Retiring Electra CEO Reflects on a Job Well Done
20 May 2014
Electra CEO Reflects on a Job Well Done
On 30 May John Yeoman will call time on his role as CEO of Electra, retiring after almost 12 years at the helm of the Electra Group.
During this time Mr Yeoman has led a major transformation of the Electra business, turning it into a diverse Group of businesses with interests in electricity distribution, data collection IT sales, and telecommunications contracting, with interests both nationally and internationally.
“Our strategy has been to identify opportunities beyond both our traditional electricity distribution business and also our region,” he explains. “But only where we believe the opportunity to deliver a positive outcome for our owners, the electricity consumers on our network.”
This strategy commenced in 2003 with the purchase of Oxford Finance, a decision that was questioned within the industry at the time. “It was an innovative step for a network company,” explains Mr Yeoman. “It signalled the start of an ongoing strategy of identifying and acquiring quality subsidiaries that would enhance the return we could deliver to our consumers through our annual sales discount.”
Under Electra’s ownership, Oxford Finance has more than tripled its profits in the last ten years, resulting in its successful sale to Dorchester Pacific earlier this year. Mr Yeoman says the most satisfying aspect of the sale was Dorchester’s commitment to keep the Oxford Finance business unchanged, meaning all staff were retained with significant investment planned to help further grow the business.
“This is a genuine win:win for all parties - our business, Dorchester, and the region as a whole,” he says. “We were only interested in selling Oxford to someone who would keep the business local and invest in its growth.”
This direction has enabled the business to grow and produce impressive returns. Electra Chair Trish McKelvey says Mr Yeoman is leaving Electra in a very strong position. “John has brought considerable financial stewardship and commercial management skills to his role,” she explains. “The Group will shortly release its Annual Report for 2013/14 and will be announcing a record profit and also a record sales discount. The sales discount is returned to our owners, the company’s electricity consumers annually. The company’s success has been due in large part to John’s commercial astuteness, focus and determination.”
While Mr Yeoman’s tenure as Electra CEO began in 2002, he has had a much longer association with the business.
Having left school to work at the IRD, he began studying part time for an accountancy degree. Once qualified, he joined the Audit Office and it was in this role that he came into contact with the company that was to become Electra. “In 1984 I was involved in the audit of the Horowhenua Electric Power Board,” he explains. “They must have liked what I was doing because they offered me a job as an accountant and so I joined the team.”
In 1987 he accepted a role with Rotorua Electricity before moving back to Levin in 1991 to help set up Horowhenua Energy Ltd. In 1999 he was once again on the move (to Contact Energy) when the company was forced to sell its retail operation as part of the Government’s move to separate out generation, distribution and retail businesses. “This was a busy time as the Government-led industry restructuring saw Contact Energy buy and integrate 12 businesses into its operation in just one year,” says Mr Yeoman. “It was stressful but really rewarding too.”
His experience at Contact Energy then saw him headhunted to sort out Transalta’s retail business, with operations in Wellington, North Shore and Christchurch.
In 2001 he was approached about returning to Electra for a third stint with the company, and he initially accepted the role of Finance Manager before being promoted to CEO the following year.
Mr Yeoman is proud of the Electra team who work very hard to ensure the power stays on. “The electricity network is in great shape thanks to the investment we have made in it and the excellent performance of our staff who take a real pride in their work,” Mr Yeoman says. “Our outage statistics place us amongst the best performing networks in the country, which is quite an achievement for a largely overhead network in a westerly environment exposed to harsh coastal conditions.”
Alongside the financial performance of the Group and the improvement in network reliability and performance, Mr Yeoman rates the establishment and management of a retail bureau operation for Electra amongst his greatest achievements. “What is deeply satisfying is that, while we were forced to sell the business to Contact Energy in 1999, the operation has remained in Levin and has become one of Contact’s main Call Centres, employing more than 150 local people,” he says. “Knowing that I’ve had a direct hand in creating a large number of jobs in our region leaves me feeling extremely proud.”
On a more sombre note, Mr Yeoman says the highlights and successes have been tempered by moments of incredible sadness, such as the tragic death of Lineman Barry Woodford in 2007 – the first live line staff fatality the company has ever experienced while working on the network. “We’re a very close knit team so Barry’s death hit us all very hard,” he says. “As CEO I had to front the situation and lead the response, supporting both Barry’s family and our staff, as well as cooperating with the Department of Labour investigation and responding to the media attention and scrutiny. At those times you have to detach yourself from the situation, forget about your own grief, and help everyone else around you. That can be quite difficult to do.”
Another time of personal pain was when the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) caused a downturn in the local economy, forcing the Group to close its electrical contracting business in Wellington. “It’s never an easy decision to lay off staff,” he says. “Especially when there are apprentices involved. We did our best to help the staff find new jobs but unfortunately we weren’t able to help everyone.”
Despite the challenges and hard times, Mr Yeoman says it has been a privilege to lead the Group. “As a team we’ve achieved a lot. I’m proud that the organisation I’m leaving is stronger than when I started, and well placed to continue its growth and success. I’ll certainly miss the people and the day to day interactions.”
In terms of his retirement, Mr Yeoman says he is looking forward to doing a lot more fishing, and travelling the world with his wife. “Elizabeth and I married quite young and before we knew it we had four boys to raise, so we didn’t get to do too much travel when we were younger. One of the reasons I’ve decided to retire now is that it means we can travel while we are still young enough to really enjoy ourselves.”
However he is quick to highlight that it will really only be “semi-retirement” with plans to remain on a number of Boards, including the Horowhenua Learning Centre (HLC) and Kapiti Chamber of Commerce. There are also a number of other projects that he will be providing consultancy services for. “The trick will be to make sure my part time work doesn’t become fulltime,” he says.
John Yeoman’s successor, Neil Simmonds, will officially join the company on 3r June.
Who is Electra?
Electra owns and operates the electricity network throughout the Kapiti and Horowhenua regions, and has distributed electricity to these regions for more than 70 years. The network covers more than 1,700 square kilometres across a largely rural coastal band. Its 42,810 consumers make it the 9th largest electricity network in New Zealand (out of 29), and the network is in the top quartile in terms of performance and reliability. The Group also wholly owns Datacol, a specialist data collection and management company, and Sky Communications, a leading telecommunications contracting business.