By Debra Levy Martinelli
Pete Delaney believes people make a place a home.
The chairman, CEO and president of OGE Energy Corp. was born and raised in Pennsylvania, educated in Virginia and Louisiana, and is a former resident of Texas, New Jersey and New York.
Not all of them were home. But Oklahoma, where he’s lived since 2002, certainly is… and that’s because of the people.
“There is a real genuineness to Oklahomans. They’re very down-to-earth and have an independent streak, which I appreciate,” says Delaney, who joined OGE Energy seven years ago as president of Enogex, the company’s midstream pipeline business, after a year as a full-time consultant to the company. “I’ve lived in a lot of places and traveled across the country and around the world. You just don’t find that combination of genuineness and independence anywhere else.”
It’s that confident, can-do attitude that Delaney is relying on for success in several important initiatives that loom large on his agenda for the next several months: the 2009 United Way of Central Oklahoma campaign he is chairing, and the ongoing roll-out of new technologies that will help customers of OGE Energy subsidiary Oklahoma Gas and Electric better manage their energy use.
Involved in United Way since his arrival in Oklahoma City, Delaney previously served in vice chair positions of several past campaigns, including energy, leadership giving and loaned executives (businesses and organizations that agree to provide volunteers to the campaign).
His personal goal for this year’s campaign is, at the very least, to maintain the level of giving. “The United Way campaign has grown enormously over the past few years, and we don’t want to slide back,” he explains. “Oklahoma City is a great community that has always come together in tough times. This is a tough time, and we fully expect the community to come together for a good campaign.”
On the energy front, OGE Energy, under Delaney’s guidance, is fast becoming a national leader in renewable energy.
“The world’s population continues to grow dramatically as many of the planet’s finite resources are being depleted. We can’t continue to approach our energy needs with the traditional solution of building power plants,” he explains. “Technological advances are allowing us to head in a new direction that is a balance of traditional and renewable energy sources and conservation.
“Making renewables is becoming much more economical. Wind power in Oklahoma is more expensive than conventional fuels, but when the cost of reducing carbon dioxide levels is included, our projections show wind power will save our customers money. Solar is still expensive, but the cost is expected to come down.”
Through its Positive Energy® SmartPower campaign, OG&E partners with customers to help them manage their energy needs and usage. “One of our goals is to avoid building more power plants until 2020, but we can’t do it alone. Positive Energy® enables us to educate customers on simple steps they can take to conserve, and put tools into their hands so they can monitor their energy use and pricing. People really respond when they see costs.”
OG&E’s efforts in this area were recently recognized by the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which has ranked the company’s wind power program first in a pricing category that measures how much customers who choose to participate in a renewable energy program must pay for electricity relative to other customers.
The early years
Delaney’s journey “home” to the Sooner state has been a long and sometimes circuitous one.
He grew up on a 70-acre farm in central Pennsylvania, where his chores included feeding livestock – not the first thing a boy wants to think about on brutally cold, snowy winter mornings.
“We had a lot of snow, as much as four feet, which was about as deep as I was tall. Some mornings I just couldn’t get to the sheep to feed them before I left for school. To this day, I still have the occasional nightmare of the sheep lined up against the fence, staring at me as I was driven off to school.”
Academics didn’t come easy for Delaney, but in high school he discovered he had an aptitude for economics. He earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in economics with distinction from the University of Virginia, but had no plans to parlay it into a career. He had no college job interviews, but that didn’t worry him. He graduated with his class in the spring and stayed in Charlottesville until his apartment lease expired the following August.
“I wasn’t very forward-thinking at the time,” he recalls with a chuckle.
Nevertheless, opportunity found him in the form of a job as a cameraman for the NBC News affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama, where his specialty was covering accidents and fires. He then returned to school for a master’s in business administration with a concentration in finance from Tulane University, after which he worked at Gulf States Utilities in Beaumont, Texas, and then Entergy Corp., a multi-state utility that serves Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
In 1986, Delaney joined New York securities firm Kidder, Peabody and Co., where he specialized in corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions, first in the United States and then, with Bear Stearns, in Latin America. He began his long-term relationship with OGE Energy in 1987, working with company leaders on such issues as potential deregulation. Those interactions, he says, gave him an insight into the greater Oklahoma population.
“Utility companies tend to all go in the same direction. Someone has a great idea, and everybody adopts it,” he says. “But OGE never followed the lemmings; its leadership always stopped to think about whether moving in that direction made sense for the company. That approach has served OGE well over the years. The same approach serves Oklahoma well.”
In the mid-1990s, Delaney, still in New York, moved to global investment banking and securities giant UBS, where he focused on U.S. and European utility markets. By the dawn of the new millennium, however, Wall Street had changed, and not to his liking. “It went from a business based on building relationships and providing ideas to one based largely on lending money to compete with commercial banks,” he says. “After all the changes, it seemed like there were absolutely no values left.”
Ready for a change
Delaney left UBS in 2001 to consult full-time for Enogex. For a year, he commuted between Oklahoma and his family in New Jersey.
When he was offered the post of Enogex president the following year, he thought long and hard about whether it was the right move. Ultimately, there were two defining factors: the fantastic professional opportunity as Enogex’s chief operating officer and OGE Energy’s executive vice president for strategic planning; and, naturally, the people. He joined the company in April. His wife, Karen, and two children moved to Oklahoma City in July.
In 2007, Delaney, who at the time was OGE Energy COO, was named the company’s CEO, succeeding his friend and mentor, Steve Moore, who had died of cancer.
Delaney keeps a photograph of Moore in his office. “He’s over there,” says Delaney, pointing to the photo, “and I talk to him all the time. He was a great leader with the uncanny ability to say the right thing at the right time to get the troops where they needed to be. We viewed things much the same way. It was wonderful to have his support.”
Now in his second year at the helm, Delaney applies his “people make the place” philosophy to his role at OGE Energy.
“My approach to leadership is that people don’t work for me, I work for them. I know who gets the work done. As CEO, I’m in a position to remove barriers for them – whether they’re related to resources, capital, training or something else – so they can do their jobs. My job is to build a strong team and communicate the direction of the company,” he says. “I can think great thoughts or even not-so-great thoughts, but if other people aren’t thinking along those lines with me, we’re not going anywhere.”
While he is passionate about the company and its members, as OGE Energy employees are called, Delaney is equally fervent about the community that has given him and his family so much.
In addition to his current duties as United Way campaign chairman, Delaney somehow also finds time for other civic pursuits: vice chair of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s Economic Development Committee; and membership on numerous boards, including Heritage Hall School, Allied Arts of Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (where Karen, an art enthusiast, is a docent), Oklahoma State Fair, Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., and Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation.
“What’s happening on the river is one of the catalysts for changing Oklahoma City’s image. When the Oklahoma Regatta Festival was reported in the New York Times, I got a lot of calls from my contacts there who said, ‘Wow! There’s a regatta in Oklahoma?’ The Thunder and the art museum are other catalysts that are challenging people’s conventional beliefs about our state,” he says. “The more big things we can accomplish, the more we can change others’ perceptions of us.
“In Oklahoma, we get things done,” he adds. “That’s our big advantage, and we have to maintain it.”