American Electric Power’s (AEP’s) long-serving chairman, president, and CEO, Nick Akins, will step down as CEO on Jan. 1, 2023, and has already passed the company’s presidency to Julie A. Sloat, AEP executive vice president, and chief financial officer (CFO).
Sloat, 53, will become the power generating company’s CEO in January, making her the first woman to serve at the helm of the giant power generating company and only the seventh CEO in its 116-year history.
Sloat’s election as CEO by the AEP Board of Directors on Aug. 10 marks a notable executive shuffle for the public utility holding company, which is in the midst of a historic transformation into a more agile and customer-focused provider of energy solutions. As CEO, Sloat will be expected to navigate the massive company through the energy transition, which is being driven by multiple, and often conflicting factors, including changing customer needs, evolving policies, stakeholder demands, demographics, competitive offerings, technologies, and commodity prices.
Akin Led the Company Through Volatile, Significant Transformation
AEP’s approximately 16,700 employees today serve 5.5 million regulated customers in 11 states. Along with maintaining the nation’s largest transmission system, its 31-GW generating fleet is also one of the largest in the U.S. Since Akin became CEO and president in 2011, the company has retired or sold more than 13,700 MW of coal generation, and it is now working to shift its generation portfolio to more than 50% renewable resource by 2030.
Akins is stepping down as president immediately as part of AEP’s executive succession plan and will end his term as CEO on Dec. 31. However, he will become executive chair of the AEP Board and remain an executive and officer of the company. Akins has been chairman of AEP since 2014.
Akins, who succeeded AEP’s previous CEO Michael Morris in November 2011, previously served as AEP’s executive vice president for generation, and before that, he was president and chief operating officer for AEP subsidiary Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO). A registered professional engineer, Akins led the firm through a volatile period, during which AEP managed a rebrand away from its identity as a champion of coal power and toward a more climate-conscious generation entity that in September 2019 announced it would seek to go net-zero by 2050. Over Akin’s 11 years as AEP’s head, the power industry has grappled with multiple disruptions, including more stringent environmental policies, decentralization and electrification, a boost in shale gas production, a proliferation of renewable power and battery storage, and an increasing embrace of digitalization.
Like other major power companies, AEP under Akins also fielded a growing fog of transition-related uncertainty, driven by more complex and risker operations. Akins, like many power sector CEOs, has also grappled with public pressure and shareholder interests that pit sustainability against reliability. Under Akins, notably, AEP was among several power companies that launched an industry-designed template to help utilities better inform investors about their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and sustainability initiatives.
“His focus on innovation, technology, and modernization of the grid and AEP’s generation fleet is enabling clean, reliable and resilient energy to fuel growth in the communities that AEP serves. He also has built an open, collaborative culture that embraces diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Sara Martinez Tucker, lead director of AEP’s Board, said in a statement emailed to POWER.
Sloat: ‘A Capable leader’
Sloat has also had a lengthy tenure at AEP. Before being appointed AEP CFO in January 2021, she was senior vice president at the company’s Treasury and Risk division, a position that involved leading “all elements of the treasury function including the cultivation of banker, investor and rating agency relationships to support the capital needs of the company,” AEP said. She also was responsible for the comprehensive management of the corporation’s risk including operational, market, credit, insurance, enterprise risk management, and business continuity. However, Sloat has also served as president and COO of AEP Ohio, one of AEP’s largest regulated subsidiaries.
“AEP is fortunate that Nick has focused on developing a group of strong and capable leaders to ensure the company’s continued success. Julie has demonstrated exemplary leadership skills at every stage of her career, and we are confident in her ability to lead this team. During her time as CFO, she has improved the financial performance of the company, and she also enhanced the performance and culture of AEP Ohio during the transition to competitive markets. The Board is confident that she is the right person to lead AEP during this dynamic time for the industry and the company,” Tucker said.
Akins on Wednesday also expressed confidence in the change. “Julie is an exceptional leader who has successfully led key strategic areas for the company,” he said. “Her financial expertise and positive relationship with investors have been essential for the execution of our long-term strategy, enabling us to deliver strong earnings quarter after quarter while continuing to raise guidance and provide consistent dividend growth. Her deep understanding of our business and industry, including her experience leading AEP Ohio and our regulatory team, will be critical as we continue to invest in new energy resources and grid enhancements that improve service and reliability, support a clean energy future and provide value to our customers, communities and investors.”
AEP’s leadership shuffle comes prominently on the heels of news that longtime Southern Co. CEO Tom Fanning is planning to announce his retirement. Fanning, like Akins, has led the company throughout the power industry’s pivotal decade of disruption. As POWER has reported in its ongoing Utility Spotlight series, like AEP, Southern Co.’s most pervasive challenge may be to achieve long-term greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goal to net-zero emissions by 2050, which the company announced in May 2020.