SMYRNA — A leadership change is coming but expect the same vision moving forward.
That’s according to Kimberly A. Schlichting, who will become president and CEO of Delaware Municipal Electric Corp. Inc. on Oct. 16. She’ll replace her mentor, Patrick McCullar, who will remain as a consultant for the nonprofit to assist with the transition.
Since 2010, as steered by DEMEC’s board of directors, Ms. Schlichting said she has “worked closely with Patrick to be prepared for succession planning and/or, if anything happened to him, there would be someone ready to step in and keep the company going.”
Afforded significant latitude for more than a decade, Ms. Schlichting has already put her stamp on the corporation.
“To say that I’m going to do something that’s vastly different than (Pat), I can’t say that will be the case because he’s always supported me and the different ideas I’ve had,” she said.
DEMEC generates, transmits and distributes electric power and energy to municipalities that include Newark, New Castle, Middletown, Smyrna, Clayton, Milford, Lewes and Seaford, serving more than 99,000 residents and businesses. The corporation has a $150 million budget.
“My career focus and dedication has been to advocate and support public power’s business model with its many benefits to our member communities, while identifying innovative ways for DEMEC to evolve and grow with emerging industry changes,” said Ms. Schlichting, who joined DEMEC in 2003 after serving as Smyrna’s assistant town manager.
She has assumed a wide variety of roles since then.
“I have sincerely enjoyed and appreciated Patrick’s mentorship and leadership over the last two decades, and I am truly honored for the opportunity to lead DEMEC’s continued growth and value into the future,” she said.
Ms. Schlichting has most recently served as DEMEC’s chief operating officer and senior vice president of power supply.
“In this role, she provided operational responsibility and leadership to DEMEC’s power supply portfolio management, government relations, communications, technical services, environmental affairs, sustainability, risk, insurance, strategic planning, mutual aid and member programs,” according to a DEMEC news release.
The way Ms. Schlichting sees it, losing electricity can be felt in personal and economic terms.
“It’s aggravating for customers when they come home and there’s even a blip in their electricity, and they have to reset their alarm clocks or whatever,” she said.
“That’s one thing when you think of a resident level, but when you think of a commercial level, where customers have a blip in their electricity and that it could shut down operations that could cost them tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on what their business model or industry is. That’s unacceptable, and while we strive for that perfect, 100% reliability, Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate, and at the end of the day, it’s mechanical equipment, and we’re going to have blips even as we strive for perfect.”
Ms. Schlichting is set to become the first woman to head DEMEC, which was incorporated in 1979. Based on her upbringing in New Hampshire, her groundbreaking ascension seemed rooted early on.
“My dad was a progressive male figure in my life in that he never saw me as a female, always supported me in everything I wanted to do, always looked for ways to create those opportunities or learning experiences for wherever my interests took me,” said Ms. Schlichting, who holds a Master of Business Administration from Delaware State University.
The corporation has 10 full-time employees, “so we’re small but mighty in what we do,” she added.
“When you look at our financial statements, you would assume that we’re more heavily staffed, but for the technical expertise and the equipment that’s needed and all the computers, the programming and everything, we do outsource a lot of the higher technical needs that just brings us that cost savings.”
Operating in a strong business model, Ms. Schlichting believes her tenure will be marked by continued success. According to the corporation, Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings have assigned A to A1 credit ratings to DEMEC the past several years.
“I will do OK because of the support I have behind me,” she said. “The staff we’ve built over the years is top-notch, and (with) the relationships that I’ve built across the industry through the regional and national associations that I’m a part of, I’ve got a deep network of support that is there to help me along the way.”
DEMEC Board Chair Morris Deputy concurred, saying, “Kimberly’s ongoing commitment to our members, her 18 years of experience with the company and the respect she has earned among her peers across the industry made it clear to us that she is the right choice to lead DEMEC into the future.”
And in the years ahead, the changing nature of the industry is inevitable.
“As we automate, our consumers and customers are wanting more control over how they provide power for themselves, the solar rooftop systems of their own, electric vehicle-charging stations,” Ms. Schlichting said.
“The members’ distribution grids were developed for one-way electricity, so the previous model was we generate, we serve the customer. Now, with the customers getting more involved, they may be generating at their own home and looking for different ways to get more energy.”
Bidirectional, two-way grids “bring challenges to the municipal utilities that might have to change the infrastructure to allow that two-way and make sure we have the data, so that we keep providing that reliable electricity that our customers want,” Ms. Schlichting said.
DEMEC’s new leader serves on the American Public Power Association board of directors and as a member of its Executive Committee. She’s the alternate trustee on the American Municipal Power board of trustees and serves as the Delaware network coordinator for the APPA Mutual Aid Working Group.