McGrath, Eugene R. 1942–
Eugene R. McGrath
Chairman, chief executive officer, and president, Consolidated Edison Company of New York
Education: Manhattan College, BS, 1963; Iona College, MBA, 1980; Harvard University, Advanced Diploma, 1989.
Career: Consolidated Edison Company of New York, 1963–1978, engineer and management trainee; 1978–1981, vice president; 1981–1982, senior vice president; 1982–1989, executive vice president; 1989–1990, president and COO; 1990–, chairman, CEO, and president.
Awards: Leaders in Management Award, Pace University, 1997; Honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science, Pace University, 1997.
Address: Consolidated Edison Company of New York, 4 Irving Place, New York, New York 10003; http://www.coned.com.
■ Eugene McGrath was the chairman and chief executive officer of Consolidated Edison Company of New York, the largest utility in one of the largest urban metropolitan areas in the world, New York City. A native New Yorker, McGrath spent his entire professional career with Con Edison. He joined the company in 1963 immediately after receiving his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Manhattan College. McGrath started his career with Con Edison as an engineer and management trainee in the operating and customer-service divisions. Moving into management, McGrath became responsible for running fossil-fuel and nuclear power plants. He moved progressively into more responsible positions, earning a promotion to vice president in 1978; in 1981 he was made senior vice president, in 1982 executive vice president. McGrath was named president and chief operating officer in 1989 and accepted the position of chairman and chief executive officer in 1990.
The umbrella company Consolidated Edison supplied electric, natural gas, and steam-power services to New York City and neighboring areas of Westchester County. Energy was delivered to more than four million customers through several distribution companies, including Consolidated Edison Company of New York and Orange and Rockland Utilities. Con Edison sold its energy-generating plants in the late 1990s in the course of the restructuring of New York's electric industry; the company then became primarily focused on transmitting and distributing energy resources generated by other companies. Con Edison continued to own and operate one of the largest steam-distribution systems in the world, serving the densely populated New York City borough of Manhattan.
McGrath believed that the decision to divest Con Edison of its power-generating facilities and focus on distribution was critical to the ongoing success of the company as well as to the continued stability of New York City's energy supply. His belief was based on the understanding that the city had developed a vertical infrastructure in which stable provision of adequate electrical power was critical for public safety and welfare. The majority of the city's structures were high-rises, housing a dense population that was entirely reliant on electricity to move other utility services such as water and natural gas. The underground subway system was also wholly dependent on a steady supply of electrical power.
By more concertedly focusing Con Edison on the delivery of energy resources, McGrath laid the foundation for what was called one of the most stable and reliable electricity systems in the world. Although the sales of the generating plants were at first controversial, they were ultimately lauded as intelligent business moves that positioned Con Edison to effectively handle two major challenges that appeared in the following years.
MANAGEMENT UNDER CRISIS
On September 11, 2001, two hijacked airplanes were crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City. The true extent of the damage caused by this catastrophic attack was incalculable; thousands of lives were lost, parts of Manhattan were destroyed, and daily operations were completely shut down.
The public responses from Con Edison and from McGrath in particular were widely praised. Within weeks electricity was restored to the devastated area surrounding the World Trade Center. Rebuilding efforts moved efficiently, with destroyed substations being quickly replaced. McGrath became personally involved in the response to the crisis by contacting other corporate leaders to ask for their assistance in attempting to restore normalcy to New York. Perhaps the most important factor behind the rapid replacement of downed substations was McGrath's phone call to the head of General Electric requesting a special rush order on the needed equipment; thus, the speed of the repairs was generally attributed to McGrath's decisive leadership and personal intervention, though he pointed to overlaps in the electrical system and the training of Con Edison staff as more critical factors. He remarked upon the dedication, commitment, and bravery shown by his company's employees, publicly praising their efforts during the emergency.
Con Edison's emergency responsiveness was tested once again on August 14, 2003, when a significant portion of the eastern United States and Canada experienced a sudden and complete loss of electrical power. The cause of the blackout was unclear; it quickly spread westward as far as Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario, Canada, taking power-generating plants and distribution centers offline within minutes. Such a complete and rapid shutdown required careful and thoughtful restoration of service, and McGrath was again praised for his quick leadership in safely restoring power to all of New York City within 29 hours of the initial outage. McGrath again redirected this praise to the customer-service mindset of Con Edison employees, who activated emergency backup plans and followed established policies to restore service with no reported injuries to consumers or Con Edison staff or damage to major equipment.
MANAGEMENT STYLE AND PHILOSOPHY
McGrath's management style stressed factors such as emergency preparedness, security, identification and mitigation of potential risks, and open communication with public-safety and law-enforcement agencies. Described as a dedicated leader and a giant in the energy industry, McGrath bore a direct and straightforward demeanor incorporating civic responsibility and responsiveness. Associates saw him as a hands-on chairman who was able to motivate and challenge Con Edison's workforce. McGrath was credited with spurring the evolution of Con Edison's corporate culture from stuffy and stolid to consumer- and service-oriented. He implemented revolutionary programs such as negotiable energy rates for businesses—a practice largely unheard of at the time of its institution. In 1999 McGrath established the pioneering Power Your Way program, which allowed consumers to choose their preferred suppliers for electricity and natural gas.
In the somewhat turbulent 1990s era of deregulation and restructuring of the electrical and utility industries, McGrath was committed to helping Con Edison and its workforce smoothly complete the transition. He strongly supported workforce education and development initiatives to help Con Edison employees gain the familiarity and experience necessary to work with new technologies. He created an educational facility to train and retrain workers in the skills required by the changing industry; the investment resulted in a dedicated and loyal workforce with a strong shared commitment to the corporate goals of efficiency, cost savings, civic responsibility, and service. Under McGrath, Con Edison maintained steady growth even as utility companies in other parts of the United States struggled. His management strategy was credited with facilitating the achievement of approximately $2.6 billion in rate reductions and cost savings, much of which was passed on to consumers.
Over the course of his 40-plus years at the helm of Con Edison, McGrath repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to his industry and to serving the residents of New York City. Under his guidance Con Edison developed programs and information services such as the Energy Education Campaign. This public-service advertisement program distributed information to citizens with regard to energy conservation as well as infrastructure issues within the energy industry. Believing that an informed public would be able to make better decisions regarding utilities and energy consumption, McGrath worked to involve businesses and individuals in planning for the future of New York City's energy supply. Con Edison's Citizen Participation Plan was developed to build consensus and involve consumers in the process of future siting and development of much-needed gas plants. Of his own view on the responsibilities of his position, McGrath told Crain's New York Business, "When I fly into New York at night and I see the lights lit up, I still feel pretty good about that. I feel how important this is" (April 9, 2001).
McGrath was involved in numerous industry, civic, educational, and service organizations. He was the chairman of the Committee of the Energy Association of New York State and of the Union Square Partnership. He served on the boards of directors for the Edison Electric Institute, AEGIS Insurance Services, the American Woman's Economic Development Corporation, Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company, Barnard College, the Business Council of New York State, the Fresh Air Fund, the Hudson River Foundation for Science and Environmental Research, Manhattan College, the Partnership for New York City, Schering-Plough Corporation, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. McGrath was a member of the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Economic Club of New York, the Development Advisory Council for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the National Academy of Engineering, and the New York City Public/Private Initiatives. He was also a member of the Energy Committee of the New York Building Congress.
See also entry on Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Fredrickson, Tom, "In Charge of the Light Brigade," Crain's New York Business, June 17, 2002, p. 48.
Lentz, Philip, "Con Ed Fighting to Keep Savings in Big Merger," Crain's New York Business, October 18, 1999, p. 1.
——, "Leading the Charge into Deregulation," Crain's New York Business, April 9, 2001, p. 29.
McGrath, Eugene R., "Testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce," September 4, 2003, http://www.coned.com/PublicIssues/pi_testimony_McGrath-092003.html.
Misonzhnik, Elaine, "Con Ed Chairman Promises We Will Survive the Summer," Real Estate Weekly, June 13, 2001, p. 22.
Norman, James R., "A Beleaguered Tax Collector," Forbes, December 20, 1993, pp. 47–48.
Stavros, Richard, "The Best of the Best: Five Electric Utility Chiefs Are Showing True Leaderships for Their Companies and for an Entire Industry," Public Utilities Fortnightly, May 15, 2003, p. 28.
—Peggy K. Daniels