By Margaret Bucci
In February, Charles Hall became vice president of power plant operations for Entergy’s fossil fleet in Mississippi. Not long after his promotion, Hall visited the Hinds Energy Facility in Jackson to congratulate employees for excellent performance during a recent maintenance outage. He made sure they savored the taste of success.
“I smoked a whole hog for employees,” said Hall, a two-time winner of Arkansas’ state barbecue championship. “You wouldn’t believe the fellowship and joy we experienced that day, and the feedback from employees was great. They said, ‘We’ve never had a VP spend 24 hours smoking a hog for employees!”’
There’s an obvious parallel between Hall’s barbecue technique and his leadership philosophy: optimum results take time. Hall enjoys spending time with employees and getting to know them on a personal level. Throughout his career, he’s seen how connections between management and the workforce can build familiarity, trust and openness. Once a strong foundation is established, great things can happen.
“You have to be approachable and have integrity,” Hall said. “You have to be honest. When I meet with employees, I always ask them, ‘What’s on your mind? What can I help you with?’ If I don’t know something, I say so. Employees understand.”
Hall joined Entergy 35 years ago as an operator at the White Bluff Plant near Redfield, Arkansas. The Little Rock native says that working his way up through the ranks gave him a perspective that has helped him become a better leader.
“I came up in the company from the bottom,” Hall said. “I always said that if I ever got into management, I would treat everyone with respect and as an equal. All people should be treated right, regardless of who they are or their position. Everyone has something to bring to the table, and all of our gifts are different. That’s important for teambuilding and working together for a common cause.”
Hall is based in The Woodlands, Texas, and travels often to Mississippi to meet with employees at power plants in Jackson, Kosciusko, Greenville and Vicksburg. Over the course of his career, Hall has lived in Mississippi twice ― when he worked at the Rex Brown Plant in Jackson and during his previous position as manager of the Gerald Andrus Plant in Greenville.
“When I was plant manager, there were times I’d go out on night shift to spend time with employees,” he said. “I worked those shifts for years so I understand the mindset, when you’re working Friday or Saturday nights, or on a holiday. I’d get off work and come back later, maybe bring a pizza or grill hamburgers and spend time just talking to people, learning about their families or hobbies. Doing that builds great relationships and rapport.”
Early in his tenure at Gerald Andrus, Hall noticed that employees weren’t participating on the plant safety team. Time spent talking to employees helped him understand that it was a perception issue: Employees tended to view the safety team as a management function. Hall began to encourage workforce involvement by empowering employees to take more ownership of safety.
“By the time I left the plant, there were seven employees who were running safety meetings,” Hall said.
Hall appreciates Entergy’s focus on safety, including its emphasis on first-aid and first-responder training for employees. Earlier this year, Entergy Mississippi President and CEO Haley Fisackerly presented the President’s Lifesaving Award to Hall for saving the life of a child who nearly drowned.
The incident occurred on Hall’s last day in Greenville. He and his wife, Valerie, were packing up to prepare for their move to Texas when a neighbor’s teenage daughter ran over to their house.
“She was screaming about her nephew, so I went to help and discovered the boy had fallen into a pond and was unconscious and unresponsive,” Hall said.
The child had neither breath nor pulse, so he immediately began cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. After several minutes, the child began to breathe on his own.
“I’m glad I was there when help was needed and that I knew what to do, thanks to the training I’d received from the company,” Hall said.
In addition to being a role model for safety, Hall has helped lead diversity and inclusion efforts for Entergy. Over the course of his career, he’s seen “a tremendous amount of change” in the company’s workforce and in promotional opportunities for women and minorities.
“The company employs people of all different backgrounds,” Hall said. “Women are in more leadership positions, including plant managers. Back when I started here, you didn’t see that. Companies that value diversity and inclusion also attract top people.”
Hall’s career success has involved a combination of honing people skills and technical acumen. He spent his first decade at Entergy on the front lines of plant operations at the White Bluff Plant. He worked at several generating plants in maintenance and operations, holding positions of maintenance operator, mechanical maintenance and operations technician, supervisor and superintendent. Each job was an opportunity to take on more responsibilities and gain exposure to new people, processes and technologies.
Hall pointed out that technology continues transforming the way utilities generate electricity for customers. Entergy’s use of combined cycle gas turbine technology is an example of the company’s efforts to modernize production while maximizing efficiency, cost savings and environmental benefits.
“New combined cycle units are like new cars versus those built in the 70s,” Hall said. “They can start up and begin supplying electricity to the grid in an hour, compared to 20 or more hours for older units. They also use a lot less fuel.”
While new technology can drive major advancements, steady and sustained performance improvements are made by employees who think critically and always search for ways to work safer and smarter. High-performing teams are motivated by leaders who believe in them and who make time to hear their ideas and address their concerns.
It’s a leadership recipe that’s worked well for Hall, and he never misses an opportunity to invite employees to the table.
“In June, I plan to smoke a hog at the Attala Plant in Kosciusko,” he said excitedly. “It will be my first time to cook for employees there.”