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Dawson PPD General Manager Gwen Kautz

Gwen Kautz

General Manager

I was employed at a large investor-owned utility prior to moving to Nebraska. This company was community minded and provided various in-kind assistance throughout the state.

I was a project specialist, later project manager, for the company. This job let me work on a variety of things – for example, if they hired a vice president (or higher level), I aided in all relocation aspects for them. One year, they loaned me to the Denver Bears minor league baseball club so I could help create their season ticket holder program for a new franchise, the Colorado Rockies. Another year, after successfully coordinating a female utility executives conference, they sent me to Duquesne Power and Light in Pittsburg to help them with a similar endeavor. These projects usually required that I put together a diverse team of other employees…sometimes for a few weeks or a few months, even a year.

On one important project, I tapped the local union for help. I had little exposure to the union overall and was impressed with their dedication to the craft and how much they believed in their mission. They brought a different perspective to my work, and I learned a great deal from them.

One day at a team meeting, I overheard two of them talking about launching a strike (I don’t recall why). I knew this would be an enormous deal and cause problems (again; I don’t remember what was going on corporately). The strike was going to happen within the next few days.

I tried to take this information to my supervisor and he was gone. I tried his boss, gone; tried my boss’ boss, gone; tried the vice president, gone; then the senior vice president. This was my chain of command. All gone or unavailable. Mobile phones were uncommon then.

The vice president’s secretary suggested I take it to the very top. No, thank you. She called the CEO’s secretary, and I spoke to her on the phone. Cheryl told me she believed that Mr. Hock needed to know…and right away. That meant a visit to the 8th floor requiring security clearance that I wondered if my boss’ boss even had.

There I stood, in this massive corner office, shaking like a leaf. Mr. Hock couldn’t have been warmer and more welcoming, but all I thought about was how much this usurped the chain of command and what big trouble I would be in. With apprehension, I laid everything out (as quickly as I could so I could get out of there).

When I thought I said all I needed, I stood up and turned to leave. He said, “Just one more thing, if you don’t mind. If you were me, what would you do?” I hesitated and said, “Mr. Hock, I do not know. That’s why I brought it to you.” Mr. Hock then said, “Please, call me Del. I think you do, so just sit for a minute and think about it.”

He read some mail on his desk. I sat and thought (mostly about how to leave that office). Finally, I spoke up and said, “The union has high regard for Denver’s mayor and vice versa. I think I’d ask him to arbitrate because he’s also a business executive, so he will see both sides.” I remember Mr. Hock smiling and saying “good, that’s what we’ll do,” and I left. The union did not strike, but I never knew how it got resolved.

A few weeks later, there was a handwritten note on my desk from Mr. Hock – it said:

“Sometimes the people closest to the problem have the answer – trust them. Make it safe to fail but give them a chance to be the hero. Thank you for being our hero. Del”

I share this story out of deep respect for Del Hock, who passed away in June. He did not know the lifelong impact he made on me. He inspired confidence and taught me that every person has the potential to make a difference if you’ll ask them “What would you do?”

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