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T. Graham Edwards Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

While trying to establish a new energy market, T. Graham Edwards and other Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator Inc. leaders didn’t have as much time to spend with their customers. But as things have fallen into place and settled down, Edwards, the company’s president and CEO, has been able to build those relationships, and his company is better for it. Midwest ISO operates 93,600 miles of transmission lines across 15 states and one Canadian province. Founded in 1998, the company now has 646 full-time employees. Smart Business spoke with Edwards about the importance of relationships in business success.

Stay focused. You cannot focus on everything at one time. You need to pick your three to five main items that you’re going to focus on, communicate that to your employees and move forward with it.

Don’t waver on that. If you try to take a scatter-gun approach and be everything to everybody and address every single issue in the most depth, you’re not going to get there. Have a course charted that is very clear so that the employees have a line of sight to what that vision and mission is.

Walk the talk. It’s not just, ‘This is what I say.’ I’ve got to walk the talk. If they see me saying one thing and doing something differently, then they are not going to believe anything I say, anyway.

I’m a big believer in management by walking around. I think you learn a lot from your employees when you walk into their office and just sit down and talk to them.

Stop and talk to them in the hall. The employees here call me Graham, and that’s what I want them to do. We have a very relaxed and informal setting here.

If people disagree with me, I expect them to say they disagree, in the right way, of course. They’ve got to feel free to speak their mind.

I don’t believe that you get the best results from anybody, personally or business-wise, without being participative. You need to always get feedback from the folks that you are working with. For one, to make sure they get the buy-in, but secondly, you always get a better decision that way.

See the change, understand the change. Our industry is always changing. We need to make sure that we understand what the changes are.

As an executive team, we need to come together with how we think we need to best approach changes within the industry from the company perspective. Then we need to get the feedback from management and employees on that direction.

When we go through a strategic planning effort, we do it with our executive staff and our officers and get feedback from our directors and managers before we roll it out. Then we roll it out to our stakeholders.

The employees of the company need to understand how we’re dealing with it before the external world understands how we’re dealing with it.

Everybody is different. You’re never going to have the ideal employee and the ideal manager throughout your organization. Everybody is different. You just need to try to manage people the best that you can. You handle folks in different ways.

Any CEO or any vice president or any officer of a company knows who they can count on and who they can’t, just through past performance. Those folks that you can count on are the ones that you are normally going to go to the well with every time to make sure things get done, but also to receive that feedback.

Let leaders lead. I look at every vice president as running their own business unit. I’m not going to tell them who to hire and who to fire.

The time that I step in and do that and I say, ‘You hire this person,’ and that person doesn’t work out, it’s probably a sure failure to start with. They might feel pressure to hire them, and they are going to make sure they don’t succeed.

It’s up to me to hold my direct reports accountable for their business units and make sure they are performing.

Don’t react too quickly. You need to be ahead of the pack, but I’m a believer that you need to let somebody else try something first, and then you improve on it.

I don’t want to be out there leading the pack on innovation. However, I want to be in the front quartile on implementation.

I think you can overreact too quickly and go down the wrong path without having sufficient data and empirical evidence to say that’s where you should be going.

Work with your board. It’s up to the CEO to develop the relationships with each individual board member and the board members collectively.

You do that through performance, by being held accountable and by keeping the board informed of what’s going on.

The relationship I have with my board is one that I will talk to board members once every couple of weeks. But it’s not on a personal basis. It’s on a business basis. You’ve got to develop the relationships where there is confidence on both sides.

I’ve seen CEOs where they have bucked their board and tried to implement things that the board was against or did not support. And normally the CEO is the loser on that.

It’s up to the CEO to adapt to the style of that board.

Don’t micromanage problems. Admit it, fix it and move forward. It’s always hard, but you’ve got to do it. You have no choice. If you don’t, then you have no credibility. Without credibility, that really is a recipe for disaster.

You need to ensure when you fix it that you really do fix it. If you continue to fail on it, that gets right back to your credibility.

I’m not going to micromanage somebody. You’ve got to avoid that temptation.

It’s very difficult, especially when you have grown up within the organization. You’ve got to consciously back off and not get involved. But you’ve got to also not back off so far that you’re not holding people accountable.

HOW TO REACH: Midwest ISO, www.midwestiso.org