Ok - today's pop question: Name a major American business sector where, not so long ago, you could measure success by the number of consumers who did not have it top of mind. If you answered “energy or utilities,” you win.
The fact is large portions of the industry include regulated concerns not competing for the daily business of individual retail consumers in a scrappy marketplace. Ironically, those that did the best jobs of producing energy sometimes generated the least amount of attention. Not too long ago, quietly doing the job well was a viable pathway.
As business leaders in this and other sectors now fully understand, a newly engaged and expectant public has the tools and motivation to keep the spotlights on high. Supply chain and procurement practices are becoming household words. Corporate governance can be front-page subject matter. Community involvement that makes a difference is now assumed.
The energy sector’s thousands of hard-working professionals face the stiff added challenges of protecting the environment, financing and constructing enormously expensive new sources of supply, and developing green technology that both gets the job done and meets rising political and public expectations. As we have seen, things can be especially unforgiving in a 24/7 digital news environment when energy production operations go wrong. Look at last year’s Gulf oil spill and this year’s nuclear event in Japan.
In short, the industry is top of mind. It’s top of mind in many quarters around the clock. The answer to today’s pop quiz is not the same.
As someone who spent the better part of two decades serving the industry, I know first-hand that the task facing all industry players each day can be daunting. When people depend on your product to live their lives comfortably, cleanly and safely, or even to live their lives, the stakes are high.
There has never been a more challenging time, and in my view, a more vital time, in the history of an industry that is not only a substantial part of the national and global economies, but an important part of everyday life.