ATC executive seeks to EMPOWER EMPLOYEES

Davis believes in servant leadership

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

July 9, 2015

  Mark Davis, chief operating officer of American Transmission Company. 
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

CITY OF PEWAUKEE — Recently promoted to chief operating officer at American Transmission Company, Mark Davis describes his approach to management as “servant leadership.”

“I enjoy watching a team be successful,” he said, sitting in the spacious boardroom of the City of Pewaukee-based utility company. “My energy comes from interacting with people.”

In April, Davis was named ATC’s COO after joining the company in 2006 as director of asset management. He was promoted to vice president in 2012. Davis reports to newly appointed Chief Executive Officer and President Mike Rowe, who took over from former CEO John Procario. Procario is serving as executive chairman until his retirement July 31. As chief operating officer, Davis oversees system planning, system operations, construction and asset management for ATC, which owns, builds and maintains the high-voltage electric transmission system throughout the Upper Midwest.

Davis sees his new role at ATC as a way to “serve the organization on another level.” After 29 years in the industry, the Indianapolis native said he’s big on leadership, strategic thinking and surrounding himself with talented people who in turn help him to be more effective.

In fact, Davis credits ATC’s success to its talented employee base of about 650 people, approximately 350 of whom work at the 14-acre campus that is surrounded by ponds and a walking path and covered with green roofs. “I try to create a culture that makes the ATC experience a rewarding one,” he said, adding ATC hires individuals with the intent to put them in a position to be very successful.

As COO, Davis said he is in the “pursuit of operational excellence” and wants the company to be barely noticed because it is doing such a good job keeping the utilities running smoothly.

Mark Davis, chief operating officer of American Transmission Company, discusses leadership during an interview on Tuesday. 
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Davis describes himself as strategic in nature and said the company creates core and contingent plans so if a situation should arise, it can be dealt with quickly and strategically.

To be proactive at ATC, Davis said, the company engages its employees because they have the talent and have been given the authority to address problems early on. “You encourage them to use (their) thoughts, experiences and talents and bring all (they) have to the table,” Davis said.

Finding senior talent is one of the obstacles ATC has so its focus is on retaining talent, Davis said. The company has a concerted effort to bring in promising university students and works closely with area institutes, such as Marquette University, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, UW-Platteville and Michigan Tech. ATC also operates an internship program.

Another potential hurdle for ATC is the looming number of retirements. Davis said he wants to make sure that the knowledge held by the senior members at ATC is passed down to the junior employees. ATC has created an employee-mentoring program to help with that knowledge transfer.

In the future, Davis said, the hope is to continue to grow ATC. Although he couldn’t specify the growth plans, he did say the plan is for immediate growth and ATC is looking for opportunities in areas that make sense for the company and its shareholders.

The importance of taking risks

For others looking to improve their careers and earn a leadership role, Davis encourages them to leave their comfort zones and take on more risk because the easy way leads to little rewards.

“The true best you is on the other side of that challenge,” he said.

Davis said he holds the position of chief operating officer because of his willingness to take on challenges throughout his career. Some people may struggle with overcoming challenges, so Davis encourages them to find a good mentor who will work with them.

“People who avoid challenges can settle into a level of mediocrity,” he said.

It’s also important for leaders to continue to learn, whether that be from reading, attending motivational speeches or even watching a biography on TV.

“How can you keep teaching if you aren’t learning?” Davis asked.


Davis’ first job: Busboy at Red Lobster

Growing up in Indianapolis, there came a time for Mark Davis when his wants for nice things exceeded the family’s budget, so his mother encouraged him to get a job and earn some cash.

Although he had already been doing odd jobs such as cutting grass to earn money, Davis’ first official job was as a busboy at Red Lobster at the age of 16.

There, he earned $2.90 per hour and left each day smelling like fish during the three months he held the job while on summer break.

While working at Red Lobster, Davis said he learned what it meant to work hard and to get paid for it, the importance of showing up to work on time and doing what he was instructed to do. He also learned he had a lot more potential. As a result, he knew that pursuing a solid education was the right course, Davis said.

As a father of three grown children and grandfather to a 2-year-old girl, Davis said he hopes his legacy for them will be carrying on strong values

“I want them to essentially continue to build upon what’s been built by my generation,” he said.