Tom King

Tom King
President, National Grid U.S.

Company Name: National Grid
Corporate Headquarters: UK with U.S. Headquarters in Massachusetts
2010 Revenues: $22.1 billion
Employees: 28,000 (about 63% work in the U.S.)

National Grid’s President in the U.S. Tom King views Inclusion & Diversity as a business asset in driving innovation.

How does National Grid’s Inclusion & Diversity strategy contribute to shareholder value? The ability to attract and retain talent is critical in helping to maintain a competitive business edge that will set us apart as an employer of choice. I am not just talking about hiring and promoting people – having an inclusive corporate culture means providing an opportunity for people of diverse backgrounds to introduce new approaches and ideas. It means fostering an environment that is welcoming, where people can collaborate and come up with creative and innovative approaches to business challenges. In the energy sector, we critically need talented people who can think outside the box in order to find new energy solutions. Annually, National Grid presents the Chairman’s Award in several categories. One of them focuses on Diversity. However, when you look at the cross section of the programs and teams nominated you can see the power of diversity in action through the solutions developed by employees to make our workplace a safer, more inclusive, customer-focused and community-minded organization. Many of the projects can be monetized in terms of cost savings, enhanced safety protocols, branding and improved efficiency.

The energy industry is facing some major talent challenges in the next 10 years. How is National Grid addressing these workforce Diversity challenges? The industry as a whole is facing a major challenge because more than 60% of the workforce will be retirement eligible over the next ten years. At National Grid, we are facing similar challenges. This is why we have made a commitment to assess our needs and create programs that will enable us to address those challenges.

In particular, the Inclusion & Diversity team has put in place partnerships with professional development associations like the American Indians in Sciences and Engineering Society, Ascend (Asian Professionals Association), American Association of Blacks in Energy, the Asian MBAs and National Society of Hispanic MBAs, and others in order to educate people about career opportunities in the energy utilities sector. While we provide an essential service to people on a daily basis we know we are not the industry that many people automatically think about, so we need to build brand awareness about the careers and opportunities in the utilities sector.

The other major factor impacting us is that other countries outside of the U.S. and U.K. are growing talented engineers, researchers, environmentalists and scientists at a faster rate. So we have established internship programs to grow our talent base. We are also working to encourage young people to pursue careers through our Engineering Our Future program and partnering with some professional associations as well as non-profits to support math and science initiatives.

There are many talented people in the marketplace and we just have to get more creative in attracting them to our industry. A big part of that is educating people about the kinds of opportunities and difference they can make as individuals. Ultimately, without a corporate culture that is inclusive and embedded in everything we do, from our business decision processes to our community relations activities, we will not be able to retain the talent we attract.

What is your biggest concern about the future talent needed at National Grid? The biggest challenge we face is that there are not enough young people pursuing math, hard science and engineering studies. The gap is even more pronounced among women and minorities. It’s an issue right now and one that will not only impact our company in the near future, but which is already impacting the entire energy sector and our country’s ability to compete in the global business space. That’s why we are investing in programs and partnerships focused on workforce development.

By providing role models to young people through our volunteer efforts and employee resource group outreach, supporting summer science camps, and awarding scholarships and internships, we hope to encourage middle school, high school and college students to not only get excited about math and science careers, but also to stay in school and get their degrees.

How would you assess National Grid’s progress in its diversity initiatives at this point? We’ve done well in some areas. The number of women in senior leadership roles, the extent and success of our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), and our supplier diversity programs are three areas where I feel we are making progress at National Grid. I am particularly proud of our veteran, Asian and Pride (LGBT) employee resource groups who have done a great job of helping us connect with external events/programs to increase awareness about opportunities. Our Women in Networks group and Alliance of Black Professionals as well as NewNet ERGs have introduced mentoring and professional development programs internally.

But I don’t feel we are moving fast enough. In particular, we have not moved the needle much in increasing the number of people of color – both male and female – in our middle and senior ranks, and that continues to be an area of focus for our diversity initiatives. We have established a number of professional association partnerships, thanks to our ERGs, to try to tap new sources of talent. But from time-to-time, I have to remind myself that this is a journey and our goal is to make sure that we provide an opportunity for people to grow and develop across the board, whether it be through a promotion or a lateral opportunity into another line of business.

What are the unique challenges of addressing diversity in your organization? Ther is a very strong global commitment in place to have a diverse and inclusive corporate culture. I&Ds a topic of business discussion that starts with our external board of directors and our internal board. However, our global organization is made up of various smaller companies that have been brought together under one roof. So like other major companies coming out of a merger, we are working through integrating some of our systems. In some cases, we are putting in place new systems like a global exit interview process or a global talent management system.

National Grid has been strengthening its ability to work with minority- and women-owned businesses. How do you feel you are doing? This is an area of real passion for me. There is a misconception that using minority and women suppliers is not necessarily the most cost-effective solution. But the truth is that a diverse supply chain gives us more flexibility and allows us to build stronger relationships in the communities where we operate. By working with minority- and women-owned businesses, we have an opportunity to have an economic impact that we wouldn’t be able to make somewhere else. Our global head of procurement and the supplier diversity director are both making a difference.

National Grid has been recognized for its diversity efforts by a number of organizations over the course of the last two years. What are you most proud of? The external recognition is a good sign that we are moving in the right direction, but I like to look at the bottom line. I tend to look at how we are doing on the Inclusion & Diversity factors of the Employee Opinion Survey. What impact are we having on the diversity scorecard measures related to recruiting, promotions and turnover?

The numbers tell me we have some work to do, which is why we created a vice President of Inclusion & Diversity position. We needed someone to help us build a foundation for increasing collaboration and challenge policies, practices and processes to help us to become an employer of choice.

Over the course of the last two years, I have seen cross-collaboration growing internally and externally thanks to the ERGs. For instance, our Pride employee resource group has formed an Energy Sector LGBT Roundtable that includes 12 energy sector utilities and comanies who share best practices on professional development, supplier diversity and other topics. Internally, the Alliance for Black Professionals has, for the second year in a row, secured the participation of more than 50 senior leaders who for one day are each focused on mentoring five to six people. Similarly, the NewNet ERG, which focuses on helping to onboard new employees, works with other ERGs to get the word out about their events. Employees with less than 10 weeks in the company work with those who have more than 30 years, and participate in the learning sessions.

“We have established a number of professional association partnerships, thanks to our ERGs, to try to tap new sources of talent.”

Looking ahead, what is your vision for National Grid’s diversity journey? During a really bad winter storm, like the nor’easter that hit us in 2009 in New England, there were thousands of customers who lost power. It was an all hands on deck situation. Job titles didn’t matter, the line of business you were from didn’t matter, and seniority didn’t matter. What mattered was working together to implement solutions that would help us get the power back to our customers. We have a pretty amazing group of dedicated professionals. If I could capture that same level of passion and commitment in driving our diversity efforts forward we would be a pretty amazing organization.

While we are moving in the right direction, I would like to see greater progress and representation of women and people of color in the middle and senior levels.

The two major challenges our company is facing include the retention of talent and the attraction of diverse talent interested in a career in the energy sector.

We are at a major crossroad in the energy industry as we focus our attention on supplying the world’s growing energy needs while protecting our fragile environment.

So we need people who have a diverse slate of talents, skills, knowledge, and thinking styles to help us address this challenge. My hope is that by having teams in place that reflect a wide breadth of diversity we will be able to develop new creative solutions to address our energy needs.

Developing the Workforce of the Future

National Grid is committed to focusing a significant portion of its community investment on building a qualified and successful engineering workforce. Through the company’s corporate giving programs, employee volunteerism and internal leadership and development activities, the utility has created a comprehensive program dedicated to targeting students of all ages and backgrounds to encourage them to study science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM.

“National Grid’s broad approach to community involvement focuses on three themes – energy and the environment, education and skills, and community development,” Loretta Smith, National Grid U.S., Director of Citizenship, explains. “We have invested more than $3 million in many community-based projects, funding research centers to support new and exciting technologies, and partnering with organizations that provide programs to educate teachers as well as students in the STEM curriculum.”

To help fill skilled positions left by retiring employees, National Grid is creating and investing in the future. That means helping to improve education, which is critical to developing the future work force.

National Grid has a number of programs, including its signature initiative, “Engineering Our Future,” to inspire, attract and develop aspiring young engineers, and the Bentley Project to tap MBA talent and give them hands-on corporate experience. The company is also working with community colleges in Buffalo, Syracuse and New York’sCapital Region to train overhead line workers. The company’s Graduate Internship program gives young professionals real world experience.

National Grid has other programs designed to help students and teachers from elementary to college. Here are a few examples:

Elementary through high school

  • Energy Explorer – a National Grid interactive Web site with educational materials for use in classrooms that focus on building science, technology, engineering and math skills and aim to enhance energy efficiency awareness among teachers and students.
  • Boston Children’s Museum, “Our Green Trail” – an energyefficiency education program designed to teach children and their families how to mitigate the effects of climate change and take positive steps toward living environmental minded lives.
  • Green Education Foundation “Green Energy Challenge” – more than 30,000 students from 70 schools in National Grid’s service area will conduct energy audits around their schools and homes to locate and correct energy leaks in an effort to reduce energy costs by five percent by Earth Day, April 22, 2011.
  • NYU-Poly – as a “PolyPartner” National Grid provides mentoring and educational opportunities for talented middle and high school students in science, engineering and mathematics beyond those regularly available in courses and laboratories at students’ schools.
  • University of Buffalo – National Grid is expanding the university’s award-winning BEAM (Buffalo area Engineering Awareness for Minorities) program with a new, fiveyear program aimed at introducing Buffalo Public School students in grades 6-12 to careers in biomedical and green energy industries.
  • Hofstra University summer science green research project – a six-week workshop designed to focus high school students on environmental issues and awareness.

Colleges and universities National Grid is actively working with a number of colleges and universities around its service area to invest in engineers and support the company’s development and recruitment efforts. Examples include:

  • Clarkson University – the “National Grid Student Research Opportunities in Sustainable Energy,” an endowed program to support engineering education and research opportunities for up to five summers for Clarkson Honors Program students studying sustainable energy.
  • Tufts University – in partnership with the Boston Architectural College, students researched, designed and built a solar-powered house to compete in “Curio House,” the Solar Decathlon contest for the U.S. Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s biannual international solar energy competition.
  • City College of New York Grove School of Engineering – the “Success in Undergraduate Engineering (SUE)” program provides scholarships for National Grid SUE Scholars and introduces girls beginning in the 6th grade to engineering through workshops and mentoring opportunities with female engineers.

“This is just another way we support the local communities that we operate in, removing barriers to achievement and shaping our future workforce,” Smith added.

Tapping Top MBA Talent Benefits Everyone

“This experience revitalizes our organization and allows us to tap the latest business thinking and new technologies,” explains Mallik Angalakudati, National Grid’s Acting vice President for Distribution Support in the U.S. Gas Distribution business. He’s speaking excitedly of the work-learning partnerships he has brokered with three universities since 2007.

“In 2007 we were working to complete several major projects for our Gas business,” he continues, “but we were just building the analytics function and did not have the resources to get all of the projects done.” At the same time, Executive vice President and Chief Operating Officer, U.S. Gas Distribution, Nick Stavropoulos, told Angalakudati about a program underway at Bentley University’s McCallum Graduate School of Business in Waltham, Massachusetts. The program provides an opportunity for graduate business students to work on corporate projects and get real- world business experience. Through conversations with the school, the first team established was made up of six students who worked parttime for three months standardizing damage prevention processes. The team received class credit and firsthand experience.

“Benefits of the partnership are deep and have resulted in a win-win opportunity for everyone involved.”

Today, National Grid works with two additional schools, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and New York University’s Stern School of Business. In 2011, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management will become the fourth school to partner with National Grid. Almost 40 students will be working on eight projects. “We work closely with University administrators and faculty to select student teams that are diverse across disciplines and cultures,” Angalakudati adds. Since the program’s beginnings, student teams have worked throughout the company, widening their impact beyond National Grid’s U.S. GasDistribution line of business.

Benefits of the partnership are deep and have resulted in a win-win opportunity for everyone involved. “The students learn what it is like to work within a major organization, facing the pressures and challenges of everyday worklife,” explains Stavropoulos, the program’s executive sponsor. “Also, the employees who work with the students not only take an active role in their development but also have a chance to experience working with a wide variety of students who bring different perspectives.”

“National Grid is an outstanding partner for Bentley University, and this partnership is at its strongest in field-based learning,” offered Dr. Heikki Topi, Associate Dean of Business, Graduate and Executive Programs at Bentley University.

“Bentley’s projects with National Grid have all been excellent learning opportunities for our MBA students; the projects are always chosen carefully, managed with utmost care, and they provide the students with opportunities to make a real difference. Mallik’s leadership is one of the key elements in the projects’ success, together with the strong commitment by National Grid’s entire top management team and the dedicated work of Bentley’s faculty and students.”

Beyond exposure to new insights and technologies, National Grid benefits from this partnership in other ways. “We have an opportunity to work with some of the best and brightest people in the country,” Angalakudati explains. “This gives us the ability to identify top potential MBA talent for possible recruitment in the future. It’s also a lot of fun!”

This article has been sponsored by:
National Grid