Utility will need all of his skills to compete in '90s


August 09, 1992|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

Christian H. Poindexter, the man slated to be the next chairman of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., is an old hand at making fast, dramatic business decisions.

This trait dates back to when he was in high school and was raising steers near the small town of Odon, Ind. One day, while watching his steers, he saw one of them choking on an apple. "I could see the profit going down the drain," he recalls. He and his father jumped over a fence and sprinted to the suffering animal; Mr. Poindexter jammed a broom handle down the steer's mouth, pushing the apple down its throat and saving that part of his future profits.

Such quick response will come in handy beginning in January, when Mr. Poindexter will take over the helm of the country's oldest utility. BG&E will face a new environment in which power companies will generate less of their own electricity and customers will be encouraged to conserve more. Flexibility will be a precious commodity in the traditionally staid industry.

"I think we've demonstrated we can change quickly," he said in a recent interview. "Our world is changing, and we want to drive that change."

Yet, he wants to retain aspects of BG&E's traditions, such as training and promotion from within and taking the long view rather than focusing on the next quarter.

Mr. Poindexter, 53, is a product of BG&E's traditional management style. A 25-year veteran of the company, he worked his way up through the ranks, holding a variety of jobs, ranging from nuclear engineer to company treasurer.

For at least the last year, he had been seen as the heir apparent to George V. McGowan, who announced in April that he will step down as chairman and chief executive officer at the end of the year. The company's board of directors made it official on July 17.

The selection was made without any outside search, unlike what other large companies have done in such cases. "There really wasn't a need to," said Paul G. Miller, a company director for the last 12 years. "Any utility would be hard-pressed to find a better-qualified candidate."

Mr. Poindexter indeed has an impressive resume. A 1960 graduate of the Naval Academy, he spent seven years in the Navy, in which he was a pilot and was trained in the service's nuclear program. He joined BG&E's nuclear program in 1967 and became the project engineer at the company's Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in 1973. In 1974 he added the position of chief nuclear engineer in electrical engineering.

He switched gears in 1976, moving into the money side of the business as general supervisor of finance. In 1978 he was elevated to treasurer and assistant secretary, finance. In 1980 he moved back to the technical area, taking the job of vice president of engineering and construction.

In 1985 he started BG&E's non-regulated subsidiary, Constellation Holdings Inc., which is involved in real estate development, independent energy production, elder care and financial investments. He was president and chief executive officer of Constellation until 1989.

That's when he became vice chairman of the company, a job that last year paid him $348,508. He also received 7,800 shares of BG&E stock on Jan. 1, worth $266,175 at that time. Restriction on the stock prevent him from selling it for five years.

In all of his different assignments, he gets high marks from his boss, Mr. McGowan, who has been his immediate superior for most of his career. "He has demonstrated the ability to function well under a lot of pressure and adverse situations," he said. "He has all the abilities and skills to do the job."

Not all of Mr. Poindexter's efforts have been unqualified successes.

Constellation, wounded by the crash in commercial real estate, has not lived up to BG&E's expectations and earned less last year than it did in 1985.

Mr. Poindexter said the company got into real estate knowing that there would be cycles, but he concedes that Constellation would have passed had it foreseen the steep drop. But the

company is willing to ride out the downturn. "We don't feel we have to unload anything at fire sale prices," he said.

But even without an upturn in real estate, Constellation profits should rise in coming years on the strength of its energy production division and investment operation, Mr. Poindexter said. And despite its past performance, he said, the subsidiary is more important than ever because of the uncertainty in the utility business.

His biggest challenge as vice chairman has been to deal with problems plaguing the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant.

The problems at the plant started on Sept. 15, 1988, when a maintenance worker died trying to rescue another worker from a nitrogen-topped water tank. Then, in December 1988, the plant was put on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's "watch list" of plants needing special attention.

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