by Amy Martinez
Updated 9 months ago
In September, as Hurricane Sally headed toward Northwest Florida, Pensacola-based Gulf Power set up a dozen staging areas to respond to expected power outages. Typically, the utility company’s hurricane-response plan would include fewer staging sites, but because of COVID-19 more room was needed to allow for social distancing among employees.
The hurricane ultimately made landfall near Pensacola as a Category 2 storm, bringing heavy rain and flooding. Nearly two-thirds of Gulf Power’s customers lost electricity. During the next week, Gulf Power CEO Marlene Santos oversaw the deployment of about 7,000 restoration workers, while also participating in daily news briefings and updating state and local officials on recovery efforts.
“Clearly, it’s been a challenging time,” Santos says, referring to both an active hurricane season and the coronavirus pandemic. “Hurricanes are a crisis, so we’re used to it.”
Indeed, managing through crisis is nothing new for Santos, who has worked for NextEra Energy or one of its subsidiaries since 1981. The Cuba native and University of Miami graduate joined FPL out of college and steadily rose through the ranks. She was vice president of customer service at FPL for 14 years and also chief integration officer for NextEra's $5.75-billion purchase of Gulf Power in 2018.
Santos, a mother of three adult sons, says she has a strict early-morning routine that helps her deal with the heavy demands of the job.
“I wake up before anyone else in my house is awake — usually by 5:15. I exercise. I meditate. To me, it’s really important to start the day off right,” she says. “At the beginning of COVID, I wasn’t doing that because everything was so crazy,” she adds. “I had to catch myself and say, ‘Ok, timeout.’ ”
She says she has stepped up internal communications during the pandemic and now hosts regular webcasts with employees. Occasionally, a health and wellness expert joins her on the webcasts.
“I’ve had our medical director talk to us about COVID, and I’ve had a psychologist talk to us about mental health issues and kids going back to school. Early on, someone from Morgan Stanley came on to talk to us about the economy,” she says. “I’ve learned that I should do this even when there’s not a pandemic. People like the connection.”
Read more in Florida Trend's November issue.
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