The Top 25
President and CEO, FirstEnergy Corp.
The Power 100 List
Greater Akron, Cuyahoga County, Lake County, Lorain County, Mahoning Valley
#1 Sandy Cutler,
Chairman and CEO,
#3 Christopher Connor,
Chairman and CEO,
The Sherwin-Williams Co.
Tale of Two Cities
#4 Dan Gilbert,
Majority owner, Cleveland Cavaliers; chairman, Quicken Loans Inc.; principal, Rock Gaming
In Good Health
#8 Thomas Zenty,
CEO, University Hospitals
#13 Beth Mooney,
President, COO, and incoming chairman and CEO, KeyCorp
County Executive Ed FitzGerald talks economic development
Women on Power
Five women on our list provide their views
Good Years, Bad Years
Tracking ups and downs
How November's winds blew in change
2010 honorees who didn't
make the list
FirstEnergy CEO Anthony Alexander has long been known for going the extra mile. Or 1,100 miles.
In 2008, Alexander learned that Akron’s Austen BioInnovation Institute, a biomedical think tank and lab that FirstEnergy helps fund, was in the running for a $20 million grant from the Miami-based Knight Foundation. Alexander decided to go to Florida personally and make a case for the Institute.
“I knew that the foundation gets lots of applications,” Alexander says. “So I wanted to take it over the top and really show the foundation how important [the institute] was to the community.”
So Alexander loaded up a FirstEnergy plane with a dream team of Akron business and political moguls — Mayor Don Plusquellic, University of Akron president Luis Proenza, the CEOs of Akron’s three major hospitals — who flew with him to Miami to plead the case before the Knight Foundation’s board.
“Each of us had a role in the presentation, explaining why the [BioInnovation Institute] was important to us,” Alexander explains. “It was a pretty good sales call,” he adds with a laugh. A few months later, Alexander learned the Austen BioInnovation Institute had won the grant.
It was all very typical Tony.
“Tony believes in the importance of engaging his team in the community,” says Daniel Colantone, president & CEO of the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce. “As a leader, he’s a visionary. He always gets things done.”
Alexander’s most recent coup is the pending $4.7 billion acquisition of Allegheny Energy, a Pennsylvania-based electric utility company serving four states. If approved — and most analysts expect it will be — the deal will create the largest customer-based power company in the country, servicing 6 million customers in 10 states. The merger means FirstEnergy will increase its power-generating ability by 70 percent, making it one of the most powerful energy companies of any kind in the country.
“Allegheny Energy’s stock was selling for a cheap price,” says Lasan Johong, an energy analyst for RBC Capital Markets Equity Research in New York. “[Personally], I think Allegheny could have waited for a better time to execute the merger.”
Financial observers say Alexander’s strengths as a negotiator and communicator enabled him to seal the deal. He convinced both companies’ shareholders and stakeholders of the value of the merged company, making the merger a “win-win for everyone: the consumers, the company and for the industry itself,” Johong says.
Alexander’s persuasive skills were also critical in getting regulatory agencies in four states to sign off on the transaction, says Mark T. Clark, FirstEnergy’s executive vice president and chief financial officer.
“Tony is recognized as one of the best and brightest in our industry,” Clark adds. “He saw the value of the Allegheny merger, in terms of its potential to reduce risk, improve the balance sheet and provide avenues for growth.”
Through all the negotiations, Alexander insisted that the merged company be headquartered in Akron.
“Any time companies combine, one of the first real issues is where the headquarters are located,” Alexander says. “FirstEnergy has a close relationship to the communities we serve in Northeast Ohio. When we put together the transaction, … we maintained that having our headquarters in Northeast Ohio was very critical to us.”
It was not a surprising position for Alexander, 59, an Akron native who began his career in the tax division of Ohio Edison, which later merged with Centerior Energy to form FirstEnergy. He’s long taken a special interest in the region’s economic health and its ability to attract and maintain young talent. After taking over as CEO of FirstEnergy in 2004, he got behind Taking the Stage, a collection of leadership seminars designed to help women advance in the company. Every year, he visits dozens of FirstEnergy work sites across the country, meeting with employees to gain insight into their thinking.
“I think the most successful companies are the ones that realize in the end that your success is really tied to your employees,” Alexander explains. “They are your most important asset.”
It’s this kind of strategic thinking and vision that makes Alexander an admired leader.
“It’s the highest honor to have FirstEnergy in our community,” Colantone says. “The world would be a better place if there were lots of Tony Alexanders in everyone’s communities.”