As part of the Dean's CEO Speaker Series, Dean Maryam Alavi welcomed Chris Womack, chair, president, and CEO of Georgia Power. The energy company is the largest subsidiary of Southern Company, serving 2.7 million customers in Georgia.
In March 2023, Womack will transition into his new role as incoming president and CEO of Southern Company, which provides electric service to customers in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, natural gas service to customers in Georgia, Illinois, Tennessee and Virginia, and wholesale and innovative power solutions across the country through subsidiaries PowerSecure and Southern Power.
Before joining Southern Company in 1988, Womack worked on Capitol Hill for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., serving as a legislative aide for former Congressman Leon Panetta and as staff director for the Subcommittee on Personnel and Police for the Committee on House Administration.
He is a member of the board of directors of Invesco and the Georgia Ports Authority, and he has served on numerous boards, including the East Lake Foundation and the Alliance to Save Energy.
He has a bachelor's degree from Western Michigan University and a master's degree from American University. He completed the Stanford Executive Program in 2001 and is pursuing his PhD at Clark Atlanta University.
The Importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Dean Alavi began the conversation by asking Womack how leaders should approach diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the workplace.
As a leader, Womack believes companies must do more than simply talk about DEI initiatives. He explained how Southern Company is committed to making a difference in accepting and representing diverse individuals and cultures.
"I am trying to create an environment where we become comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. I think that's how we begin to make progress and make advancements. We have to establish goals and objectives and create accountability to get to where we want to go, where everyone in the organization feels like they're treated fairly and has the opportunity to pursue their dreams," he said.
Womack noted that evidence shows having a good diversity and equity program provides better financial results, higher retention rates, and attracts higher caliber talent.
“We’re all better when we have a diverse workforce with different perspectives,” he said.
Womack spoke about George Floyd’s death and the ways it began a conversation about race and noted that hearts and minds have to be changed.
“We recognize that we all have biases. Understanding and working through them is a lot of hard work. There’s no pill, no drug, and no quick fix. Diversity is a journey, but this journey doesn’t let anyone off the hook to do the work. We have to make sure we’re making progress,” he said.
When asked how the company cares for the community, Womack described how his employees make a difference. He said his employees live and work where they serve, and they want to improve the lives of others. Providing affordable energy and supporting arts councils, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and Habitat for Humanity are among the ways Georgia Power and its employees try to make a difference.
The Future of Energy
Womack stated that 12 years ago, 70% of energy in the U.S. came from coal production. Today, less than 20% of energy production comes from coal, and he reminded the audience that Georgia Power transitioned to more renewable energy sources within this short time.
He sees energy in the future coming from solar power, battery technology investments, and other clean energy resources. As an example of Georgia Power’s commitment to this direction and the importance of its R&D activities, he noted that the world’s largest fuel blending of hydrogen and natural gas was recently validated in a plant in Smyrna, Georgia. This development will result in a 7% reduction in carbon emissions over natural gas.
“It is incredibly thrilling in terms of what we’re going to do and how we use artificial intelligence and quantum computing to help us navigate how we run our business and serve our customers. It’s an exciting time to be in this business,” he remarked.
He discussed the company’s commitment to satisfying its customers by being responsive to storms and outages, understanding the importance of affordable energy to customers, and operating a company that offers hybrid capabilities.
Womack also touched on the importance of Georgia Power’s stance towards environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), emphasizing their commitment to good stewardship and sustainable energy opportunities.
When asked what he would say to himself if he were still 22, he emphasized the importance of learning and being able to communicate and collaborate with others rather than using technological devices such as smartphones and virtual realities to define relationships.
“Be a sponge. Be adaptable and curious and have an incredible passion for learning,” Womack ended.