Kelly Huntington worked in investment banking and private equity between undergrad time at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and picking up an MBA from Northwestern University.
After an internship at John Deere, she found work with Indianapolis Power & Light Co. parent AES Corp. in Virginia, relocating here when she took the reins as IPL senior vice president and chief financial officer in 2011.
Now, as IPL president since the summer of 2013, Huntington says she takes a long-term view for the electric utility.
“The plants we are retiring in 2016 have been around for 60 to 70 years,” she said. “When properly maintained, they last a long time. So we have to make the best decisions.”
Recent big decisions for Huntington and IPL have involved plant conversion and new construction, and a shifting emphasis from coal to natural gas. In 2007, about 80 percent of IPL’s power was from coal and the rest was natural gas and oil. By 2017, the company expects a mix that includes 45 percent natural gas, 10 percent from wind and solar and just 44 percent coal.
The shift doesn’t come without cost.
The utility fields 60,000 calls a month from people struggling to pay their bills, and 25,000 are on payment plans.
“People here take very seriously the responsibility we have to make these long-term decisions, and we pay a lot of attention to the environmental side of the equation—that’s important. But we also take seriously affordability. We don’t have the luxury of all of our power coming from wind or solar.”
For Huntington, it’s about finding the right balance. “It’s our mission to improve lives by providing a safe, reliable and affordable mix of solutions, investing in environmental upgrades, converting some units from coal to natural gas, building new natural gas-fired plants, retiring some older and smaller units, and giving ourselves flexibility for the future.”
Another part of her role is overseeing IPL’s community involvement. The company, she noted, contributes more than $2 million a year to charitable causes, and supports its employees’ service on more than 90 boards and 28,000 hours of volunteering.
And she leads by example, joining the boards of the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership and the Indianapolis Zoo. (“I haven’t been to any other board meeting where there were flamingos.”)
Choosing where to be involved, of course, is tougher when your primary business touches so many others.
“Ultimately I’m looking for organizations that are collaborative and that are really able to multiply the impact on the community. Those three represent that very well.”
She’s found that one of the best things a board member can do is ask questions. “It’s not my role to tell them what to do, but to ask things that make them think about something in a different light.”•
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