Susan N. Story
Inducted in 2010
September 16, 2004. Is there a Story here? In Pensacola, Fla., on that date Hurricane Ivan devastated the Florida Panhandle. That was the major story. The other one concerned the then 43-year-old head of Gulf Power, the first woman and youngest ever chief executive officer of a Southern Company operating subsidiary. Susan N. Story had been on the job for a little more than a year when she was tested by the destruction left in the wake of a major Category 3 storm.
Hurricane Ivan’s 140 mile-per-hour winds knocked Gulf Power’s largest generating plant off-line and destroyed hundreds of miles of line. The hurricane left 90 percent of Gulf Power’s 396,000 customers without electricity. Less than two weeks later, all customers who could physically take power had power restored. “It was a life-changing event, not just professionally but personally,” Story said. So much so that she became involved in Rebuild Northwest Florida, a community-wide effort that has helped 1,700 families return to safe homes in the region, as well as the Florida Disaster Recovery Council, which she continues serving on today.
Her focus on the community’s needs extends to her customers as well as the environment. Combining both “is a huge challenge … If you only think about the environment, people aren’t going to be able to afford electricity; if only think about cost, you are going to harm the environment.” How to address both? First take a survey of customers needs, find what percentage of their incomes go toward paying their electric bills, and then apply that data to implement variable rate, demand-side usage programs, geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, and other EarthCents energy-efficiency programs that help customers save money and protect the environment.
Outside the boardroom, Story devotes time and energy to education—from early childhood to post graduate. Her key issues involve accountability and performance in preparing young people to achieve the American Dream—just as she had the opportunity to do. “I was the first person on either side of my family to graduate from college, and my younger brother and I both have advanced degrees,” she explains. “I believe that this is still a country where every boy or girl can grow up to be whatever they are willing to work hard enough for. And the key is education—and my special passion is getting more graduates in science, engineering, technology and math.”
Auburn professor and industrial and systems engineering department chair, Dr. Alice E. Smith, noted that honoring Story with the highly selective ISE Alumnus of the Year is especially important. “As one of our most prominent female alumni, Susan is especially inspiring to our young women, who constitute more than one-third of our students.” Nothing underscores the lesson like meeting a successful role model.
But the story is not over yet. David M. Ratcliffe, Southern Company chairman, president, and chief executive officer, remarked, “Susan has great future potential beyond what she is even doing now. There’s a contagious enthusiasm about her. You can’t be in a room with her without getting excited about what’s going on.”