Residence: Rock Hill, S.C.
Occupation: Retired senior vice president, Flint Energies
Editor’s Note: Part 2 of two parts of Q&A with Jimmy Autry
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Q: Turning to your 19-year professional career with Flint Energies and volunteer service in Houston County, you received a prestigious award before retiring. What did it recognize?
A: At the Council of Rural Electric Communicators’ meeting in Florida I was recognized for work in communications and for teaching and leading young people in our program. It was very special. I’ve gotten to train 300 to 350 young people from cooperatives across the country, one of the best things I’ve gotten to do. I had great opportunities because someone taught me in the 1980s when I started, so it’s wonderful to help others. I traveled around the county this year to see people I trained. My boss, Bob Ray, called it my farewell tour.
Q: Stressing appreciation for your work and involvement in training, officials used the term “extraordinary impact.” The award itself — and this is the kicker — was created in your honor and you were the first recipient of the Autry Leadership Award for Always On Communication. What did you teach? Did it include your emphasis on community involvement?
A: In public relations, integrity is of the greatest importance and must be at the highest level. Integrity is what lasts and what people think of. Building on that priority, I taught new employees good communication skills up and down within the organization and side to side with the member-communities we serve. And yes, we teach, and stress, community involvement. Flint has done a great job of that. There’s a high level of involvement from the organization and from individuals out there in the community volunteering and not getting paid for it. I hope my impact being “extraordinary” means it’s long term.
Q: The award acknowledged your skills as well as mentoring, advising and coaching of cooperative communicators toward professional communications but your local work went beyond that. What was your initial job description and how did it evolve?
A: I came here 19 years ago to be vice president of marketing. Natural gas was changing and people could choose between providers. We thought it would happen with electricity, too, but it didn’t. That meant I changed direction, but it always involved communications.
Q: So the change you expected didn’t come and you filled other roles?
A: The change we expected didn’t come but there were other changes no one saw coming at all. They got a lot of my attention. Things like new technologies I spent a lot of time with. Who could imagine paying bills online decades ago? Even phone automation... who saw that in 1998?
Day to day doing business inside our building and in the community has radically changed since then.
Q: As far as service to the community, was there a turning point?
A: In 2006 we purposely decided to do a better job of connecting to the community as electric provider and as neighbor. It meant I was in the community more and one of my greatest rewards became seeing members learn something or get questions answered. Questions like where we get our electricity, how it’s used or about getting help on power bills.
Q: What role did you play outside communications to make Flint a better provider under stress?
A: That’s preparedness. I got to lead the charge on preparedness. We regularly exercise our emergency plan, whether for real during an actual emergency — like a weather situation — or only on paper through scenarios we devise. On paper, we do it every October and I’ve gotten the nickname Hurricane Jimmy because I present scenarios to staff. They respond and I throw them curves and change it up to create new problems to deal with. It makes us rethink and look at situations in fresh ways to provide better service.
Q: Is this fruitful?
A: I’m proud because we’ve gotten better. When (Hurricane/Tropical Storm) Irma came through, we had a high of 35,000 without power for four and a half days, the largest outage we’ve seen. Compare that to Francis in 2004 when there were fewer without power but it took six and a half days to restore. We shaved two days off. We know a day without power is tough and it meant a lot to see we were better, faster.
Q: As to your personal community service, what was a highlight?
A: Like I’ve said, Houston County is the best place we’ve lived so anything we did was a delight. I think helping provide leadership for successful SPLOSTs and ESPLOSTs (community and education special purpose local option sales tax initiatives) was rewarding. Even though they didn’t always benefit my wife, Judy, and I directly, especially the last when we knew we were moving. We knew they were important for the community for the future. They meant new roads, new schools and more to help Houston County remain a great place.
Q: How about the quieter side? Involvements that got less attention?
A: You don’t do those things to get attention, but I’ll talk about one that concerns me: hunger in Houston County. We think we’re all doing so well hunger couldn’t be a problem, but it is. I’ve taken meals to elderly folks a mile from my house that desperately needed them. I hope people will learn and get involved helping others. It’s needed and it charges your own batteries to boot. Quietly do for others — there’s a real blessing that comes from that.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.