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
What's most interesting is that he won't tell you what he's doing is magic. In fact, its not. But, what he is doing is common sense and, more importantly, is the essence of corporate leadership. He's rebuilding trust with the utility's stakeholders -- shareholders, customers regulators and communities, among them -- by listening to their concerns and responding to their requests. He is refocusing the company on its core competency: generating electricity in Kansas. And he's repairing damaged morale among the company's employees by meeting with each employee -- from accountants to linemen -- to explain the company vision and solicit their input. What a difference leadership can make. During my visit, someone asked about staff morale. The answer, given what I know about Jim Haines, wasn't surprising. "Now everyone knows exactly where we are going," said Westar Treasurer Greg Greenwood. "That makes everyone much more productive." When I met with members of the Kansas Corporation Commission, I got the same message. "Jim Haines brought great credibility to the company in the minds of the commission and others," said one KCC member. In short, Jim Haines' leadership has turned Westar around in the minds of employees and regulators, something many people thought would take years to do, if possible at all. Westar is now on track to be free of overbearing regulatory intervention once the restructuring plan is complete. Perhaps the best measure of his success is the recovery of Westar's stock: In single-digits when Haines took over in late 2002, the stock now boasts a price of $16, doubling in just six months.