By Tom Kleckner
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For 18 years, Jim Eckelberger and Harry Skilton have been a steady presence on SPP’s Board of Directors, providing strategic direction and financial guidance.
The men joined the board in 2000 as two of its first seven independent members, helping to oversee SPP’s classification as an RTO in 2004. Until Tuesday, they were the only two original directors still active on the board.
No more. SPP CEO Nick Brown began the board’s April 24 meeting by telling the Members Committee that Eckelberger and Skilton would be moving to emeritus status, although they will continue to remain under contract with the board.
“They will continue to bring the tremendous amount of experience and institutional knowledge they’ve gained over 18 years of service to this organization,” Brown said.
Vice Chair Larry Altenbaumer replaces Eckelberger as chair, while Graham Edwards takes over as vice chair. The moves became effective following the board meeting’s conclusion.
Eckelberger, who was first elected board chair in 2004, took his final moments in the role to reflect on his time with SPP and to thank everyone around him. He said he was only following the Jesuit philosophy of serving others.
“Instead of being in a leadership role, I will be in a resource role. I love that,” Eckelberger told the board and members. “I think that’s a wonderful opportunity for me to be a benefit to others. Thank you for allowing me to go beyond age 80 into this resource position.
“Bottom line, if you look at the last few months, October onward, the [prices] in our footprint have been phenomenal, lower than they’ve ever been,” he said. Referring to his audience, Eckelberger said, “We’ve done a wonderful job for the organization’s members and the consumers in the footprint. It’s been a win-win situation all around.”
Eckelberger heaped praise on staff, his fellow board members, and the Regional State Committee and Markets and Operations Policy Committee. “The success is all about you,” he said.
“I’ve watched over the years as people with very disparate ideas have found a way, without going to Washington, to make progress we can all agree to. Everyone has to represent their organization, but it’s been a phenomenal ability of everyone to bring about evolutionary change and a relationship-driven and member-driven organization. I appreciate the Members Committee for finding a way to do that.
“To SPP, you said you’ve wanted an independent board. I can say I’ve pissed off every member of the staff in one way or another,” Eckelberger said, drawing a laugh.
“Then I look at the board and the Members Committee. I’m surrounded by peers for whom I have great respect,” he said, as his eyes filled with tears. “I want to say to you, the members who have made all this possible … Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
SPP’s directors, members and staff rewarded Eckelberger with a standing ovation.
Now composed, he turned to Altenbaumer, shook his hand and said, “And to my successor, whom I have great respect for … Good luck!”
With that, Eckelberger’s tenure as board chair was over.
Brown said Eckelberger and Skilton will be honored with “much more fanfare” during SPP’s Annual Meeting of Members in October.
A 30-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, Eckelberger rose to the rank of rear admiral before entering the corporate world and joining SPP. He served in the first Gulf War during his last year of active duty.
Skilton spent 25 years in senior executive and general management positions, including CEO of American Meter Company and treasurer for Celanese Corporation.
Altenbaumer was elected to the SPP board in 2005 and recently succeeded Skilton as chair of the Finance Committee. He served as president of Illinois Power, a regulated electric and natural gas delivery company, and was executive vice president of regulated energy delivery for Dynegy.
SPP hopes to select replacements for Eckelberger and Skilton before the annual members meeting in October.