It is with a heavy heart that Energy Services must bid Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann farewell as he moves into a well-deserved retirement. Hoffmann was a tireless champion of our Equipment Loan Program and we will miss his customer service skills, “interesting” theories on how the world works and his tasty vegan recipes (ok, maybe only the Energy Services Bulletin editor will miss the food). The silver lining in this loss is that we gain Chris Lyles, the new Equipment Loan manager.
Learning new business
When Lyles joined WAPA’s Desert Southwest office in 2008, it was the Energy Department veteran’s first utility industry job. He had been working on environmental cleanup on Super Fund sites but wanted a more people-oriented position. “There seemed to be a lot of job opportunities in the field and I liked the idea of working in a stable industry that provided society with an important product,” Lyles recalled.
Working as project manager in charge of transmission line and substation construction gave Lyles plenty of chance to work with people. He had to help facilitate the selection of capital projects that would best meet the needs of WAPA and its customers’ transmission needs. And since such projects affect customers’ rates, he had to explain the need for them to the customers, too. “When people who have been in the business for 40 years are asking you questions about a transmission project, you had better understand the details and have answers for them,” noted Lyles. “It was a real learning experience.”
Fortunately, Lyles is a quick study and has exceptional listening skills, which came in handy when he visited customers in the field. “That is where they really open up and share their concerns about WAPA and about the industry in general,” he said. “Those meetings really helped me to identify projects that could make a positive difference for our customers.”
Growing on job
WAPA Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel was another person who found those one-on-one meetings valuable. When he visited the DSW region, Gabriel often accompanied Lyles on his visits to small utilities. While the administrator was learning more about the specific needs of the region, he was also discovering an employee with exceptional customer service skills. When there was an opening at WAPA headquarters in Lakewood, Colorado, for an acting chief of staff, Lyles was selected to fill it.
Filling the temporary position gave Lyles the chance to work with WAPA senior management and learn more about WAPA’s broader mission. One thing that impressed him was how diverse our customer base is. “Each region has different needs and each customer is facing different challenges,” he said.
Finding new ways to help
Lyles also came to appreciate the need to maintain our aging grid infrastructure, an area where he sees potential for the Equipment Loan Program to grow. “We have equipment that can be particularly useful for finding problems on distribution systems,” he pointed out. “One of my goals is to make sure our customers know all the different uses for our tools.”
The distribution system is being used differently now than it ever was before, Lyles added, and Energy Services and the Equipment Loan Program can help customers manage those changes. “For example, distributed generation causes back-feed into the system that can potentially lead to power quality issues,” he said. “We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from customers who see a blip on their system, and need help to track down the issue.”
Lyles is looking forward to learning what is important to customers, and one way to do it is to put equipment into the hands of customers who have not borrowed from the program before. “I would like them to get a chance to play with our tools and discover new uses for them,” he said.
That will also help with another goal Lyles has for the program: modernizing the fleet of equipment. “Our equipment inventory should reflect that WAPA understands the changes going on in the industry and that we know how to help our customers deal with them,” he explained.
To that end, Lyles is eager to hear suggestions from customers about tools that could be added to the program. Contact him at 720-962-7249 with your ideas.