Kevin Walker’s journey to become the top Rochester-based executive for Iberdrola USA Management Corp. began in Washington, D.C., where he was born to a 16-year-old single mother.
It then shifted to the Maryland suburbs, where he was captain of his high school football and wrestling teams and to his appointment to the U.S. Military Academy and his graduation in 1985 with a degree in civil engineering.
From there his journey took him to Saudi Arabia, where he served as the chief aide to the commanding officer at the highest artillery level for the 82nd Airborne Division during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
After completing his military service, his path continued at Consolidated Edison Inc. in New York City, where he was thrust into the middle of the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.
Today he lives in Honeoye Falls and is senior vice president and chief operating officer for Iberdrola USA Management, which does business as Iberdrola USA Inc.
Walker, 50, manages day-to-day activities for Iberdrola USA subsidiaries Rochester Gas and Electric Corp., New York State Electric & Gas Corp. and Central Maine Power. NYSEG offices are in Binghamton; CMP offices are in New Gloucester, Maine. He oversees 1,133 RG&E, NYSEG and Iberdrola workers in the Rochester market.
"He is very futuristic in looking at employees and what they can do," says Jean Howard, an Iberdrola board member and onetime chief of staff to former Rochester mayor Robert Duffy.
"Iberdrola has pulled in partnerships from all over the world. We are thriving, we feel, because our leadership has been open to new opportunities and new beginnings. Kevin excels in that area. He has learned a lot about the cultures of the companies we’re working with."
Iberdrola USA reported gross margins of $1.83 billion in 2012, a 10 percent increase from 2011 and its best performance since the three power companies were sold to Iberdrola S.A. by Energy East Corp. in 2008. Iberdrola USA accounted for 30 percent of the Spain-based global energy company’s 2012 revenue of nearly $44 billion.
"Iberdrola is a unique utility company in the U.S.," Walker says. "As I’m learning, it’s not so unique in Europe. It’s very focused on change and being the best and continuous improvement-all of these things that a Type A, West Point/Wharton graduate like me gets jazzed about."
Walker was named COO at Iberdrola in November 2009, 14 months after the company closed on its $4.5 billion acquisition of Energy East.
"Kevin has been a breath of fresh air for the company," says Maine-based Iberdrola USA CEO Robert Kump. "He comes from the industry, away from Energy East. So he brings a new perspective on how we operate, on how we think about becoming more efficient, that I don’t think we would’ve had otherwise."
Walker joined Iberdrola after five years at American Electric Power in Columbus, Ohio-and after interviewing with Iberdrola S.A. CEO and Chairman Ignacio Galan.
"He can be pretty infectious about being excited and passionate about doing things differently," Walker says. "I thought it would be a good fit."
Walker was president and COO of AEP Ohio-the company’s largest operating unit-from 2004 to January 2008 and senior vice president and chief information officer for all of AEP for 22 months before leaving for Iberdrola.
"I get to see a wide breadth of issues and the linkages between them," Walker says. "It’s not so isolated. Most other jobs I’ve had have been more siloed. Even though they’ve been broad, they’ve been broad within a silo. This crosses the entire company."
Also, Iberdrola is more innovative than his previous employers, Walker says.
"At the other utilities I worked at, it was more about the business model and sticking to what you know, not changing anything, keeping a low profile and not making yourself a target," he says.
"For somebody like me, who wants to continually get better and do something exciting, and be on the cutting edge if we can, and be leaders in the community, that gets a little boring."
Walker spent the first five years of his life in the nation’s capital. His mom married when he was 2.
"She met a guy who said, look, I’m willing to marry you and accept your child as my child," Walker says. "Whenever he got a bonus of $50 or something, he would move to another place. We moved a lot."
The moves were sometimes just far enough to avoid winos and vagrants.
"It wasn’t drive-by shootings and things that people have to deal with in the urban communities these days," Walker says. "But he wanted to protect his family. We moved a couple blocks over, then a couple of towns over; then we moved into Maryland."
The family moved to Oxon Hill in southern Prince George’s County as Walker entered junior high school.
"I had a really good guidance counselor who saw that I was pretty good in academics, pretty good in athletics," Walker says.
The counselor, married to a command sergeant major in the U.S. Army, asked what he planned to do after graduating from high school. Walker wanted to attend Texas A&M and play football.
"She said, ‘Well, what do you think about West Point?’" Walker recalls.
"She was telling me how great it was, that you don’t have to pay. That was a real-ly good deal because I don’t know if my parents would’ve been able to pay for a full ride anywhere. I thought it might be a good option to get to college."
Walker received appointments from members of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
"I remember the first day I went into the academy:I did have hair back then. They shave your hair and they do all this stuff in the first six hours because you have an indoctrination parade for the parents," he says. "Your child comes in on one side and they’re already marching in a uniform with a shaved head."
The academy suited Walker’s needs and interests. Its honor code is "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do."
"To me, it was a way out," he says. "My family didn’t have a lot of money. I didn’t have a lot of good role models at home. This was an opportunity to do more."
His first chance to return home came at Christmastime.
"Taking leave from that place was one of the best things you could do because you’re trapped there and you’re working like crazy," Walker says.
"I had my car running-it was a rental car-and I’m ready to go, and I decided to get a candy bar. My buddies were in the car waiting for me, and I put 50 cents in the machine and two candy bars came out. I said, OK, I only paid for one. What am I supposed to do now?
"The machine had a phone number, so I ran up six flights of stairs and called the number. Nobody answers. I ran back down with a note with my name and my room and stick it on there, saying I’m not eating it, I’m putting it on top of the machine, and if it’s missing I’ll pay for it."
His friends understood the delay, Walker says.
"They said they’d do the same thing because that’s what we were trained to do," he says. "No doors were locked. Everybody had access to everything. You go into that environment, then go into the military with the idea that you’re going to bring some of that with you.
"Even if it gets watered down a bit with reality, you’re still going to bring enough of it to improve the military. A lot of things you hear about these sexual assault issues and all those kinds of things, it’s just not part of what you would allow at West Point if you get what it is they’re trying to teach you."
That is the benefit of military training, mentally and physically, Walker says. It requires balancing athletics and academics.
"It was pretty tough," he says. "There’s an exceptional crop of people in our country, the people who are Rhodes Scholars. There were very few people who mastered all of that."
Walker’s strength was his athleticism, he says. Still, during 10-mile runs at six minutes per mile he struggled along with his classmates.
There was a lot of support from your classmates, and from instructors. They were really committed to teaching, so they lived right there on the post. You could call them after hours.
"It’s set up for you to succeed, but it was very challenging being away from your family and having that rigid structure."
Serving the nation
After graduation, Walker began a five-year commitment to active duty.
His first stop was the Field Artillery School in Fort Sill, Okla., where he stayed for three months. His first assignment was in Augsburg, Germany. He had been there during the summer after his junior year at West Point to train with an active duty unit.
"It was a lot of fun. There were a lot of young lieutenants there who took me under their wing and showed me how things worked there. I wanted to go back there," Walker says.
He served there for three years.
"I liked Augsburg, but our military mission didn’t have enough weight for me," Walker says.
The mission was to load vehicles onto a railway line and move them north to the Czechoslovakian border for a potential conflict against the Soviet army at Fulda Gap, a large opening flanked by mountains on each side.
"We used to joke that by the time we did all that stuff, either we’d be speaking Russian or they’d be speaking English because we’d get there and it’d be too late to have any kind of impact," Walker says.
The mission lacked a sense of legitimacy, he says.
"When I was leaving there, I wanted to go to a unit that had a real mission, that’s going to really fight the battle," Walker says. "Not that I was hoping for it, because the saying we had at West Point was ‘pray for peace and prepare for war.’"
He ended up in Fort Bragg, N.C., as part of the 82nd Airborne Division.
"That was a really high-speed unit," Walker says. "We jumped out of planes.
"That was a real mission. We trained often. We had to be deployed anywhere in the world within 24 hours. You had to have your backpack packed all the time. It was tough, but rewarding."
In 1990, Walker was deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
"By that time the Iraqis had already invaded Kuwait," he says. "There was a fear-and a validated one after the fact-that they were going to come into Kuwait, turn south and invade Saudi Arabia. It was really economic, to capture the oil fields and live off of those funds."
Walker was responsible for calculating how much ammunition should be fired at targets.
"We didn’t have any firing tables for the desert environment," he says. "We had them for Vietnam, but that’s a very different environment."
The fight was complicated further by Iraqi tanks entering Saudi Arabia in apparent surrender, then opening fire on U.S. troops.
"I was trying to do some math to figure out how to do this," Walker says. "The Iraqi army didn’t play by the rules very well. Then this thing happened with about 50 tanks turning around and shooting at our guys, and I said this is an easy one. I’ll just take that number and multiply it by 12.
"So where you used to fire one round, now you’re going to fire 12. I believe that helped us win the war a lot faster."
Leaving the military
While the war gave him a sense of purpose in the military, it also convinced him that it was time to leave the service.
"Part of my getting out of the military was because of the disillusionment of how we were conducting things in the culture and that people were tolerating things that weren’t appropriate," Walker says.
His unit had a change of command during Desert Shield, just prior to combat.
"We trusted our commander," Walker says. "We knew him. We liked him. We were literally following him into battle. All of a sudden, this guy leaves and they bring in somebody that we don’t know.
"I think that was a bad decision. I think it was a political decision because the guy who came was from the Pentagon. He was one of those fast-track guys, and he hadn’t gotten a war badge yet so he needed to get one."
The new commander was "the worst leader you could ever imagine," Walker says.
"At the end, he was taking junior soldiers, women, to parties with shahs and sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and telling them they were ambassadors and had to create a good image, to not push back on anything," Walker says.
"I would say it was close to prostitution of these young soldiers. Then he would bring them back to the field after the parties and stuff were over and say you’re not supposed to say anything about what happened there. And they’re kids. A general to a private or a specialist is like God. You don’t know how to even push back on something like that."
Walker called attention to the situation.
"I got in trouble for challenging it," he says. "I’m doing my part as a West Pointer, challenging these things that don’t make sense, all the way up to the adjutant general, and the establishment was saying he’s a general, just keep your mouth shut."
He left the military shortly after that.
"At that point, I said I can’t see myself staying in an organization that would tolerate that kind of thing," Walker says.
"Now, the good part of the story is, after I got out I found out that he got court martialed. But he got to retire with his full pension, at his full rank."
Walker’s first job as a civilian was at Con Edison, which hired him in 1991. He left Con Edison in 2000 to become vice president of operations at Public Service of New Hampshire, with the option of more responsibility when a merger with two other utilities in New England was completed.
The merger fell through, however, and Walker returned to Con Edison in 2001 as vice president of maintenance and construction services.
He was in Tokyo on Sept. 11, 2001, at an international business executive program while enrolled in the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He was working toward his MBA, which he received in 2002, when terrorists targeted the World Trade Center.
"We were going to spend a week in Tokyo and then a week in Shanghai," Walker says. "I remember coming back to the hotel and one of my classmates came through the lobby of the hotel and was sobbing. She couldn’t even get out what she was trying to say.
"I followed her to a television, and a bunch of my classmates were sitting around watching the World Trade Center first on fire and then fall(ing) down. I couldn’t fathom that it was real life. …But I also knew that it was in my service territory and my folks were probably somewhere around and involved in that."
He thought first of Richard Morgan, Con Edison’s vice president of emergency management until his retirement in 2000 and a mentor for Walker.
"He was always called in fires, floods and explosions to talk to the first responders and let them know what to not touch or tap into," Walker says. "He was retired, but the next day he was still doing the same job. They just kept him on because he was so good at it."
Walker knew Morgan would be at the World Trade Center.
"All my friends said you’d probably be responding, too, if you were there," Walker says. "That’s true. I was kind of his understudy. He would’ve said, hey, I got a call. I’m heading down to the World Trade Center. I would’ve said, Dick, I’ll meet you there."
Morgan was among 2,752 who died when the towers collapsed.
"I was out of harm’s way because I was involved in this Wharton program," Walker says. "I could’ve met the same fate as Dick did."
It was three days before Walker could fly from Tokyo to New York City.
"My Con Edison guys picked me up at the airport and drove me right down to ground zero," he says. "The plane was a 747 jumbo jet, with 30 brave souls who wanted to fly the first flight back to New York City. There were not a lot of people interested in doing that, but I had to get back to work."
Walker and others on the plane saw the devastation as they flew past the site.
"I looked out of that window and saw the smoking holes where I used to always see … I mean, there wasn’t a dry eye on the plane," he says.
Walker was camped at the site for a month, he says.
"The whole infrastructure was crushed when the buildings came down. We basically ran a grid on the surface. It was a Herculean feat to do, and a lot of it was improvising," he says.
Off the job
Walker recently moved with his spouse, John Butcher, to Honeoye Falls after living on St. Paul Street in Rochester and in of Canandaigua.
"I like it a lot," he says of his new home. "It’s a beautiful area. I’ve never lived in horse country, so to speak. There are cows and sheep and they have horses. But it’s beautiful to see, you know, the fences and the rolling hills.
"I participated in the Memorial Day celebration, with my military background. You see the Norman Rockwell scene, the kids sitting on the sidewalk waving the flags. You don’t usually see that, growing up in Washington, D.C. We have big parades, but not those kinds of parades."
Walker and Butcher were married seven years ago and went to City Hall to be among the first to be married when the state Legislature passed the Marriage Equality Act on July 24, 2011.
"I consider myself a little bit of a Renaissance guy," says Walker, whose interests include music and travel. "I’m always trying to learn something new. John and I do a lot of cooking, entertaining. I look at a lot of sports on TV."
Walker is a local board member for WXXI public broadcasting, the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. and the Veteran’s Outreach Center Inc.
He serves on the advisory board for Comprehensive Development Inc. in New York City, which educates students who have dropped out of school and immigrants.
"He always wants to explore what’s on the other side of the mountain," Iberdrola board member Howard says. "That’s who he is.
"Since I first met him, he has talked about ways to get involved in the community. The companies he’s worked for are his priorities, but he also understands the balance. Through his community engagements, he attaches himself to organizations that are lifting others up and out of their current circumstances."
Walker also is one of 23 board members for the Defense Business Board, a private-sector group that advises the Department of Defense on business practices for the department.
"The idea is that in the civilian world we’ve figure out some things that the military hasn’t figured out yet," Walker says.
Title: Senior vice president and chief operating officer, Iberdrola USA Inc.
Home: Honeoye Falls
Education: B.S. in civil engineering, U.S. Military Academy, 1985; MBA, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, 2002
Family: Spouse, John Butcher
Hobbies: Music, travel, cooking, sports
Quote: "There are a myriad of things to do here. It has all that but doesn’t have the grind of New York City. To me, it has the best of both worlds. I feel safe in Honeoye Falls. I feel like there’s a community of people that network together, working toward similar objectives."
6/28/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.