it and also make it more of a walkable city downtown. And the other is Brooks Base San Antonio, which is privatized base location that has been extremely successful at incorporating the citizens and exposing them to their success in recruiting businesses around the world.

PGW: They have many businesses from Asia, Japan, South Korea, Europe. So San Antonio gets a huge flavor of business bringing jobs, but how do they support that? So what we’re now having is these much broader helpful discussions about how do you find and create a strategy that works where we can all bring our suggestions, where we can all know the general direction, where we can bring our expertise, and then engage with the citizens in locations to pilot. And then the real benefit is once we pilot and learn, we’ll be able to take it across San Antonio. Take things to scale. So that’s an example.

PGW: I guess the last thing I will say about this is CPS Energy like most companies kind of did the foundational work of changing for example the metering system from an analog to a digital system. So we’re done putting all digital meters across San Antonio. We have over a 99% penetration in those meters. But, and it was easy for us to talk about all that in terms of smart city, but a couple of years ago I said, “Look it’s not important for us to own smart city, it’s more important for the City of San Antonio to collectively be partnered and our owners, the council and the management team, we want them to own the smart city narrative.” But I’ve also told my team, the important thing is it’s like being in the car. Sometimes we have to be the driver. Sometimes we’ve got to lead. We’ve got to get leaders in place so we can start building with devices and networks, but then sometimes when the City of San Antonio is ready to lead, we’re going to be a navigator, or we’re going to be in the back seat thinking about the route of where we’re going and keeping the driver awake and the navigator awake.

PGW: Leading means you know where to fit in at the right time. You take ego out of it and you don’t think about a single win, you think about a collective win. So that’s why again I think we’re just ripe for this optimization and we’re doing it in a way that works for what we believe and what we’re all passionate about and we’re finding these nexus points in our big broad strategies. That is ultimately going to be the key to the future and doing great things here in San Antonio, Texas.

Erin Hardick: I want to backtrack a little bit to something you said, there at the very beginning, which is San Antonio isn’t the only city that is addressing this. Another thing that’s not well defined is actually what a smart city is. You can go out on the internet and you can find a few different definitions of it. One that I think that is pretty helpful is Denton’s definition of a smart city, which is a smart city modernizes digital, physical and social infrastructure and integrates all essential services for the benefits of its citizens by harnessing advances in sustainable technology to make those services more efficient, useful, innovative and equitable. But what you also mentioned is that is particular to each city. Like you said, what happens in San Antonio may not be the best fit for another city.

Erin Hardick: Can you kind of talk about how you in your specific role make sure that CPS is engaged with the community to meet the specific needs of your community and how you kind of try to embody that as a leader within your organization. Dylan mentioned, you’re clearly very in touch with the community with your knowledge of brisket pie, but can you just talk about how your specific role and how you kind of tried to make sure that CPS as an organization stays in tune with what the city needs and what really the citizens of the city need?

PGW: Well, absolutely. I’ll start with, I’m from here. I grew up on the east side of San Antonio and never ever assuming I’d have the privilege to run a company, let alone an energy company at a point in time where the whole industry across the globe is evolving. I’m running, but I would always tell people, I run an engineering analytics and operations company 24/7 365. Interestingly, I’m not an engineer. So, I realize that uniqueness and focusing on inherently maybe non-engineering, non-analytical solutions is really important. My predecessor Doyle Beneby, he actually said on the way out the door, “You’re not an engineer and as I watch you, I know you’re not going to do things the way I did them.” He goes, “I grew up in this industry and I came through a certain way of giving you all the gifts, but now you’re going to have to figure out how you’re going to do it.”

PGW: I definitely felt like for me being from here and understanding the importance of people. People make the difference. People make you feel … They can make you feel really bad, but the great thing is they can make you feel really good. They can make you feel like they care about you. They can make you feel like there’s empathy for you. And so it was just kind of an epiphany that it was about putting people first. That is in fact the foundation of what we do and how we think, and so for me, from day one it has been about getting closer to our customers. Getting closer to, at every spectrum and kind of understanding how difficult it is for a small business. A small business wants energy solutions and they want to think about a smart city and they want to think about technology working for them to make their lives easier. But you know what? They are both the CEO, the plumber, the cashier, the accountant and strategist. So, it our constant objective to put ourselves in our customer’s shoes. To put ourselves in everyone’s shoes and stay connect and making sure that we are in the moment in every interaction that we have.

PGW: Fundamentally, here’s an example of so about this. So at our company, instead of telling our what we call our energy advisors, these are expert people who answer the phones. Instead of telling them, hurry up and get off the phone so you can improve our stats and make sure that you answer 90% of the calls in 30 seconds. And it’s a volume game, so once it’s done you get them off the phone and you pick up that next call. We say, stay on the phone. Ask them, do you know about this program? Is there something else I can do to help you? Did you know about out flexible path or did you know about our programs associated with affordability assistance or the REAP program? We have a huge program where if somebody’s struggling we can contribute. This comes from donations. This comes from additional funding. We can give people bridges to help them make it through a tough time. And so our calls actually get longer. They don’t get shorter. They get longer. And we get so much value out of that. The customers don’t feel like they’re rushed. Don’t feel like you don’t want to hear what their problem is and then just missing them.

PGW: We totally understand that adds no value. It’s the exact opposite. So we actually think about providing concierge service to our customers and or community the best we can. And it just means to go above and beyond. It means, I kind of tell everybody in our organization, our 3.000 employees, you all have S’s on your chest. You don’t understand when people’s power goes out how meaningful it is. They don’t even understand it until it goes out. If a storm comes through or a car hits a pole, or whatever. When those lights go out, it could be such a big difference. So it’s our constant privilege to know that we are here to think about today and to think about what are we going to do for them tomorrow that’s going to be better than we had imagined? What are we going to do that’s going to set us up to provide better service in five years, in 10 years? That’s our privilege and that’s our honor, and as a team of 3,000 people serving almost two million people it ain’t easy, but it’s fulfilling. And it’s speaks to the passion I have for this community. There’s a lot of people who don’t like everything that we do, but that doesn’t matter, we take the feedback and we take it and try to make ourselves better.

Dylan Lockwood: And that makes a lot of sense first off just from a general community perspective, that being a member of the community. Having a proactive relationship with your customers rather than what they might see as an antagonistic one, is obviously just better for everybody, better for that environment. But specifically in terms of developing these future cities that we’re talking about in San Antonio, have you found that it’s easier to get public buy-in on new projects because you’ve taken the time to build these relationships? Or are there still significant roadblocks in getting stuff on that? Like I know you that you said you have 99% digital metering. Here in Spokane we just did mass deployments of smart meters throughout the city and there was a lot of public pushback to that. And so, I’m still curious if you still are feeling those kinds of pushbacks when you want to move forward with initiatives or if you find it’s been a lot easier since you’ve done this people first public image and internal process strategy?

PGW: Well that is such a good question, because I feel like the landscape is extremely hard period. I mean I think in general if you go home and you watch hours and hours of news. Hours and hours and hours of news, right. It’s overwhelming. And if you really kind of look at it, a lot of it is kind of negative. Then I think if you look at headlines and you look at social media headlines, there’s just this general tendency to think, those big old fat cats in that big energy company, that they’re pushing power, but they’re probably not even thinking about me. It’s so easy. I think just in general, it’s hard to get people to think about the goodness that happens, because part or it is that they’re busy. They’re working. They’ve got families. And so the little bit of things, even though we do a lot of effort to reach out to them, in the grand scheme of things, a customer can go all year long. If they don’t have an outage, they’re not going to call and they’re not going to worry about it. So I don’t think anything that we do is easy anymore.

PGW: I think we have people with strong interests and beliefs. We hear from them more and they’re on both sides of arguments. It’s never like one or the other. There’s somebody who wants you to move faster. There’s somebody who doesn’t want you to change at all. They want to keep that digital meter by goodness. So I feel like the landscape is difficult. And even, I talk to my people often about the way we used to do things, even though we’re more open and we’re more interested, we’ve still got to think about more ways to be transparent, and more ways to back up explaining the why. And putting it out on our website and trying to go out. We send ambassadors all across San Antonio all year long to talk about our strategies. Anybody who will listen to us, we will go talk to you. So we’re spending a lot of effort to try to tell the good stories. To try to answer the questions. To try to explain alternatives and all that.

PGW: So I don’t think it’s easier per se, but I’d say this, if we didn’t have a people purpose, a people first purpose and foundation. If we stayed the company that we were about 10 years ago where we were just providing power and there was no two way flow. There were no devices on the system. DG wasn’t really a thing like it is now. I think we would be in the hole and the general census wouldn’t be hard, it would be insurmountable trying to get things done. I kind of tell my people, hard is the new normal. Don’t assume. Don’t think that people understand that you’re doing it for a good cause. You’ve got to tell them and if they give you 10 seconds, use it. If they give you two hours, fill it up and take every opportunity that you have. That’s just the new thing.

PGW: Change is an interesting thing and we’re living it and we’re evolving and so I tell everybody, we’ve just got to get faster, stay faster, stay more nimble, stay open to criticism, open to input, open to pushback and then be willing to be at that table and say, okay I hear you. Let me give you some more information. Let me make sure you understand the complexity in that. Let’s make sure that you understand certain things that people propose are devoid of facts and physics. It’s all emotion. I’m emotional, but I’ve got to put in facts and physics to make it [inaudible 00:26:30], to work. So it’s good work though. I mean, we have been a leader in solar. A leader in wind. We have one of the biggest energy efficiency and conservation programs in the state, and that will probably be the biggest. We have done more outreach, we have more programs for people and I just still feel like it’s not enough. We’ve just got to keep going.

PGW: So we can list for you all these accomplishments, but we don’t rest on our laurels. We’ve just got to keep going out there competing, being better, but making it interesting, because it really is. 10 years you couldn’t get anybody to talk about energy. So I tell people, even if they don’t like what we’re doing, it’s amazing that they’re all talking about energy and what are we going to do with it. So, the hardness is okay. The toughness is okay.

Dylan Lockwood: You’ve got a very unique, I would say, progressive outlook on how to run a utility. Is your guiding philosophy something you sort of developed through the rigors of the job or did your path to that job and your background kind of inform your outlook and how to run a utility?

PGW: Dylan, I would say both. I end up talking to a lot of people. People who are students, high school, college, young professionals and a lot of them are asking questions about my path and journey and one thing I always say to them, I’m glad to tell you what my path and journey is, but I would recommend that you don’t do anything the way that I did it, because I’ve made tremendous amount of mistakes and stumbles and trip ups, but I will say, today where I sit, I can look back on my first year of employment and realize I learned something there. I learned about diligent work and what it was going to take to make me successful. As an example, one of my school mates when I was in college had a photographic memory and I didn’t realize it until we were about to graduate, he kind of confessed. And he was a guy that kept busting a curve. I was a good student, but he was a stellar student. Somehow I thought, why is it that he’s always lapping, not just me, but everybody. And then I said, well he’s got gifts I don’t have.

PGW: So I had to figure out what was I going to do. And mine was more about hard work and thinking things through and trying to make connections. Not people connections. Connections of value. Where the value is. And then appreciating how much a team can get done. Individuals, golf is an individual sport. Maybe it’s a two person team, but team is like a football team. That’s an amazing thing because between them and your backup string and everybody who’s kind of working through the same thing. I mean, I’ve built those foundations of really enjoying teams, and as a matter of fact, I inundate my organization with sports analogies about it. But, I can look at that year. I can look at 10 years ago, 15 years ago when I entered the industry and I didn’t even know what a kilowatt hour was, and I think about all the learning that I have. For now, it’s in this big pool of resources. It’s in this big appreciation about realizing that sometimes failure is the best teacher in life and people who can come out of the ashes and never let failure hit them in the same way again are stronger, better team members. It’s not about pedigree, it’s really about the substance and the character people have and what they’re willing to do to be better and add value.

PGW: So this philosophy that I have is a combination, and then understanding the responsibility of every role I had. So, when I was a CSO I had a responsibility to kind of be a sounding board to the CEO, and I found a way to give value back to the organization and start to anticipate where he was trying to take the company and the strategy, but when I became CEO, and had to set strategy, right? That role requires something else. That role as much as people think it’s great, and that you control everything, in reality you don’t control anything. You’re 3,000 people are running around all over the place and you have no idea. You’ve got to trust them and you’ve got to know when to dig in 10 layers deep to ask them questions. You’ve got to know how to align them, but most of the time you’ve got to be able to just let go. Right? And so when I got to this role and thought about the value of that and what it would mean to trust 3,000 people to do the right thing day in and day out, and to think about customers in terms of being the lifeblood of what we get a privilege to do. It still was a combination of all the appreciation and all the gaps and all the things I learned along the way.

PGW: I’ll end with this, that when I came in, and even to this day, you will talk to people and they go, the rate payer. The rate payer, you’ve got to protect the rate payer. I always talk about, that sounds like the most impersonal, third party, anointed approach about the rate payer. Every person is a customer and a person. If I think about a rate payer, I don’t make a connection. If I think about them as a person, and putting them first, then that changes the complete dynamic. And so, it is just still this belief that people are important and so, I’m blessed with being able to take the old things I did and the new awakenings that I have and put it all together and use it as a guiding post to lead this company.

Erin Hardick: Just referring to our customers as rate payers, it actually sounds quite ridiculous now. So one thing that I did want to say, because I think it’s kind of silly, you said that you had a lot of failures along your way and you wouldn’t advise folks to do things the way you did, but I think what we’ve found is failure is one of the catalyst to success in many ways. I mean you are a very notable thought leader in the energy space. Zpryme has recognized you as thought leader of the year and you’ve won many other accolades to speak to that.

Erin Hardick: So you just kind of gave some advice to folks who are kind of maybe in the higher up, maybe the C-suite, but I was wondering if you had any advice for the folks who are interested in getting into the energy space in general. I listened to an interview you did with KLRN public television station, the podcast, and you mentioned something along the lines of you just kind of said yes to a lot of things. That’s how you got into the position that you are today. So what advice do you have for some of us younger folks that aren’t really sure how to be impactful or kind of pursue a carrier in this space? What advice do you have?

PGW: I mean, like you hit a lot of the things that I believe. One thing I would say that I don’t normally talk about as much is stop thinking there’s a magic recipe out there for your success. When I was an auditor in my background, I remember I was working, and I’d only been working about a year, and I looked at my supervisor and I felt like I didn’t really know. There must be some secret. Everybody else knows stuff and they’re better at things than I do, or they’re figuring out things, but I was like, “When will I make that step where all will be revealed and I’ll be in the club and I will know what they know, and somebody’s holding out on me.” I kept thinking about it was this thing that I could shoot for that I could see. He said to me, “You’ll know when you know.” And I’m like, “Well that is not helpful in any way.” But it isn’t about a magic secret sauce or a perfection. It’s not about perfection. Life isn’t perfect.

PGW: Actually what I think more so is, I don’t need perfect people. Perfect people are rigid and lacking creativity and they won’t do certain things. They won’t get their hands dirty. They won’t dive into a problem because they don’t want to be labeled with a failure. I don’t have any interest in people who are about perfection. They’re insecure, because if they have a failure, oh my God, the world is falling around their heads. I don’t have time to make you feel good about your imperfections. That’s not the work. The work are the people that are going to go in and go, “You know what, that is a mess Paula. You’ve got a ton of stuff to do. I’m going to go in there and try to detangle it.” And if everybody goes in and just leans in and tries to detangle it, and then comes up with solutions, actions and starts what I call having action enabled strategies. Not just sitting pontificating about what could be and how bad it could be and where to go. Just move in and realize that imperfection is in fact an opportunity. It is the opportunity.

PGW: Imperfections, that’s where the work is. That’s your ability to shape the outcome. Because when it’s imperfect it has to be fixed. You go in and fix it, people notice. Oh my God. Wow. Erin just fixed that. She’s a can do kind of person. I’m not sure I had the energy to do that, or the capacity, but she did. And so I said yes to a lot of things. I said yes. I often talk to people, I said yes to the worst projects. One, nobody was competing for them, so I knew I was going to get it, but two, they gave me the most creativity. The people didn’t know what the outcome was. They just wanted it fixed. And so, letting go and realizing it’s not about perfection. That it’s not about your ego. It’s not about your image. It’s not a profile. It’s about substance. It’s about character. It’s about being that person who can go 10 layers deep on something and come back and be able to vacillate between the detail issues and the strategy. And then align that to where the bigger picture is. That’s value.

PGW: Nobody has a lock on it. It’s not an exclusive club. It is all opportunity. And when you look at an industry that is about to evolve, I say anybody who’s interested come in now, because when change happens, when disruption is possible, when evolution is on the horizon that’s where most people can jump in and you stop having to worry about whether you’ve got five years or 10 years in the industry, it doesn’t matter. Anybody can enter. Anybody can excel. Any background can work. It is just the passion to come in and create. The passion to come in and work through and solve things. To be solutions oriented. It’s not degree driven. I would even tell you in our organization, you don’t have to have a degree to make it to executive. We don’t over focus on that anymore, because we believe the opportunity is all the expertise they have and do they have the ability to learn? Do they have qualitative skills?

PGW: We don’t care about what your pedigree looks like anymore. It’s all substance. It’s interesting, but so what. You might have went to the top college in the world, but if all you can do is regurgitate, we don’t need that. So I think it’s super exciting. I really believe that there’s so many entry points into the industry. There’s so many turns. I think expanding your skills across the spectrum. Don’t be narrow, right? Just you can work at a solo company, you can work at a utility company, you can work at a think tank, you can work at all these things, and then move around. Get different perspectives. Bring your expertise. Put on your learning cap. Be part of the future is my thought.

Erin Hardick: I just have to say, it’s so empowering to hear an executive in the energy space talking about this, because I was one of those people who just kind of found myself in energy. I have a background in accounting. I don’t do anything accounting related and I thought, that may inhibit me from being a productive member of an organization that’s in energy, but it turned out not to be true, thank goodness. And I have to give a shout out to our CEO Jason Rodriquez, because to be completely transparent, I’m not sure anybody at Zpryme does anything with a degree that they have from school. We all have completely different jobs because he gave us the opportunity to pursue something we were passionate about and apply our problem solving skills to those things and he didn’t keep us in a box and allowed us to be creative and solve problems different ways. So I just wanted to tell you that I find it very empowering and it’s definitely something that needs to be continuously articulated to other people to continue to gain diverse thought perspectives and new talent and new creativity for the industry. So I really appreciate him and respect that.

PGW: Well Erin, you tell that secret that you also were an accountant. From one accountant to another, it’s fascinating, right? Because I’ll say this about myself, I’m truly and introvert, right? I mean, I can sit behind the computer and look at numbers, it all speaks to me. But I’m an extroverted introvert who was given an opportunity to do something and you do an amazing job. I would have thought that your background would have been different, but I believe that people’s foundation is just where they start, not where they end up. And I have to also give a compliment to Jason. He looks at people in terms of new opportunity and he doesn’t sit there and put people, peg them and limit them. He is open to the most creative thinking and I know many people on your staff and it’s just been a great way that he’s put you all together. Again, not limiting what your backgrounds are, but encouraging you to follow your interest. Letting you be inquisitive and letting you do things that maybe that wasn’t what your training is, but your passion alone is a differentiator. So, complements to you and to Jason, to the Zpryme organization. To you Dylan for this wonderful interview. It’s a good thing you put all the questions together. You did all the hard work.

Dylan Lockwood: Well thank you. Yeah, I have a political science degree for what it’s worth. We’re brushing up against time, but I would be remiss if we didn’t get to talk a little bit about City of the Future. Like I said, it’s coming up February 24 and 25 in San Antonio, Texas. We’re going to be talking about the programs, the technologies and the mentalities that are going to be needed to bring cities into the future. Paula, looking forward to seeing you there. What are some of the discussions that you’re most interested in hearing about from leaders around the country?

PGW: That is a great question. I mean the group has kind of shown me preliminarily what some of the topics and activities are, but I mean, I guess ultimately what I want is I want to make sure we’re having the conversations again about increasing the engagement and knowledge of a wide group of people that have diverse needs and beliefs. Again, a person who works in a big business, who runs a big business has a different perspective than somebody who just launched a small business. Or someone who, a resident and the wide range of things that our residents have and are interested in. I think again, trying to figure out how we can have conversations about how do we bring these technologies closer to them? How do we bring their interests? How do we make sure that they understand what’s possible and what’s going to take a whole lot more collective effort for us to find new solutions? What are new technologies that will ultimately get us where we should be in 2050? But making those digestible conversations for the average citizen.

PGW: There will be a bunch of experts at that meeting, but I think we again, have to not get caught up in our technical ability to spout a million acronyms and impress each other. It is about again, our ability to assure others and bring them in and benefit them and that kind of thing. We will end up bringing in quite a few of our people through the process because they’re evolving with us. And then we will invite customers, students, different business leaders, civic leaders to also kind of experience this engaging conversation that just needs to be at a … We should feel like we’re breaking bread and relaxing, but having these important discussion about what are our next steps over the short meeting the long term.

Dylan Lockwood: My final question for you Paula would be what’s on the horizon for you? What’s something you’re about to engage in that excites you?

PGW: We have introduced here in San Antonio, I mean, a next phase of our evolution. And keeping in mind that we’re building on quite a few things. We closed two older coal units. It took us six years to effectuate that plan. And we did it all without having to lay off wonderful people and impact families. We had a significant plan where we started retraining people. Preparing them, talking with them. Ultimately we used contractors that do a lot of temporary work where we needed to, to fit in the [inaudible 00:46:30] and then we were able to move all our people around. So our things take a long time to do, but that was a huge milestone. We just got through giving our first leg of the 10 year, maybe 11 year, program on energy efficiency and conservation. We came in under budget and we came in about a year early on those programs.

PGW: Now we’re looking at the ability to create a new energy efficiency and conservation program. We call that STEP, Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan. And then we’re going to kind of build a Flex STEP. And Flex is part of our mantra about we’ve got to stay flexible. We’ve got to stay vigilant in looking at is on the horizon and what new technologies need to be into San Antonio, and how do you again put them in the hands of your customers and make it easy for them to start thinking about not just electrification, but conservation, and how do you make that all balance in a way that is still a great business model, but it is evolving?

PGW: So in the next year in particular, we’re going to continue on this effort, but it will be more possibility, more assessment. We have kicked off an analysis. We’re studying economies around the globe. We are looking at why in this place does their smart city program look like this? And why is it that they’re able to make certain programs work and why have certain ones failed? And so we’re in huge learning mode, that again isn’t going to get less, it’s going to get more. We’ve got to put ourselves in learning mode around the cyber aspects of smart cities. So, this flexibility is really our constant reminder that what worked five years ago is not what we have to be locked into today and it is nothing like we can expect to be our opportunities a couple years from now to 25 years from now.

PGW: So what I’m excited about is this, we’re changing our culture. We’re opening up more. We’re realizing that this learning mode and this flexibility matters. We’re getting the community to think about why flexibility is good and why flexibility isn’t ideology. We are practically looking for technical solutions that work where we can keep things affordable for customers. Where we can provide reliable power. Where we can put in more resilient solutions. Where the environment is going to continue to be improved. Where security is important and everybody’s kept safe. So that means again, we have an opportunity to beat our performance from last year. We have an opportunity to step forward in our long term plan to evolve and have another 160 years of serving this community.

PGW: So I can’t say it’s one particular thing. It is the whole ability for us to know that we’re going to learn and grow in next year and that we’re going to touch more customers. We’re going to get our message out. We’re going to listen to pros and cons and we’re going to take action to do better and provide better opportunities for all of the customers in San Antonio. So I’m just excited about what 2020, right? What 2020 will bring. And then 2020 is a springboard to the future.

Dylan Lockwood: Paula thank you very much for that insight and thank you for being on the show with us today. Very happy to have been able to have had this conversation with you. Again, thanks for being on.

PGW: Well thank you Dylan, and thank you Erin. You tell me when you get to San Antonio. I’ll try to set you up on that brisket pecan pie.

Dylan Lockwood: I’m holding you to that.

Erin Hardick: You bet.

Dylan Lockwood: Holding you to that for sure.

PGW: My pleasure. My pleasure, because I get to have some if I find an excuse to get you some.

Dylan Lockwood: I’ll be thinking about it. I’ll be thinking about it.

PGW: Very good. Well thanks for this opportunity. It’s another way too that we also share these things out with our community in the links and it’s just one more thing. When they can see an organization like Zpryme focusing on San Antonio and allowing us to come and tell our story, it matters. So, thanks again and tell Jason I really appreciate the partnership.

Dylan Lockwood: We’ll do that. Thank you very much. And Erin, thanks for being on and talking to Paula with me today.

Erin Hardick: As always Dylan it was a pleasure. I’m excited for brisket pie. One other quick thing I did want to mention. Paula noted that at City of the Future, were going to have quite a great lineup of people from Chicago, Detroit, the City of Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Orlando. So we’re going to have quite a good national representation there, so we are also looking forward to City of the Future.

PGW: Super exciting.

Dylan Lockwood: Yes. And for those of you who are interested in finding out more about City of the Future, registering, you can go to So City of the Future spelled out dot I-O. As always you can find our research and media at You can find us on social media @dylockwood, @erinhardick, @zpryme_research. Also, make sure to check out @ets_conference as we put out more information about upcoming events. My name is Dylan and we’ll see you all next time.