Supervisor, System Planning, ITC Holdings
After a couple of unproductive years in college, Daniel and his wife-to-be, Lisa, landed in Dubuque, where he joined his father in what became a family liquidation business.
It consisted of a local retail outlet that sold used office furniture, shelving and store fixtures, and it also “performed” on-site liquidations of warehouses and retail outlets, typically for large companies like Osco Drug/Sav On, Target, Thrifty Drug and Rite Aid. The job involved long hours and a lot of travel and at the age of 38 he decided, with the support of his wife, to return to school and pursue something he knew absolutely nothing about, electrical engineering.
He attended Northeast Iowa Community College, then went on to University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Upon graduation he accepted a job in substation design engineering with Alliant Energy. After about three years in that role, Barr took a position in system planning with Alliant. He became team lead engineer in planning for Alliant a year or so later, and shortly thereafter, Alliant Energy sold its high-voltage transmission assets (equipment 34,000 volts and above) to the company he works for, ITC.
He took a position as senior engineer in system planning with ITC, and a few years later was promoted to principal engineer in system planning. He was a Principal Engineer for about three years, then entered his current role as supervisor, system planning.
Barr’s responsibilities at ITC Midwest involve coordinating generator interconnections and as supervisor of engineering personnel in system planning. Barr has been licensed by Iowa as a Professional Engineer in Electrical Engineering since 2007. He served as technical lead on interconnection agreements that represent roughly 40 percent of the wind-powered generating capacity interconnected in Iowa.
Barr, 57, and Lisa have been married for 33 years. Their son Nathan, 31, will graduate from the Boston University Medical School in the fall. Daniel and Lisa have been scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and several times in Hawaii. He also has been on a 3,000-mile motorcycle trip with his son. He enjoys bicycling and snowboarding. He has completed a half-marathon and a few triathlons.
Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?
I learned a great deal about working with people from my father, with whom I worked for roughly 20 years in our family liquidation business. In working with him, I learned that although people’s work can be boiled down to series of tasks, it is people who perform those tasks. People make the difference. Working well with people and treating people with respect leads to a better and more productive workplace, and it’s the right thing to do.
As an organization gets larger, there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening? The nature of our work keeps the work interesting. We are an infrastructure business, and we continue to experience an unprecedented expansion of high-voltage transmission system infrastructure in order to accommodate an unprecedented change in the generation fleet, namely a change from fossil-fueled generation to renewables- fueled generation. On the ITC Midwest system alone, we have invested more than $2.5 billion in our system to upgrade the aging existing infrastructure and to accommodate our interconnection customers’ roughly $6 billion investment in new generation resources. Working in system planning and being tasked with ensuring system reliability on a forward-looking basis almost is like solving ongoing puzzles. As electrical engineers, working with puzzles keeps us engaged. As a bonus, we work in a company that values its employees and treats them well. Staying engaged and inspired is not much of a challenge.
Which is more important to your organization – mission, core values or vision?
Our core values of safety and reliability are of utmost importance. The “product” our company works with, high-voltage AC power, is unique. In terms of manufacturing and delivering a product to consumers, AC power is relied upon by virtually everyone, and in a manufacturing and delivery sense, the amount of power that must be manufactured or injected into the system must equal the amount that is withdrawn from the system, while allowing for losses, on a 24/7, 365 basis. And to keep our work interesting, the product that our “folks in the field” deal with is invisible and can kill if they get too close. Safety is a core value that is never be taken for granted at our company.
Reliability also is a core value and our mission. We evaluate, plan and expand or reinforce the existing infrastructure in order to ensure that the transmission system can serve its customers under myriad scenarios and assumptions. The system’s reliability is expected by all who use electricity. Simply put, if we do our job well, nobody notices.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? Good “people skills” are necessary not just for leaders but also for employees, as well. At the heart of good people skills are two things — respect for others and not personalizing tasks performed at work. It is easy for people to forget that they are being paid to do something they would not otherwise do. People get caught up in and often take too personally the tasks they are being paid to perform. Work is defined in terms of tasks performed, but it is people who perform the tasks. Good people skills lead to a professional, respectful and more productive workplace.
What advice do you have for future leaders? In a philosophical, sellers’-market sense, employees are only “worth” their replacement value to a company. That fact should not spread fear through the ranks of the employed; it should help leaders and employees alike recognize that good work has value in the broader employment marketplace. Performing well not only benefits the company, but it also brings value to the individual leaders and employees that go above and beyond. There are very few people who exist at the very top of a company, and nearly all leaders also are employees at some level. As employees, leaders should not become complacent and “ride their rank.” Their performance should set an example for employees, and they should go above and beyond for their employees that perform well.
What are two or three of the best things about being a leader? Probably the best thing about being a leader is being able to be a part of the decision — and policy — making processes related to generator interconnections at our company. We operate in a federally regulated environment under a tariff, or set of “rules,” that are subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The tariff defines how the transmission system and energy markets are planned, operated and maintained, but not every situation we encounter fits within the tariff. It is very engaging to work through those “uncharted” issues and find a solution or compromise to a new problem, and it is very rewarding to be able to provide value by working with a group of people I respect.
What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization? The work in negotiating the “interconnection agreements” for ITC Midwest generator interconnections likely represents the most important decisions I make. For the past roughly 10 years, I have been the technical lead for generator interconnection contracts at ITC Midwest. In that role, I coordinate generator interconnection work for ITC Midwest from initial study of projects’ impacts through generator interconnection contract negotiation and up until the point it is handed off for commencement of facilities design and project construction.
The study process leading up to the “interconnection agreement” typically takes a year or more to complete, and the study process is necessary to ensure that reliability of the transmission system will not be adversely impacted by the new generation source. Individual interconnection agreements can represent hundreds of millions of dollars in an interconnection customer’s investment in new generation resources, and in the relatively short 10 years that ITC Midwest has been in existence, we have interconnected new generation resources representing interconnection customers’ investment of roughly $6.5 billion. Although I take the lead in negotiating the agreements, I gather buy-in from our legal and engineering folks, and senior management approval is needed, but I like to think they trust me and rely on my opinion.
How did you get involved in the field you’re working in?
After a brief bout with college shortly after high school, I worked with my father in developing a liquidation business. I spent about 20 years in the liquidation business, and when I was in my late 30s, I realized that traveling and liquidating companies was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So, at the young age of 38, I decided to go back to school and pursue a degree in electrical engineering, which I knew absolutely nothing about.
I graduated at the age of 42 and took a job with Alliant Energy as a substation design engineer. I worked a couple of years in substation design then went to system planning. Entering system planning, I was asked if I would like to “take care of generator interconnections,” and although I knew nothing about what would be required of me in that role, it sounded like a great challenge. I was all-in. It was a great opportunity, and I have been working with generator interconnections in planning for about the last 15 years. My working with generator interconnections in system planning came at the time unprecedented changes were beginning to occur to the generation fleet, namely wind-powered generation, and the wholesale operating and energy reserves market under which ITC Midwest operates. Working at a company like ITC, which as a has gone from its creation to being sold as a multi-billion dollar business in its short 15 years of existence, has been a great experience.