The company's new chief operating officer discusses changes at the utility as it refocuses its business and his role heading the chamber of commerce.
Still reeling from soured investments in unregulated wholesale power markets, TECO Energy this week tapped the boss of its Tampa Electric subsidiary for the new position of chief operating officer. John Ramil, 48, now runs all of TECO's operating subsidiaries.
In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times on Thursday, he talked about businesses the company might shed to refocus on its regulated utilities and his upcoming job as chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
Q. Why did chief executive Robert Fagan bring back the job of chief operating officer, which he eliminated after arriving at TECO three years ago?
Ramil: When Bob came to the company ... he wanted to be close to the operations to see what was going on. (Now) his time can be better spent with the board, on strategy and with Wall Street. With (the federal corporate reform act), communicating with the board has taken on a new dimension. Board members want more information.
Q. TECO already has sold the Hardee Power Station as part of the move away from the wholesale power business. What other assets are on the block?
Ramil: There's a whole range of opportunities. With the new structure, we're not in the independent power development business any more. So, we'll look at them as individual investments and see. If we don't think they can be good, viable assets, we'll sell them.
Q. How are the Texas wholesale plants that TECO completed performing?
Ramil: Typically, we're selling all or most of the output. We would like better margins. And we'd like to get longer contracts - for a year or several years. But the market's not ready for that, and we don't want to go long (term) when the market's so soft.
Q. Are other parts of TECO Energy up for sale, such as the transportation operation that ships coal from your mines in Kentucky?
Ramil: It's not for sale. But as we talk to Wall Street, they ask us ... if we had to monetize, could we do it? Transportation is clearly one of those that we've sent feelers out about to get an idea of what it's worth if we choose (to sell it).
Q. Your plate's pretty full with the new job, and serving as chamber chairman takes up a lot of time. Have you considered telling the chamber you're too busy to take over in December?
Ramil: No. I'd worked out my outside-of-TECO schedule and got ready for this. My big outside activities for 2004 are the chamber and the USF Board of Trustees. I might have to travel more (overseeing) the different businesses - coal, transportation and power plant investments in different areas. I probably spend three or four nights a week doing something connected to the job at TECO. More of those will just get taken up by chamber events.
Q. The chamber has taken plenty of flak for advocating political positions such as new taxes to pay for transportation improvements in Hillsborough County. Is it still a good idea?
Ramil: I expect to see that continue. The general membership thinks it's a good idea. They see ties between those issues and business issues. With the initiative on transportation, I'm excited by the decision to address it by the County Commission. If the mayor wants to run with the ball on an issue or the County Commission wants to run, we don't want to be racing with them. But in the gaps where no one's taking the lead, that's the role of the chamber.
Q. This week's promotion is your second in less than a year and solidifies your position as the No. 2 executive behind Fagan. Are you his heir apparent?
Ramil: That's a decision for the board to make. My responsibility is to do the best job I can and focus on what I'm asked to do.
- Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3384.