Program Overview

Each day in the program has approximately seven to eight hours of in-class sessions, break-out group work and team project work. Over the course of the program, there will be a total of three graded assignments that are combined with participation evaluations to make the up the participants’ final grade. A certificate of completion is awarded to all students regardless of credit or non-credit request.

The Approach

This program utilizes readings, presentations, case studies, and an experiential exercise designed to engage the participants and deepen their learning. A final exercise is a strategic scenario exercise where participants establish a base case scenario for the utility of the future, and using a time horizon of 10 years, develop a long-term strategic plan. The base case scenarios will focus on elements such as the regulatory environment, inflation and the price of energy, competitive forces, customer needs, and technological innovation. The team assignment focuses on the questions:

  1. How should the utility position itself to be successful in this environment and what strategy should it pursue?
  2. What are the financial, organizational and customer implications with the scenario and strategy?

The industry information and competency training provided during the program will help participants complete this final assignment. Coaching will be available intermittently during the program to assist with techniques for problem solving and working in teams, and each team will make a presentation on the last day of the program.

Day 1: Program Overview

Utility Strategy and the Utility by the Numbers

The morning session will open with an overview of the program: schedule, instructors, curriculum and assignments. Following this, participants will learn about opportunities and challenges facing utilities and how utility strategy is developed. In addition, the morning session will introduce participants to writing a strategic plan by exploring internal resources and capabilities against an external backdrop of regulation, economic factors, customer preferences, new technology and competitive forces. This session will provide a foundation for the final assignment that will be due at the end of Week 2. In the afternoon session, participants will begin the finance discussion.

Day 2: The Utility by the Numbers

The purpose of this finance session is to help participants understand a utility’s financial drivers and how a utility accesses the capital markets. In the morning participants will learn how to assess a utility’s financial strength through its financial reports: cash flow statements, balance sheets, and income statements. In the afternoon participants will learn about break-even analysis and capital investments, as well as how a utility can access capital markets for funding. Participants will complete this session with a web-based assignment within three weeks of the segment.

Day 3: Energy Resources in Transition

This session will provide an overview of energy resource operations, economics, planning and markets. Program participants will learn key characteristics and functions of the bulk energy system. Major policy, regulatory and structural changes occurring in this segment of the utility industry will also be discussed. Specific topic areas include: 

  • resource attributes and system load-resource balancing
  • commodity energy products and markets
  • evolving policies and regulatory requirements
  • conventional and renewable resources, and energy storage
  • demand-side resources, distributed energy resources and microgrids
  • utility integrated resource planning and acquisition
  • new energy market designs and organizations

Day 4: Executive Presentation Skills

This will be an interactive workshop with inputs on the elements and techniques of presentation - a critical aspect of management. By the end of the day, the participants will be aware of their strengths as speakers and be more credible and clear. The workshop is designed to support the participants' final assignment on Day 10.

Day 5: The Customer Experience & Emerging Trends

This first week will close with two segments. In the morning session, participants begin with an introduction to the "Customer Experience" by reviewing the relationship between a utility and its customers. This segment will focus on customer contact points and changing customer needs, to explore what the utility of the future should be considering with respect to enhancing the customer experience.

In the afternoon, Willamette University will host a panel of industry experts to engage with participants in a discussion of emerging industry trends affecting utilities and their customers. Participants will have an opportunity to consider these trends in the context of their Strategic Plan assignment. 

Day 6 & 7: Fundamentals of Rate Regulation

Participants begin Week 2 with regulation and rate setting. They will learn the principles and impact of rate regulation on a utility. Participants learn about the regulatory process through a role-playing exercise (a mock rate proceeding). Based on information about a fictitious gas and electric utility, participants representing different stakeholder groups prepare presentations about a rate request before a mock rate-setting body.

Day 8: Stakeholder Relations 

Utility leaders need to be effective working with industry stakeholders. Participants will expand on the stakeholder model of management introduced in the mock rate regulation exercise. Participants will be guided in exploring how a utility manages its relationships with its internal and external stakeholders. This session will include ideas for effective stakeholder negotiations. The instructor will provide a case study and then help participants consider how stakeholder relationships are critical to successful implementation of utility strategy. 

Day 9: Becoming a More Effective Leader

Utility leaders need to be prepared to lead their organizations through future change. Therefore the focus on Day 9 is on ethical leadership, understanding your personal style, and leading through change. This session will also provide recommendations for how to work effectively on teams.

Day 10: Capstone Day

Strategic Plan Presentations

The program closes with teams presenting their analyses of the impact of different scenarios depicting the world in ten years on the management of a utility. They will present as if they were presenting to an internal executive team. The team presentations will conclude with input regarding the content and ideas presented, their effectiveness presenting as a team, and the quality of the presentation.