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In The News

PG&E names Geisha Williams as CEO and president

PG&E Corp. said Monday that Geisha Williams was promoted to president and CEO of the San Francisco-based utility, effective March 1.

The move caps a long journey for Williams, 55, who fled Cuba as a child with her parents, eventually working in her father's New Jersey grocery store before taking a college internship at Florida Power & Light.

Geisha Williams, president of PG&E's electric business, had a lot to smile about Monday… more

TODD JOHNSON | SAN FRANCISCO BUSINESS TIMES

She succeeds Tony Earley Jr., 67, who was elected to serve as executive chair of PG&E's corporate board.

In addition, Nick Stavropoulos, 58, currently president of gas at PG&E utility subsidiary, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., was elected to serve as president and chief operating officer of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. The currently separate roles of president for the gas and electric businesses are being consolidated into the single utility president role that will be held by Stavropoulos.

"Geisha has demonstrated the performance and strategic vision to lead this organization into the future," Earley said in a statement.

When she was named to her current role at PG&E, president of the electric business, it was seen as a milestone for the Hispanic community.

“PG&E’s promotion of Williams is a historic one,” said Hector Barreto, chairman of the Latino Coalition, upon her promotion, “making her the first ever Latina appointed to the position of president of a regulated utility in the country.”

Williams will now lead PG&E (NYSE: PCG) and its 23,000 employees, serving 16 million Californians.

In an interview with the San Francisco Business Times earlier this year, Williams reflected on her journey from Cuban exile to C-suite executive.

“It was a really horrible experience. With no warning, the government knocked on our door at 3 a.m. and said, ‘You need to leave Cuba today,’” Williams said, recalling her family's flight from Cuba as a small girl in 1967. “We were whisked away, with the clothes on our back.”

As an engineering student at the University of Miami, she found her way into the utility industry by spotting a notice in a campus hallway for an internship at Florida Power & Light.

“I fell in love with electricity,” she said. “I realized I could work for a manufacturer or a hospital, or I could work for a company that enables the manufacturer, the hospital and everything else.”

She went on to graduate from the University of Miami, and then headed back to Florida Power & Light, a move she saw as just the ticket to reach her modest career ambitions: a good job with a good company.

She credits an early FP&L mentor, Clark Cook, for raising her sights on what’s possible.

When she told Cook at one point that she hoped to one day be a front-line supervisor, Cook told her, “Someone has to run this place. It might as well be you.”

Cook's remark had a profound impact on her.

“Let me tell you, that was one of those seminal moments in your career,” she said. “It struck me like a lightning bolt.

“I started to give myself permission to dream bigger,” Williams said at the time.

Williams declined to be interviewed Monday, but Cook was eager to share his pleasure in seeing her get the top job today.

"It's wonderful news. She's very talented," said Cook, who spoke with Williams this afternoon about her big promotion. "Geisha can analyze a problem very quickly and make an intelligent decision.

"It makes me proud to be an American to see how well she's done," Cook said.

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