In recent weeks, I've talked a lot about the importance of solid leadership -- a team that is honest, trustworthy and focused on the task at hand. Individuals who treat the company's money like their own and treat shareholders as their bosses.

In short, as leadership guru Warren Bennis would say, those who not only do things right, but do the right thing.

Visiting Westar Energy ( WR) this week, I was reminded just how important that was.

This once-troubled Topeka, Kan., utility was the subject of much scrutiny and ridicule under a former management team led by investment banker-turned-CEO -- some would say czar -- David Wittig. As chronicled here on a number of occasions, Wittig flaunted his power to shareholders, ratepayers, regulators and even the citizens of his own community. According to a report of a special investigator hired by new management, Wittig used corporate assets, like aircraft, for personal gain.

More importantly, he lost track of what was important: preserving the company's value for shareholders. From its high in the mid-$40s, Wittig saw the company's stock drop to single-digits before being forced to resign amid corporate investigations and a personal indictment for bank fraud.

In this case, the implosion of Westar had little to do with fundamentals. The core utility was doing just fine. Rather, it had everything to do with a leader who took his eye off the ball and became more enamored with his power than the power his company produced.

The Haines Way

Enter Jim Haines, Westar's new president and CEO. Haines, an attorney and former member of the Kansas Gas & Electric (now owned by Westar) management team, is largely credited for the turnaround at El Paso Electric ( EE), a once bankrupt utility. Haines was called back from retirement -- he was teaching ethics at a university in the Southwest -- to turn Westar around.

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