Quite a bit has changed over the last 40 years when it comes to Illinois energy policy, electric and natural gas delivery and sustainability. However, one constant in those four decades has been Ron Pate.
Pate, Ameren Illinois’ senior vice president of Strategic Initiatives, joined the company in 1978 as a meter reader in Monmouth. From there he became a forestry journeyman and then went on to become a natural gas journeyman, a superintendent and director of safety with stops in Belleville, Jacksonville, Champaign and Decatur.
As a company leader, Pate also served as a Vice President overseeing numerous parts of the organization, including stints in Operations and Technical Services, Utility Operations, Asset Performance and Compliance Management, and Delivery System Operations & Development.
Even as Pate took on more management responsibilities, a not-so-small part of himself missed the days responding to natural gas issues while keeping the gas flowing for customers.
“The best part of the job has always been operations, the hands-on work. I didn’t realize how much less of that there is as you move up the corporate ladder,” Pate says with a laugh. “But having that experience has been key to my effectiveness as a leader. You understand what folks on the front line are going through, can talk their language and understand all facets of the business.”
From meter reader to senior leader at a Fortune 500 company that serves 1.2 million electric and more than 800,000 natural gas customers, Pate will retire from Ameren Illinois on Nov. 1. His service to the company has left a mark on all those he’s collaborated with over the years.
“I am indebted to Ron for his more than 40 years of service,” says Richard Mark, Chairman and President, Ameren Illinois. “His leadership has helped transform the energy sector in Illinois, and he’s been instrumental in so many of our successes. For me personally, he has been a great colleague, mentor and friend.”
There have been memorable and life-changing moments along the way, including his role helping to lead the merger of Illinois Power and Ameren Illinois in 2004, and perhaps most notably his Mutual Assistance trip to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Pate and a group of Ameren Illinois employees provided power to people who had been without it for months and years – an experience he’ll never forget.
As energy has played an increasingly significant role in everyday life, Pate has been working to improve reliability, storm management response and customer service. He’s had a hand in overseeing technical upgrades to equipment across the state, enhanced safety procedures, regulatory compliance and the shift to an incident command structure that requires a massive mobilization of resources, including sleeping trailers, mobile kitchens, supply stores and other resources as needed in the aftermath of a severe storm.
“I’m so proud of how we’ve adapted and become a more proactive company,” Pate says. “We see a storm coming in, we’re calling crews to the area, getting outside help if needed, and doing whatever is necessary to keep the lights on. And on the natural gas side, we’re able to respond to 99.9 percent of gas leaks within an hour. That’s an amazing thing – our service territory footprint is bigger than Indiana.”
As this chapter of his life ends, Pate is excited about the opportunity ahead for both the industry and the company, particularly the state’s transition to clean energy.
Utilities have a duty to transform to a cleaner, more sustainable energy, Pate says, and to do so in a way that customers can still afford. It can’t happen overnight and it can’t happen without a plan.
Working with Illinois lawmakers and stakeholders to solve for those challenges will be a monumental task that he’s sure his successors are up for.
“It’s all an opportunity,” Pate says. “We need to look at it and grasp it that way. The future is extremely exciting.”
And to those who will come after him, Pate advises they be flexible, act quickly and adapt as the environment changes. The big picture goals won’t change, but the path to reaching them will.
It’s the same advice that served him and Ameren Illinois so well these last 40 years.