New KUB CEO Gabe Bolas brings a technical mind

As a young level I engineer at Knoxville Utilities Board, Gabriel “Gabe” Bolas II was tasked with bringing the utility into the future.

It was 1995 and computers were on the rise.

“When I came here it was still drafting with a drafting table and eraser and a pencil,” Bolas said.

His task? Convert old hand drawings into electronic ones.

As he was redrawing standards, he was learning them at the same time. That was the foundation of a career in which he’s worked in and led many departments.

After 23 years at KUB, Bolas, 46, will become its seventh president and CEO on Oct. 18, succeeding Mintha Roach, who’s had the position since 2004.

Translating technical knowledge

While Roach had a background in human resources, Bolas’ decades in engineering provide a technical expertise that helps him serve as a “translator” of sorts.

“To me, he’s just the total package,” KUB board chair Celeste Herbert said. “He has the people skills and the technical expertise, which a lot of times you don’t find with engineers.”

A Kingsport native, Bolas graduated from UT with a Master of Science in Industrial Engineering and Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.

He became a team lead at 25, and at age 28, after less than six years at KUB, became a manager of 100 employees.

“I think they like the engineers that talk,” Bolas joked.

“I can speak for the technical folks and let them do their grinding the numbers,” he said. “Let me be the guy that takes the message across or makes the case.”

He has served as manager of engineering systems, environmental programs, and overhead construction and assistant to the chief operating officer.

He became senior vice president and chief engineer in 2017 and supervises about 125 people in the engineering departments, security and technical services.

Continuing customer-first mentality

Bolas said he plans to focus on customers and affordability. “I want to be taken for granted,” Bolas said. “I want you to assume we’re always going to be there when you need us and that we’re charging a fair and reasonable rate. That’s different than most models you’ll see out in the industry, but that’s how I view things.”

The Century II project will remain a priority as KUB works to replace 100year-old infrastructure while balancing improvements with keeping costs low.

Herbert credited Roach for what she anticipates will be a smooth transition in leadership.

“I think we need to give a lot of cred it to Mintha for her vision and training effective leaders to succeed her,” Herbert said. “That’s not something I think people want to think about or want to do, I think this transition, I anticipate it will be easy.”

As for Roach, she plans to travel more after retiring. That and call up the KUB CEO when her power goes out, she joked.

Doing right by 450,000 customers

Ask Bolas what his strengths will be as CEO and he’d (reluctantly) say he’s approachable, relatable and genuine. He values learning (if he wasn’t an engineer he’d be a math teacher), and the biggest leadership lesson he’s learned is to listen.

Listen to customers, listen to executives, listen to the men and women working through storms to restore power.

Engineers are taught in school that they know the answer to everything, he said. But not every problem has a neat solution.

“For us, it’s got to be the right decision for the most people,” Bolas said. “You’re never going to make everybody happy, but when you get 450,000 customers, which (decision) is the right decision for the most of those folks?”

Bolas is active with the Sertoma Center, Habitat for Humanity and the Appalachian Service Project, and is a 2018 Leadership Knoxville graduate. His wife, Tarah, is an engineer at Oak Ridge, and they have three sons, Gabriel III, 23, Zander, 16, and Avery, 13.

After 23 years at Knoxville Utilities Board, Gabriel “Gabe” Bolas, 46, will become its seventh president and CEO on Oct. 13

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Brenna McDermott

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Published September 6, 2018