by Dwain Hebda | Photography by Jamison Mosley
When Laura Landreaux was promoted to president and CEO of Entergy Arkansas last year, she became the first female to hold the post in the company’s history. But for the Little Rock native and U of A grad, the opportunity is as personal as it is professional.
“Entergy has been a part of this community, through its predecessor AP&L, for over 100 years now,” she says. “I’ve known about this company, I’ve used its products and services throughout my career, my life growing up here. It’s second nature to me.
“Number two, my customers are my friends, my family, my colleagues, my classmates, the small businesses that I frequent in my neighborhood. These are people that I care about personally. My commitment to this company and this community is deep because of that relationship.”
Landreaux takes over a market in the midst of a revolution in power generation and consumer-managed usage of energy. Entergy is investing heavily in solar power and will soon introduce technology that changes the way consumers can review and budget their energy usage.
“I’ve inherited a transformation of our generation fleet,” she says. “It’s been a really exciting piece of work for me personally to see our investment in solar generation. We’ve got one solar plant in Stuttgart currently delivering energy, 81 megawatts. We also have a second facility that’s been recently approved by Arkansas Public Service Commission down in Chicot County. We’re excited about that coming online in a couple of years. It’s an additional 100 megawatts.”
Equally ambitious is the company’s forthcoming transition to advanced metering technology, set to begin in January. Advanced, or “smart,” meters will replace current models providing customers and the company alike with a range of benefits.
“[Advanced metering] is something that most utilities across the nation are moving toward,” Landreaux says. “It’s going to provide us an opportunity to provide a lot more products and services to the customer that will hopefully make their life a lot easier.”
Among the new features are faster identification of outages down to the address and giving account holders the ability to review energy usage in real time.
“(Customers) will have more insight into their energy usage on a daily basis. Right now, they get a bill at the end of the month, and they can see the energy consumption historically. What we’ll have available for the customer is the ability to go onto their online account or to an app or whatever they’re most comfortable using and see what their energy usage is on a daily basis in 15-minute increments. They can then make adjustments going forward and better manage their bill.”
The new tools are the latest in Entergy’s ongoing efforts to maintain and upgrade its infrastructure, both to service existing customers and to position the company for the future.
“One need for us to address, always, is our aging infrastructure, and that spans from our distribution system to our transmission system to our generation fleet,” Landreaux says. “Many of the assets were put into place many, many years ago and over time have deteriorated. We continually make investments to replace that aging infrastructure. That’s a continual challenge from a capital standpoint.”
Equally challenging – and vital – is the company’s ongoing investment in its workforce. Entergy Arkansas employs more than 2,700 people, and Landreaux places a high priority on developing these individuals on the job today and preparing them for the opportunities of tomorrow.
“We have an initiative here we call Employee Driven Excellence,” she says. “It’s an employee-driven idea that improves service. Employees are able to submit ideas through a portal that then get evaluated and potentially implemented.
“Separate from that, we have smaller groups looking directly at innovative technology and products. These innovative groups within the company solely focus on where we can go tomorrow.”
Landreaux began her career in environmental law right out of school with a large firm in Phoenix and while working with utilities, became intrigued by the energy industry. She cut her teeth with the Salt River Project there before coming home to Entergy Arkansas as senior counsel in 2007. Over the next 10 years, she ascended quickly, from manager of regulatory affairs to vice president. She’d served in her most recent role, as finance director, since last fall.
Her work experience repeatedly underscored the vagaries of the utilities business as an exceptionally complex regulatory and technological entity, graded every time the customer flips the switch.
“The lights turning on, the bill being manageable and the reliability of both of those aspects of the service we provide is foundational. We have to get those right on day one,” she says. “At the same time, the company and the industry are in a state of transformation. Innovation and technology are driving where the utility goes in the future.
“It’s become our focus to have these two fundamentals remain foundational and figure out how to transition our service to that which meets and exceeds customer expectations, even as those expectations continue to evolve with innovation and technology.”
This effort is aided by what Landreaux describes as Arkansas’ utilities-friendly environment. During three years as the company’s vice president of regulatory affairs, she worked directly with the Arkansas Public Service Commission and gives the state’s regulatory climate high marks.
“The Arkansas Public Service Commission and our Economic Development Commission, locally and at the federal level, are all focused on being business-friendly,” she says. “We have a very advanced regulatory construct here at the Arkansas Public Service Commission. We’re operating under a formula rate plan which allows the company the financial flexibility it needs to continue to make the capital investment while balancing both the company and the customer impacts of that. That’s a fairly unique type of structure that puts us ahead of several other states.”
As technical and complicated as many elements of her job can be, Landreaux says the energy business still comes down to developing relationships, a fact that also informs her leadership. She says paying attention to the fundamental building blocks of those relationships – authenticity, coaching and respect – cost nothing, but have a daily transformative effect on the company.
“Everybody likes to be appreciated,” she says. “As a leader, I want each and every single one of my employees to know that I appreciate the effort that they bring every single day. I have a philosophy, I call it, ‘Leading from Behind.’
“Enabling my employees to come to work and do the work to the best of their ability – with encouragement from me along the way – helps each of them attain their highest value.”