Capps, Thomas E. 1935–
Thomas E. Capps
Chairman and chief executive officer, Dominion Resources
Born: October 31, 1935, in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Education: University of North Carolina, BA, 1958; JD, 1965.
Family: Son of Edward S. Capps Jr. and Agnes Rhodes; married Jane Paden, 1963; children: two; married Sandra Lee Hurley; children: four.
Career: U.S. Coast Guard, 1959–1963; private law practice, 1966–1970; Carolina Power and Light, 1970–1974, senior counsel; Boston Edison Company, 1974–1975, vice president and general counsel; Law Firm of Steel Hector and Davis, 1975–1984; Florida Power and Light, chairman of executive committee and general counsel, 1975–1984; Dominion Resources, 1984–1986, executive vice president of subsidiary Virginia Power; 1986–2003, president; 1990–, chief executive officer; 1992–, chairman.
Awards: Inducted into the Greater Richmond, Virginia, Business Hall of Fame, 2001.
Address: Dominion Resources, 120 Tredegar Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219; www.dom.com.
■ As the long-tenured leader of Dominion Resources, Thomas E. Capps developed the company, based in Richmond, Virginia, from a one-dimensional provider of electricity to a multifaceted utility giant with several major subsidiaries. His primary legacy with Dominion was the role he played in leading the company through a successful merger with Consolidated Natural Gas Company (CNG) of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1999, which was finalized in 2000. This made Dominion one of the nation's largest utility providers, serving over five million retail energy customers in nine states. Capps coupled his aggressive business instincts and no-nonsense management style with a relaxed, folksy Southern charm that took root in his Carolina childhood. The combination worked. No other principal in Dominion's history did as much for the success of the company in so few years as Capps.
The son of Edward S. Capps Jr. and Agnes Rhodes, Capps was born on October 31, 1935, in Wilmington, North Carolina, an Atlantic coastal community less than 50 miles north of the South Carolina border. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1958 with a bachelor's degree in English literature and served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1959 to 1963. Capps went back to the University of North Carolina and earned a law degree in 1965. Upon being admitted to the North Carolina Bar Association in 1966, he practiced law in Winston-Salem from 1966 to 1970.
Capps created his own niche market of legal expertise by serving as counsel for a succession of utility power companies, including Carolina Power and Light (1970–1974), Boston Edison (1974–1975), and (as senior partner at Steel Hector and Davis in Miami) Florida Power and Light (1975–1984). He credited Marshall McDonald, former CEO of Florida Power and Light, and T. Justin Moore Jr., former CEO of Virginia Power, as having been mentors and role models for him.
A MARRIAGE OF LEGAL SKILLS, BUSINESS EXPERIENCE, AND CHARM
Having thus become well versed in the legal issues peculiar to public utility companies, Capps joined Virginia Power in 1984 in the capacity of executive vice president. Virginia Power was the principal subsidiary of Dominion Resources, and it was easy for Capps to immediately envision his future career path. The combination of legal savvy within the utilities industry and a keen sense of calculated risk-taking and clearly defined objectives made Capps a formidable leader from the outset. Within two years he was president of the parent company, Dominion Resources.
Moreover, Capps's degrees in English literature and law provided him with enhanced communications skills, including the art of persuasive argument. He also had a well-honed ability to dissect complex matters and extract the most crucial facts and issues. These talents served him well in a then-public industry (utilities) wrought with convoluted state and federal regulations and other red tape. Articulate, bright, and competitive, Capps channeled these talents into a leadership package that, combined with hard work and dedication, spelled certain success.
But Capps was not all fire and brimstone. He had a heavy southern drawl in his speaking voice that slowed and softened his words and made even the most urgent directives more palatable. He was a visible manager on the job, often making casual stops in the offices of employees to inquire about their work or their concerns. His relaxed style was manifested in both his demeanor and dress. Rather than engaging colleagues and associates in the ritualistic practice of executive golf, he often took them fishing or bird hunting instead. In the corporate boardroom he might appear at an important meeting in a tan business suit when the color of the day was navy blue.
A VISION FOR DOMINION
Early on, Capps wanted to prepare Dominion for the competitive world. At the time he joined Dominion's ranks in 1984, the company was only a few years old. Company president William Berry was an early proponent of electric-utility competition. He took his company, then known as Virginia Power, and transformed it to Dominion Resources in 1983, setting up Virginia Power as its subsidiary. The following year Capps came in as vice president of Virginia Power.
As Dominion began to grow, so did the vision that Capps held for its future. Within his first few years he created a finance company and invested in independent power plants selling electricity to the highest bidders in the new deregulated marketplace. But his most far-reaching plan was to bring electricity and natural-gas services under one roof.
Initially, Capps moved into the natural gas-production business. Then he began to envision expanding from production into the transmission and delivery of natural gas products to retail consumers. In 1990 Capps took over as chief executive officer and made the decision to sell Dominion's natural-gas distribution operations. He then formed joint ventures to develop natural gas reserves. Dominion bought three natural gas companies in 1995 and acquired East Midlands Electricity in 1997, which it sold 18 months later. It also bought an Illinois power station in 1998.
After acquiring several smaller utility independents, Capps might have rested on his laurels. But the biggest risk was yet to come. In 1999 Capps made a bid for the Pittsburgh-based Consolidated Natural Gas Company (CNG). He envisioned selling Dominion electricity to CNG customers, and CNG natural gas to Dominion's electricity customers.
But Oliver G. Richard III, chairman of the Columbia Energy Group, outbid him. (A higher bid usually translates into higher price per share for existing shareholders, and normally carries the day when it comes to selling out.) But Capps managed to convince shareholders and CNG's board of directors that there was more to the deal than just the price tag. He shared with them his vision for the future path of Dominion Resources and what it would mean to shareholders and managers. He won them over, and CNG became the crown jewel in Dominion's holdings, making the new conglomerate one of the top electric and gas energy giants in the United States.
By 2004, with Capps at the helm, Dominion had acquired the Millstone nuclear power complex from Northeast Utilities for $1.3 billion and the Louis Dreyfus Natural Gas Corporation, increasing Dominion's natural gas reserves by 60 percent. The company now had nearly eight thousand miles of inter-state natural gas pipeline and operated the nation's largest underground natural gas storage system. It served five million retail energy customers in nine states. Moreover, Dominion's strategy included an expansion designed to serve a potential market of more than 50 million homes and businesses.
NOT WITHOUT CONTROVERSY
As with many top decision makers, Capps often operated in an environment of controversy and dissidence. His vision for Dominion set off a highly publicized battle that polarized the board of directors in 1994 and 1995. The particular disagreement that garnered the attention of the media, as well as Virginia regulators, involved Capps and James T. Rhodes, then president of the subsidiary Virginia Power. At issue was Capps's suggestion that more of the company's legal work be brought in-house. At the time, Dominion and Virginia Power were being billed nearly $5 million annually in legal fees from the law firm of another board member and former chairman, T. Justin Moore Jr. The controversy resulted in several directors creating opposing factions among managers, and Rhodes threatened to retire if he had to continue to work for Capps. The escalating friction eventually triggered the involvement of the Virginia State Corporation Commission as well as the state's General Assembly. The matter was resolved when several board directors created a new position to oversee Rhodes and insulate him from Capps. As part of this resolution, the directors also pressured Capps into agreeing to retire as chief executive when he turned 60, in 1995.
But when one of the rival directors had to resign due to health problems, a replacement was quickly named and ultimately provided the swing vote to expand the number of board members from 12 to 15. The three newly created vacancies were filled with supporters of Capps, and he managed to out-last his rivals and maintain his position with Dominion.
WINNERS IN THE END
As a result of Capps's acquisition skills and adaptability in changing markets, Dominion continued to prosper and make money for its investors, which Capps considered the primary role of any corporation. According to his corporate philosophy, once a corporation has made its money, it then can take on the responsibilities of looking after employees and being a good corporate citizen in the community. To that end, Capps was active in many civic organizations, serving on the boards of the Virginia Foundation of Independent Colleges and the College of William and Mary. He also served on the boards of several other corporations. In 2001 Capps was honored by induction into the Richmond, Virginia, Business Hall of Fame, whose inductees are chosen for their outstanding contributions to free enterprise and society. Looking back on his career and successes with Dominion, Capps told a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter that his only regrets were for the things he didn't do. "It's the things we didn't buy. I don't have any bad feeling about anything we acquired," he remarked (May 11, 2001).
See also entry on Dominion Resources, Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Edwards, Greg, "Focus on Issues Marks CEO of Richmond, Va.-Based Utility," Richmond Times-Dispatch, July 14, 1999.
Kaye, Kenneth, "On Speaking Terms: Boardroom Communication," Corporate Board, November-December, 1994, p. 5.
Reference Book of Corporate Management, Dun & Bradstreet, 2004 edition.
"Richmond, Va. Business Hall of Fame Gets Three New Members," Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 11, 2001.
Zapinski, Ken, "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Executive in the Spotlight Column," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 12, 1999.
—Lauri R. Harding
"Capps, Thomas E. 1935–." International Directory of Business Biographies. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/capps-thomas-e-1935
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