Jacksonville, FL — With the possible privatization of JEA essentially squashed, the new interim CEO of the utility is focused on the future.
Aaron Zahn tells WOKV he has spent the last couple of weeks refocusing on JEA's customers and strong safety culture, and meeting with key stakeholders- like the Jacksonville City Council and Mayor- to unify behind a vision for how JEA becomes more valuable to the community in the future.
“How do we deliver customer and business excellence for the next five to ten years going forward,” he says.
Zahn has pushed this message since he was given the interim post a couple of weeks ago, after the prior CEO stepped down, saying JEA needed a different set of leadership skills to meet its future challenges. This all happened as the City of Jacksonville was exploring the utility's value and whether it should be privatized. Zahn immediately called for those talks to be halted, and just last week Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry definitively said he would not put forward any plan relating to the sale of JEA.
Zahn confirms to WOKV that he doesn’t see privatization as something that will be a part of his five- and ten-year planning for JEA.
He has previously said that he would be interested in the permanent CEO position, if his skills matched the utility’s need. The JEA Board recently put out a request for bids for a company willing to lead the search for that permanent CEO. Even as Zahn holds the interim title, though, he’s looking long term.
“Lay the environment and the sort of ground upon which the five- and ten-year strategy will be designed and then eventually implemented,” he says.
That long-term focus has to be one of "bold" thinking, he says. WOKV asked if that type of initiative was not taking place at JEA as it stands, and Zahn says it wasn't being discouraged, but the thinking wasn't necessarily meeting the evolving market.
“What’s the next generation to come, how do we think about being more of a decentralized utility,” he says.
He says there have been major changes in the utility industry over the last five to ten years, and JEA needs to keep up. While he has goals in the interim position over the next six to twelve months, he also knows change won’t necessarily be quick, because of all of those complexities.
“Any shifts need to be well thought through, they need to be vetted with the Board of Directors, they need to be understood by the community at large, before you start to see any change,” Zahn says.
His first key measurement has been building that consensus, which is something he thinks has been going well. Part of what lets him promote that unity and think big picture is the creation of a new President/Chief Operating Officer position, that has been filled by JEA’s Chief Financial Officer Melissa Dykes- who also applied for the interim CEO job. While the CEO looks at vision, the President/COO is focused on day-to-day.
In that day-to-day role, a big priority right now is storm preparation. JEA has kicked off its annual exercise in partnership with the City of Jacksonville, and Zahn says they are dedicated to improving with each storm season. Dykes has been in leadership at JEA through the last few seasons, which have included Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.