Lawrence Jones

Vice President International Programs | Edison Electric Institute

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES YOUR TEAM SUCCESSFUL?

Our success stems from our flexibility in dealing with a diverse membership of 70 international utilities, with operations in 90 countries. We deliver timely and relevant responses to their requests and anticipate some of their needs by keeping them abreast of emerging global trends in the electric industry globally. The platform we offer to that end is dynamic and generic enough to encompass issues of concern to all, but can also be made specific to respond to individual situations. We draw from other EEI departments and their unparalleled accumulated knowledge base touching on the main aspects of modern electric utility management. Thomas Edison said: “What you are will show in what you do.” Therefore, a key part of my role as a leader is to inspire a shared vision and purpose so that everything we do as team must ultimately have positive impact.

HOW DO YOU INCLUDE INNOVATION INTO YOUR STRATEGY AND FUTURE OUTLOOKS?

In this period of unprecedented change, we must understand the critical issues our members are facing, and their short- and long-term goals. As I travel across the globe and meet electric companies, I am privileged to observe innovation in its many incarnations. This influences one’s thinking about finding new and better ways of doing things. This capacity of observation and openness to new approaches is essential today. At EEI International Programs, and across the Institute at large, thought leadership and constantly seeking innovative ways to support our members is encouraged and practised.

While innovation is meant to solve problems, one should never jump too quickly to finding solutions without asking questions, especially the hard ones. I encourage my team to ask these questions. I am convinced that to address many of the challenges facing the world today, e.g. lack of electricity access to hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa, we must spend more time asking questions to formulate and execute relevant alternative solutions.

HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE OTHERS TO DO THE SAME?

Some of the biggest innovation successes have come about by someone asking questions – from being curious about why things are the way they are. Throughout my life, professional and personal, I have seen the value of asking the right questions. However, I believe that to successfully foster a culture of innovation, members on a team must know that it is OK to ask the leader questions and respectfully disagree with the leader. This is not always easy to do, but it is something that leaders must constantly nurture.

HOW WOULD YOU SHIFT THAT LEARNING TO ADVICE FOR OTHERS IN THIS INDUSTRY?

Electric utilities are always expected to provide affordable and reliable electricity to their customers. The value-added services enabled by electricity impacts the lives of billions around the globe. It should come as no surprise that electric utilities are by nature risk averse.

As the global power industry is undergoing transformation, it is critical that we take a holistic approach to identify the possible blind spots and examine the potential unintended consequences of all the changes that are afoot. This applies to changes in policy and regulation, adoption of new technologies and new business models, and especially evolving customer expectations. The resulting transformation must be informed by asking many questions, some hard and inconvenient, about the way forward.

WHAT ARE YOUR TEAM’S GREATEST BLIND SPOTS?

With members from many countries operating under different regulatory, policy and business frameworks, we must be careful not to assume that the same solution or approach to a similar issue will apply to utilities in different countries; or that one product or service will be perceived to have the same value by all members. We must question our beliefs and assumptions in terms of the local context of each utility even as we attempt to find common ground.

HOW DO YOU SELECT WHO TO PARTNER WITH?

Commonality or complementarity of goals are essential for successful partnerships and collaboration with electric companies and other industry stakeholders. This is reflected in EEI’s tagline “power by association”. We conduct due diligence to ascertain that collaboration will be valuable for our members. Trust and transparency are important for successful partnerships.

As a leader, one must never stop being curious. Feed your insatiable curiosity with questions and explorations.

WHICH OF YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT TO DEVELOP?

Earlier in my career, I thought it was important to extoll the technical and other merits of the products and solutions I was offering to a prospective customer. It was about “selling”. Then I realised that my stories did not always result in “closing the deal”. I soon understood that an important leadership communication skill to develop was how to listen while still being able to communicate my message. Fortunately, since becoming a husband and a father, I have realised that less instructing and more listening results in better communication outcomes.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS YOU’VE LEARNED IN YOUR CAREER?

As a leader, one must never stop being curious. Feed your insatiable curiosity with questions and explorations. While the education system and specialized career structures can box our thinking and limit our imagination, growing up in Liberia and studying in Sweden I began to develop a keen interest in polymaths.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE EVER TAKEN?

Five years ago, I left a company that delivered products and solutions to electric companies around the world and joined the Edison Electric Institute. Instead of selling technology, my new role at EEI would involve advocating for and providing thought leadership on an array of issues at the nexus of policy, technology, markets and customers across multiple countries with different business and regulatory environments. It was a big risk as I had to harness different skills and speak to a diverse set of stakeholders in governments, industry, technology, academia etc. I knew I had the fundamental skills, but it required adaptation and flexibility in order to succeed.

WHAT IS YOUR ‘SECRET SAUCE’ FOR FOCUSING ON A SPECIFIC GOAL DURING ALL THE NOISE?

The resilience of human beings, I believe, is a function of the journey they have travelled, and the muscle memory developed along the way. When facing a challenge, I constantly remind myself how I got where I am today – my past failures combined with the lessons of how I bounced back are important. My secret sauce is the muscle memory of resilience. On any given day, when distractions come, I remind myself of my vision, purpose and goals, why success matters and the pathway to reach the goals.

WHAT TREND IN THE GLOBAL ENERGY SPACE DO YOU SEE BECOMING INTRINSIC TO THE OVERALL POWER NETWORK?

I think there are two important trends to watch: the development of new integrated centralised and decentralised energy systems in urban and rural parts of the world; and greater use of electricity in more sectors across the global economy.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN THAT OTHERS DON’T?

We can crack the code on electrifying Africa if we dare to ask the hard questions. Those who predict that by the year 2040 over 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa will still lack access to electricity can be proven wrong. This is a challenge that my late father put to me before he died in 2004. He was an electrical engineer and leader at the electric utility in Liberia and had a vision about electrifying Liberia and sub-Saharan Africa.

WHAT INDUSTRY CHALLENGE KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT?

One of the challenges that I think about a lot is how Africa can harness the vast amount of natural resources to provide electricity that is affordable, reliable and clean for all while dealing with the vexing challenges of climate change, urbanisation, population growth, and sustainable development. Because we live in an interconnected world, how we solve these problems are important not just for the future of Africa, but for the world at large.