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New Duke Energy president reflects on career, outlines priorities

Brian Hartz

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Melissa Seixas was named president of Duke Energy Florida on Feb. 16, and the appointment is the culmination of a 34-year career with the utility and its predecessor companies. Prior to being chosen to succeed Catherine Stempien, Seixas served as Duke’s vice president of government relations and community relations, but she began her career as a part-time draftsman in Florida Power Corp.’s St. Petersburg engineering department, giving her early exposure to the operational side of the energy industry.

“As I moved into other parts of the company, I was able to take that technical experience and operational experience, and really apply it through the lens of my more formal education training, which was in the liberal arts and history,” Seixas told the Catalyst.

She admits that it’s somewhat unusual for someone who has her type of background to ascend to the presidency, rather than a veteran of the company’s finance or operations side.

“I can guarantee you I’m the first president with a master’s degree in American history,” she said with a laugh. “Most of them have been attorneys, engineers or really strong financial leaders.”

However, Seixas said the breadth of her experience with all facets of Duke (NYSE: DUK) will serve her in good stead as she takes on four strategic goals, the first of which is continuing the utility’s investments in renewable energy, followed by modernization of the power grid to meet higher resiliency standards. Thirdly, she wants to raise the company’s level of engagement with external stakeholders, including public officials and groups advocating for environmental and social justice. Last but not least, she wants to make better use of Duke’s internal knowledge base — its employees — as it seeks to accomplish the other big goals.

“There’s nothing better for getting solutions to problems than by asking the people who do the work,” Seixas said. “It’s so important that we engage with our employees, especially in a time that we’re still dealing with Covid.”

On the first point, Seixas said Duke, which has 1.9 million customers in Florida, has plans for another 750 megawatts of solar energy in the works. “Generating green energy is extraordinarily important to our customers and our communities, and to us,” she said.

In regard to resiliency, Seixas and her team are already preparing for hurricane season and have developed a revamped storm protection plan.

“That particular plan is going to help us reinforce our grid,” she said. “We call it infrastructure hardening, but it includes everything from substation flood mitigation, hardening our main branch main lines and the appropriate level of vegetation management, so that when it comes to restoration, whether it’s a regular summer thunderstorm here in Florida, or if it is in the wake of an extraordinary weather event, like a hurricane or a tropical storm, we’ve got a system in place that can withstand some of those elements of Mother Nature that in the past would have resulted in down lines. We’re building a grid that can help to withstand that.”

Seixas also reflected on some of the things she had learned from Stempien as well as Harry Sideris, another former Duke Energy Florida president whom she also served alongside.

Referring to them as “extraordinary leaders,” Seixas said they instilled in her an “emphasis on listening and not being quick to explain in 15 different ways why we can’t do something.” Rather, she learned to be “open-minded and consider everything, asking for opinions that challenge your own thoughts, and my thinking. We need that diversity of thinking to ensure that we come out with the best solutions, best products and best recommendations, moving forward.”

To hear more from Seixas, register for the April 1 “Conversation with a CEO” event presented by the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business. Seixas is a graduate of USF as well as Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.

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    Karl J Nurse

    March 24, 2021at3:22 pm

    We are fortunate to have a president of Duke Florida who is so open to new ideas. Her years of community engagement work serves her well.

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