Tuesday, March 18, 2014
What was it like in Houston, energy capital, during deregulation? How is it applicable elsewhere?
In the late 1990s, energy deregulation was seen as the solution to rising energy prices. As a result, while regulation was not completely lifted, there was to be freedom to compete on price and geography. As President of Reliant Energy's Retail Business I had an inside seat from within the third largest combination utilities in the world. It was a heady atmosphere in Houston at the time. Consultants and lawyers were making $ millions assisting most of Houston's energy companies devise plans to prosper in the new environment. Outsiders who had succeeded in other rapidly changing industries were brought in to bring new thinking. The dining clubs of Houston were full of people making deals over lunch, from top executives at the Petroleum Club (where I was a member) on the top floor of the Exxon Building, other top executives and politicians at the Coronado Club, and more lunching in the fading elegance of the Houston Club (Houston's oldest, from the 19th century) and attending evening events at the River Oaks Country Club. You could see Dick Cheney or Ken Lay, comfortable in the company of their peers. Now, any change in rules represents great opportunity, as well as great danger. I brought to that a record of success in transforming the cable, Internet and phone by introducing the first "Broadband" service a year or so before. It is not unlike, part way through a soccer game, it suddenly changing to basketball - except you may be able to influence the rules of the new game! My success in building the most profitable deregulated business without feeling the need to resort to the tactics of our cross-town rival, Enron, was the result of much analysis, experience and thought. The company pioneered a number of activities, many of which can be applied to any changing business or network based one.