Electric utilities have seldom been held out as examples of customer focus, which makes the story of Minnesota Power (MP), a utility in Duluth, all the more extraordinary. In the mid-nineties the U.S. power market started to change as signs were increasing that
In 1994 the majority of MP's largest customer contracts were ending in the
The large-customer rumblings then grew louder and clearer. After its new short-term contract was signed in 1995, MP's single largest customer ($45+ million a year)
Besides the market shift, contract expirations, and large-customer complaints, the fourth driver in realigning the corporate culture was the addition of two new players at MP. The utility named Ed Russell, from outside MP and the utility industry, as corporate CEO. MP also promoted Bob Edwards, its very creative CFO, to president. Russell knew about business and customers but had little experience with utilities and so, while staying closely involved, he allowed Bob Edwards to lead that part of the business.
On one of their very first days on the job, Russell and Edwards attended the presentation of the large-customer assessments. Hearing about how their largest customers felt about MP was
Eric Norberg, then director of Large Power Marketing, emerged at this point to take a leadership role in assisting both in the relationship repair and corporate alignment. Norberg over-saw the large-power relationships, working closely with two seasoned account managers, Dave Lundein and Brad Oachs. Norberg, Lundein, and Oachs assumed a more proactive role in the relationships and negotiations, working to make contracts more flexible for MP's largest customers. As so many others at MP did, they rose to the challenges in front of them.
On April 25, 1996, Norberg held a meeting of MP executives and managers to develop the repair strategy for the largest account. All those at the meeting stepped up and assumed strategic responsibility for managing the repair effort. As Norberg said, "(W)ith industry restructuring coming, we really didn't want to lose (the largest account's) contract (or any contract for that matter). In fact we were committed to using the results of that contract as a cornerstone of our restructuring effort for the company."
To further this relationship building and contract negotiation, Edwards met
After the April meeting, Norberg assumed tactical control of the largest account's relationship-repair process, managing the multiple relationships between people in MP departments and parallel functions at the customer. Edwards, Norberg, and MP's other decision
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