Johnson Stepping Down as PG&E CEO

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced April 22 that Bill Johnson, the president and CEO who took over those roles in the midst of the company’s bankruptcy proceedings, will step down June 30 after just more than one year on the job.

The company said Bill Smith, a PG&E board member, will serve as interim CEO. Smith is retired president of AT&T Technology Operations, part of AT&T Services, where he spent 37 years with that organization and its predecessor companies.

“I joined PG&E to help get the company out of bankruptcy and stabilize operations. By the end of June, I expect that both of these goals will have been met,” said Johnson in a statement Wednesday. “As we look to PG&E’s next chapter, this great company should be led by someone who has the time and career trajectory ahead of them to ensure that it fulfills its promise to reimagine itself as a new utility and deliver the safe and reliable service that its customers and communities expect and deserve. I want to thank the Board as well as all of the employees, who work so hard every day to address the challenges the company has faced—it has been a privilege to work with them.”

Johnson, 66, came to PG&E after retiring as president and CEO of Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in November 2018. He previously served as chairman, president, and CEO of Progress Energy. PG&E in a statement Wednesday said the company was thankful to Johnson for his “experience and steady presence for the past year as he shepherded the company through multiple challenges.”

Bill Johnson will leave his post as PG&E’s CEO on June 30.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January 2019, saying it faced billions of dollars in potential liabilities for the company’s role in a series of deadly wildfires in California. Earlier this week, California officials said they would approve the company’s bankruptcy plan if it submitted to increased state oversight along with other measures.

The company in March pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of unlawfully causing a fire after it was blamed for the 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California, the deadliest wildfire in state history.

PG&E CEO Geisha Williams, who took over her leadership roles in March 2017, resigned two weeks before the utility’s bankruptcy filing. The company at the time named John Simon as interim CEO before choosing Johnson to lead the San Francisco-based utility.

Smith, who joined the company’s board in 2019, will continue as interim CEO until a permanent successor to Johnson is named. The utility said Johnson and Smith will use May and June to transition the company’s leadership, and Johnson will remain on the board until June 30.

Andrew Vesey, current CEO and president of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the utility subsidiary, will continue in his role overseeing the company’s electric, gas, generation and customer operations.

‘Experience and Steady Presence’

“We were fortunate to have Bill Johnson’s experience and steady presence for the past year as he shepherded the company through multiple challenges,” said Nora Mead Brownell, chair of PG&E Corp.’s board, on Wednesday. “We are equally fortunate now to have Bill Smith step up and provide strong, stable experienced leadership during this transitional period. With his knowledge of the company and his long-time operational and transformation experience in large and heavily regulated, consumer-facing organizations, he is well-positioned to help the company begin its next chapter.”

“I have been deeply involved in the Board’s work helping to prepare PG&E for its successful emergence from bankruptcy,” said Smith in a statement. “I am delighted that I can bring my knowledge and experience to bear going forward, working together with employees, our regulators, and elected officials to introduce the new PG&E and continue to fulfill the company’s commitments to its customers and communities.”

PG&E in a news release Wednesday detailed what it called “major milestones” achieved during Johnson’s tenure, including positioning the company to exit bankruptcy by June 30. PG&E has received approval from California Gov. Gavin Newsom for the company’s reorganization plan, and has reached $25.5 billion in settlements with victims of the state’s wildfires. California officials said PG&E equipment was responsible for  more than a dozen wildfires fires in the state.

The company also added several safety-related executive positions, and formed an Independent Safety Oversight Committee (ISOC) to provide independent review of operations, including compliance, safety leadership, and operational performance.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

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