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Franklin, H. Allen 1944–

H. Allen Franklin
1944

Former CEO, president, and chairman of the board, Southern Company

Nationality: American.

Born: 1944, in Corner, Alabama.

Education: University of Alabama, BS, MS.

Family: Married Brenda (maiden name unknown), 1963; children: two.

Career: Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, 19671970, various positions; Southern Company, 19701979, various engineering positions; Alabama Power, 19791981, assistant to executive vice president; 19811983, senior vice president; Southern Company Services, 19881994, president and CEO; Georgia Power, 19941999, president and CEO; Southern Company, 19992001, president and COO; 20012004, president, CEO, and chairman of the board.

Awards: Named Most Respected CEO, Georgia Trend, 2002; named one of Top 100 Influential Personalities in Georgia, Georgia Trend, 2002.

Southern Company operated as one of the largest electrical distributors in the United States. It controlled Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power, Mississippi Power, and Savannah Electric utilities and reached over four million electricity customers in the South in the early 2000s. Starting in an engineering position in 1970, H. Allen Franklin ultimately came to head the company in 2001, with a conservative style and philosophy that earned him the respect of both customers and competitors.

SMALL TOWN BEGINNINGS PROVIDED FOUNDATION FOR VALUES

Franklin was born in the small farming and coal-mining town of Corner, Alabama. Growing up in the 1950s, he and his siblings were instilled with an early respect for education. His father had been orphaned and never made it past the seventh grade, instead farming by day and working in a coal mine at night. His mother was a schoolteacher. His parents raised him with strong work ethics and a sense of honesty and fairness to others and freedom from debtvalues that carried over into adulthood. He neither smoked nor drank and seldom got into trouble as a boy. Remembered as even-tempered and a good communicator, he was the all-American boy who farmed, attended church on Sunday, and went to bed early.

Young Franklin was easily bored. His favorite teacher taught him chemistry to keep him occupied. In high school Franklin was popular and was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" by his classmates. He also saved the day for his school with a game-clinching play as a football running back in 1961. He married his high school sweetheart in 1963, when they were both just 18. Franklin considered a career in farming, though his sister wanted him to become a teacher; in the end, economics won out. Franklin decided to attend the University of Alabama, with blessings and financial backing from his parents and young wife, who took a job to help him through school. He did not disappoint them. Reading a job placement listing on campus, Franklin decided that the engineering field held the most promise for income and opportunity. He earned both a bachelor's and master's degree in electrical engineering from the university.

Upon graduation, Franklin accepted a job with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in southern Florida and later worked for the company in Connecticut. Wanting to return home, he joined Federal Electric Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama, to work on Saturn 5, the rocket used to push the Apollo astronauts to the moon. After the moon landing, Franklin was hired by Southern Company in 1970, where he worked in various engineering positions for the next nine years.

EARLY VALUES PAID OFF

Southern, an electrical power giant, had a reputation for a conservative management style. It did not take long for the company to notice Franklin, who had developed a reputation as a calm thinker who used his analytical engineering mind to dissect every major decision the company made. Added to that were his communication skills and the ability to speak his mind and articulate his concerns.

Despite ongoing demands for engineering expertise, Southern put Franklin on the management track. He began by serving as assistant to the executive vice president at Alabama Power in 1979 but by 1981 had risen to senior vice president. In 1988 he became president and chief executive officer of Southern Company Services, followed by stints as president and chief executive officer of Georgia Power in 1994. Returning to the main company, Franklin took over as president and chief operating officer of Southern in 1999. He reached the pinnacle in 2001, when he was named president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board.

A CONSERVATIVE VISIONARY

The transfer of power from the charismatic and theatrical former CEO A. W. "Bill" Dahlberg to the calm and conservative Franklin was smooth, done with style and class. In an interview for Georgia Trend magazine, Dahlberg described his successor as "detailed." He went on, "People probably thought I was more emotional and more flamboyant. I'd laugh and smile and fly off the handle. I've never seen Allen lose his temper" (May 2002). For his part, Franklin told the same interviewers that changes he made would be "thoughtful, gradual and with a full knowledge of what's happened in the rest of the country."

That conservatism translated into company gains for Southern, at a time when other utilities giants were wallowing in the mire of scandal or fair weather mediocrity. In the aftermath of the Enron fiasco and California's energy blackouts, Southern steered clear of controversy. When others joined the momentum of deregulation and radical restructuring, Southern held the line. The conservative strategy paid off. The company's stock performance in 2001 was its best ever. Even the federal government came to Southern, and to Franklin, for advice, counsel, and testimony on energy issues.

LIMITED EXPANSION INTO OTHER INDUSTRIES

Franklin was not so conservative as to forgo contemplating opportunities outside electric power distribution. With positive results, Southern quietly and carefully ventured into providing wireless communications services in its U.S. utility territory and wholesale fiber-optic services in its Southern Telecom unit. Franklin also approved of collateral energy marketing operations, including energy consulting and management services for businesses and institutions.

In 2001 Southern spun off its global energy company, Mirant Corporation, which then acquired a majority stake of the wholesale gas-marketing business of TransCanada PipeLines. The move made Mirant the number-two gas marketer in North America and the top exporter to the United States. "Our strategy is to focus our efforts in the Southeast, the area we understand best, and stick to electric power, the business we know best," Franklin told Georgia Trend (January 2002).

Waiting for the right moment, Franklin seized the opportunity to quietly enter the natural gas retail market. That opportunity came during bankruptcy hearings for Georgia's New Power Company. After spinning off Mirant, Southern formed a new subsidiary, Southern Company Gas and, with bankruptcy court approval, acquired New Power's gas customers for $58 million. It, too, was a calculated smart move. When the gas market was opened to competition in Georgia in the mid-1990s, a great deal of confusion was generated over billing issues and customer service. Franklin sat back and watched, waiting for the initial shakeout to pass. With New Power's demise, Franklin decided the time was ripe, but he was quick to note that Southern's business was tied to power generation and long-term contracts, not to natural gas price volatility. This gave Southern long-term staying power in an otherwise uncertain market. Moreover, it allowed Southern to operate in a geographical and demographic area already served by the company.

In future years Franklin hoped to concentrate on the company's traditional, regulated business, with a goal to incrementally expand its area coverage beyond the Southeast. He also planned for Southern to sell additional energy-related products and services to its existing customers. The company also worked to maintain its reputation for top customer satisfaction.

A GOOD CORPORATE CITIZEN

Franklin's conservative style also carried over into civic and social responsibilities. In 1999 he proudly announced Southern Company and Georgia Power's involvement in the largest employee electric vehicle lease program in the United States. He played a key role in efforts to improve water quality and generate goodwill for his company after environmentalists criticized it because of its reliance on coal-burning plants. In his careful, articulate manner, Franklin conceded that no one wanted a power plant in his backyard but that they would have to be built "for the greater good." Franklin also assumed an active role in supporting the National Minority Supplier Development Council as well as heading up the Metro Atlanta and Georgia Chambers of Commerce, the Central Atlanta Progress, and the local Boy Scouts.

See also entry on The Southern Company in International Directory of Company Histories.

sources for further information

Bentley, Tim, "Power Player," Georgia Trend, May 2002, p. 16.

"The Power and the Glory," Georgia Trend, January 2002, p. 29.

Lauri R. Harding

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