Lincoln Electric System under new leadership

June 4, 2024, 10 a.m. ·

Emeka Anyanwu
Emeka Anyanwu (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Electric System)

Lincoln Electric System was created in 1966. In those 58 years, LES has had only four CEOs. Nebraska Public Media's Dale Johnson talked with Emeka Anyanwu, who grew in Nigeria, about his career aspirations at LES.

DALE JOHNSON: The path to Lincoln, Neb. for Emeka Anyanwu passes through Nigeria. We need some explanation for that, Emeka. Why did your parents move from Iowa before you were four years old to Nigeria?

EMEKA ANYANWU: My family's originally from Nigeria and my parents had come to the United States to study. My dad studied agriculture. So he, as one does, came to the Midwest, to study agriculture, and wound up at Iowa State University. And so when they finished their studies, they had their lives and actually a job assignment waiting for my father back in Nigeria. I was born, they were finishing those studies, and then we moved back so that they could resume their lives in their home country.

JOHNSON: You read a lot as a child and played a lot of soccer, too, from what I understand. But there was a point where you say you became curious about electronics. What triggered that interest?

ANYANWU: One of the reasons why soccer is so popular in the developing world is because it's a sport that can be played at a very rudimentary level. And similarly, in an environment like that, you know, particularly during the time when I was growing up, access to various gadgets and electronics is pretty scary, right? And so if you had a transistor radio, or you had a cassette tape player, and it broke and stopped working, what you did was either give up on it, or tinker. And I happened to be one of those kids who wanted to tinker and from tinkering with pieces of equipment like that, I became fascinated by the way things are put together and the way things work. And that really began sort of that journey for me of being interested in the way various mechanisms work and my journey to becoming an engineer.

JOHNSON: Fast forward to the age of 17, your parents send you back to the United States, you go to college, you go to Iowa State. And while there you see a flier on campus for Taekwondo. You go to the gym, wearing your jeans and your T shirt, but you call that experience life so?

ANYANWU: I learned so much about life and leadership in that gym. You know, I walked into that gym and I really was just curious. I'd been through martial arts from a very young age, and never really had an opportunity to study. And so when I saw that, I just wanted to know it was about. I figured I'd walk in that gym, I'd kind of take a look, I'd decide whether it was something I wanted to engage in. And we had this wonderful instructor, Master Yong Chin Pak, who took one look at me and said, Now you get in the class and start. And that was his way, you know, he threw you right in, he welcomed you in and he grew a lot of leaders in that taekwondo class that began a journey that led me through a couple of decades, really, of studying and practicing Taekwondo, I became a black belt, which is a leadership role, right? Really, in many ways, my first formal leadership role. To me really, that was my first real brush with formal leadership and really changed my life.

JOHNSON: Graduated from Iowa State - moved to Kansas City served in several director level jobs for nearly 16 years or so at Kansas City Power and Light, then you spent five years in Seattle as the Energy Innovation and Resources Officer for Seattle City Light, then you come to Lincoln, What excites you about LES?

ANYANWU: LES is a remarkable utility. When you really think about the way this industry is put together, there are just not that many utilities that size and scale that managed to also still be fully vertically integrated to you know, operating major supply generation resources, operating significant transmission and distribution assets. It's not that common for a utility of this size and the community of this size. And so, at LES, we like to say we may be small, but we'd like to play big.

JOHNSON: One final thought here Emeka, the typical CEO tenure of a large, publicly held company, including utilities, is about five years, but you are in an industry that actually requires commitments that might not take full effect for 10-15-20 years or more. How do you hope to make an impact before that 10 year mark?

ANYANWU: That's a great question. You know, I think the thing to always keep in mind, Dale, is that one of the great things about the utility industry and the electric utility industry specifically is that the culture of our industry is marked with stewardship. You have people in this industry who are incredibly committed to the services we provide, and to keeping the lights on for the communities that we serve. And so wherever you're doing, work, utility work, electric utility work, you're not just thinking about your goals for today or tomorrow or for next year. You're thinking about those long term goals. You're thinking about the value and the positioning of these assets that we have the opportunity to really be responsible for on behalf of the communities that we serve. And so to me, I think it all becomes a continuum, right? You know, you're connecting the past with the future, you know, you're here for a time and you are representing that stewardship for the time that you are here. And whether it is, you know, three years or five years or 10 years or 20. what your job is to as we as we all like to say, right, you want to leave it leave it better than you found it.

JOHNSON: Emeka Anyanwu joining me, the CEO of Lincoln Electric System. Emeka, thank you so much for the conversation.

ANYANWU: Thank you, Dale. It's a pleasure to be with you.

JOHNSON: I'm Dale Johnson, Nebraska Public Media News.