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Q&A: New Tampa Electric CEO Nancy Tower outlines safety plan

TAMPA — Nancy Tower was in junior high when she first came to Tampa Bay from Canada to vacation with her family. Now, she returns here in a more permanent capacity — as Tampa Electric Co.’s new CEO.

Tower was appointed to Tampa Electric’s top spot following former CEO Gordon Gillette’s retirement in late 2017. She is a longtime executive of Tampa Electric’s Canadian parent, Emera Inc.

Tower takes over at a challenging time for the utility. Tampa Electric is currently the subject of an investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration following a fatal accident at its Big Bend Power Station in June. Five workers were killed after performing a maintenance procedure that Tampa Electric knew was dangerous.

Related coverage: Hellfire from above: Tampa Electric knew the procedure was dangerous. It sent workers in anyway>

OSHA designated Tampa Electric’s violation as "willful," one of the most serious charges, and slapped the utility with a $126,749 fine. Tampa Electric is appealing the designation. Now it waits to see if its case will be referred to the Department of Justice, which could bring criminal charges.

Related coverage: Tampa Electric appeals OSHA citation for fatal Big Bend accident>

Safety, then, is at the forefront of Tower’s agenda.

"The tragedy at Big Bend has changed the company forever," she said. "We can no longer be a company where people get hurt at work, let alone killed."

Tower sat down with the Tampa Bay Times this week to discuss her plans for the utility and her approach.

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Priorities

In a letter her first day, Tower said, she told employees that her priorities — in order — are safety, customers and environmental stewardship. Leadership presence, too, is important to her.

"I’ve have it in my calendar a day a week that I’ll be in the field talking to employees," she said.

Improving safety

Tower is implementing a five-year plan to bolster safety at the utility with the goal of having zero injuries and deaths. Among the plan’s components are revamped safety procedures, training, a safety management program with contracted workers, increased presence of company leadership and a comprehensive safety system that will be audited.

Tampa Electric will also conduct a baseline cultural assessment of its employees to gauge perceptions around safety.

"Getting deep into people’s beliefs is the place we have to start as it relates to safety," Tower said.

Changes since Big Bend

In addition to the five-year safety plan, Tower created and re-filled several positions with an eye toward safety. She established and appointed a vice president of safety who reports directly to her, named a chief operating officer tasked with overseeing energy supply and delivery and designated a new plant manager at Big Bend.

"No business interest is more important than the health and safety of our employees," she said.

Challenges

When asked by an employee, Tower said she considers maintaining safety on an individual level her biggest hurdle.

"I can’t be with each of you every day and remind you to work safely," Tower said she told the employee.

Getting employees, both in-house and contracted, to think with a safety-first attitude is paramount.

"We can put all the procedures in place, but you need to want to follow them," she said.

"Speak up" culture

Tower hopes promoting a "speak up" culture will encourage workers to put safety first and know the company will back them.

"Employees have to feel comfortable refusing to do work they feel is unsafe," she said.

Tampa Electric has also worked with its workers’ union to integrate new language about safety and speaking up in the collective bargaining agreement.

Cleaner energy

Ideally, Tower said, Tampa Electric’s power generation in five years would involve less coal and more natural gas, as well as more solar energy. While the utility hasn’t made specific plans to add more solar beyond its current 600 megawatt venture, Tower aims to add more. What likely won’t make an appearance, Tower said, is nuclear energy.

Listening to the community

Because Emera doesn’t have Florida roots, it has put together a board comprised of people from within the company as well as business and community leaders from the area and state to advise them on local issues.

"Our philosophy is to keep it as local as we can, because we think that’s where the best decisions get made," Tower said.

Community involvement

Tower was heavily involved in her communities in Canada, serving on hospital foundation boards, university boards and was a campaign co-chair for United Way. Her first six months in Tampa Bay, she said, will focused on getting acquainted with the various parts of the business and employees.

Following that, she will likely get involved with similar organizations here but she didn’t name specific groups.

"It’s a big part of me to make sure I’m giving back to the community," she said, "and I intend to continue to do that here in this role."

Leadership style

"It’s collaborative," she said. "One of the things that’s important is that (on) my leadership team, we all own the results of the organization. All of the results, not just financial results but safety results."

Contact this reporter at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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