Paul Evanson

Maximum Utility

As a highly successful leader in the energy industry, Paul Evanson ’66 understands better than most that with power comes great responsibility

By Andrew Clark

Summer 2011

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Working in the utilities industry is not like selling Wheaties or Cheerios, declares Paul Evanson ’66, the recently retired longtime president, chairman, and CEO
of Pennsylvania-based Allegheny Energy. “Electricity,” he notes, “is a product that affects everyone and everything.”

He is not being hyperbolic.

At Allegheny Energy, which owns nearly 10,000 megawatts of generating capacity, Evanson was tasked with keeping the power on for 1.5 million people across three states. “We deal with a product that a lot of people will take for granted,” he says. “[But] it’s an essential asset for businesses and a number of industries.”

How Evanson, a Queens, N.Y., native trained in law, came to be in charge of such a large swath of that “essential asset” is a tale centered mostly on business acumen. After graduating from the Law School, he immediately entered the corporate world. For the 20 years that followed, Evanson honed his skills at a number of multinational companies—including time spent at Lynch Corporation, and a stretch as the executive vice president of a natural resources and transportation company. In 1992, he turned to the energy industry, joining Florida Power & Light Company as vice president of finance and chief financial officer. Evanson admits he didn’t know much about the utilities business before heading to the Sunshine State. But it did not take long for him to learn: He was named the company’s president in 1995.

For the past seven years, Evanson was at the helm of Allegheny Energy, which provides utility services for people in West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. It was a struggling, nearly bankrupt company when he arrived, but Evanson transformed Allegheny into a successful, and profitable, enterprise. Allegheny—with $4 billion of annual revenues—recently completed a merger with the Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corporation. Evanson, who served as executive vice chairman of the combined company before retiring in June to work as a consultant and pursue energy investment opportunities, is excited about the merger he helped facilitate. He notes that the move will diversify the company’s energy sources—as
FirstEnergy is 40 percent nuclear-based, while Allegheny is 95 percent coal-driven.

Though Evanson ultimately never practiced law, he insists that his legal education has been invaluable during his years working in the utilities world.

“In the energy industry, there are so many legal rules, concepts, and regulations that you have to deal with on a daily basis,” says Evanson, who also serves as a director at the Edison Electric Institute. Learning how to analyze complex fact patterns and evaluate issues from a number of different angles helps him deal with the ins and outs of what he refers to, in understated form, as “a heavily regulated industry.” 

While he is known for being a near-constant presence at Allegheny’s headquarters in Greensburg, Penn., life for the 69-year-old Evanson hasn’t entirely revolved around megawatts. In fact, Evanson—who is married with one daughter—recently entered a new, hard-hitting industry: NFL football.

Not long after moving to Western Pennsylvania in 2003, he caught Pittsburgh Steelers fever. (He said it was impossible to live anywhere near the area and not to fall in love with the team.) Yet, unlike most Steelers fans, Evanson had a unique tie to the franchise: He was friends with team president Art Rooney II, who he met
at a charity golfing event. Last year, Evanson became a part-owner of the
storied franchise.

Evanson’s first year affiliated with the Steelers—which culminated in a trip to the Super Bowl—proved to be a rather unforgettable experience. And he says his new role with the team enables him to enjoy the Steelers from a whole new perspective.

“I get to go to all the team’s games,” he says. “I visit the players on the field, and I went to the Super Bowl. Basically, I will always have a guaranteed seat in the
owners’ box.”

Andrew clark has written for Time and The Boston Globe, among other publications.

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Photographed by Harry Giglio