Thursday, October 19, 2006

Alum Profile: Kevin Billings '77

Another amazing alum with a great story:

What have I done since graduation? Here you go.

Man, it has been such a long time, I sometimes forget.

Anyway, I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior year at UPS as an intern in DC working for Congressman Jack Edwards from Alabama. After I graduated from UPS in December of 1977, I was building houses and figuring out what I wanted to do when in May of 1978, I got a call from Congressman Edwards telling me that his son, Richard, just graduated from high school and was not going to go to college right away, but was coming to Seattle to work as a photographer for Boeing. Mr. Edwards asked if I would meet him at the airport and put him up while he looked for a place to live.

A couple of weeks later Richard was settled and Mr. Edwards call to thank me and as we were talking, he asked me what I was doing and I told him building houses and thinking about Navy OCS. I told him I wanted to do Legislative Affairs in the Navy, but the recruiter told me I would be going to sea at least three times before I see the inside of the Rayburn Building again. Then Mr. Edwards said, if I want to come back and work on the Hill, he and his wife will put me up and he'd pay me intern wages until I found a job.

So, I packed up my car and left Tacoma and arrived in DC the day before Election Day in 1978. I sent out 8 billion resumes and did a bunch of interviews and learned that new Members don't hire inexperienced staff first. But in January '79, I got two job offers on the same day, both from freshman Members. The Member I decided to work for was a freshman Republican from Southern California with probably the most recognizable name in the freshman class, Jerry Lewis. The other guy was a one-term wonder from Texas.

Congressman Lewis had been in Congress all of about 11 days when he hired me with the proviso that I only spend four years on the Hill before I go out and get a "real job". I started as a legislative correspondent and then became a special assistant doing legislative projects; one was saving what was at the time, the largest solar power plant in the world.

After the 1980 elections, I was talking with my old coach at UPS Joe Stortini, and he said that I should look up a buddy of his from the State Legislature who had just been elected, Sid Morrison. I had the chance to meet Sid and his chief of staff at a reception, then one thing led to another and I was hired to do all the energy issues for Morrison's District which included Hanford. Meanwhile, Congressman Lewis held me to my commitment to only work four years on the Hill.

While I worked for Congressman Morrison I was heavily involved in the writing of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, additionally, I worked on the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project, WPPSS, the start up funding of FFTF and the shut down of plutonium extraction facilities at Hanford. When I started to look for a job near the end of the Congress, a number of PR/Government Affairs type of jobs appeared, but one of the Executives with Westinghouse at Hanford suggested to me that some business experience vs. PR experience in a company would serve me better in the long run and that there was a procurement job at Hanford that I should interview for. It was great advice, and in March of 1984, I went to work at Westinghouse Hanford Company in procurement on the FFTF project.

A couple of years later, the President of the American Nuclear Energy Council (ANEC) asked me if I wanted to come back to DC as VP of Legislative Affairs. So, I succumbed to Foggy Bottom Fever and moved back to Washington. I spent five years at ANEC and led the nuclear industry efforts to pass the Price Anderson Act Amendments of 1988, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1987, and Nuclear Plant Licensing Reform. While I was at ANEC, I completed the Executive Development Program at the University Of Pennsylvania Wharton School Of Business.

I then had an opportunity to go back to work for Westinghouse managing the Washington operations for Westinghouse Hanford company. Eventually, was put in charge of Washington Operations for the entire Business Unit and when tat Business Unit was consolidated with three other Business Units, I was selected to become Director and General Manager of Washington operations for that Group. The Government and Environmental Services Company (GESCO) was a $3.5 billion business with its largest customers being the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense.

Because so much of the business was Washington focused my responsibilities ultimately included all strategic planning, customer relations, and business development, as well as the traditional legislative and regulatory affairs one usually, associates with Washington. During that time I was also, elected to the Boards of Directors of the Westinghouse Idaho Nuclear Company, the Westinghouse Environmental Management Company of Ohio, and the West Valley Nuclear Services Company.

The executive who was initially selected to be President of GESCO was Dr. Francis J. Harvey who had most recently been the Vice President of Science and Technology for Westinghouse. My associations with Dr. Harvey as well as with Congressman Lewis are classic examples of how mentors and friends develop and influence career paths.

Dr. Harvey went on to be President of the Westinghouse Defense and Electronic Business Group. After the sale of that group to Northrop Grumman, Dr. Harvey became the Chief Operating Officer of all of Westinghouse and selected me to be the co-lead of a team to acquire the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) which was being privatized by the Department of Energy. Our team set out and raised $1.5 billion and developed a strategy to vertically integrate the uranium enrichment business with the entire front end of the nuclear fuel cycle while totally changing US market dynamics by being able to restructure the traditional pricing strategy of enrichment services.

Meanwhile, while this was going on, Westinghouse bought CBS and CBS subsequently bought Viacom from Mel Karmazan for a passel full of Westinghouse stock. Without going into the painful details of how it got there, Westinghouse became essentially two companies – broadcasting, which had grown from a group thaat was established in 1920 essentially to provide content for the radios Westinghouse was selling; and the industrial companies in the energy and defense sectors. In the late 1990's the broadcasting tail was wagging the industrial dog.

A classic example of broadcasting driving Westinghouse was when we were ready to submit our bids to the government to buy USEC. After 18 months of effort by a team of 15 employees and numerous consultants; after raising $1.5 billion from Japanese utilities and merchant companies; after crafting three separate bids; after getting all the requisite approvals from the Westinghouse CFO and CEO, we were three days away from submitting all of this to the Department of Energy and Mel Karmazan says we can't do it. Karmazan was concerned that the proposal to the government might unnecessarily make difficult the contemplated split of Westinghouse stock from one stock to a Westinghouse stock and a CBS stock. Since Karmazan had entered the picture, he was obsessed that Wall Street analysts (who are the single most myopic creatures on the planet) were undervaluing the stock. This is because media analysts were clueless about the industrial value of the company and industrial analysts were clueless about broadcasting thereby undervaluing both.

At that point, I had a number of attractive offers and decided to take one. I left Westinghouse to become an executive at ICF Kaiser. Kaiser was acquired about nine months later and I was able to exercise the parachute provisions of my employment agreement.

While I was relaxing and figuring out what I would do next, a number of companies asked me if I would help them with specific projects. This turned into a consulting business that I grew for five years and eventually sold to a subsidiary of MWH Global.

In the meantime, Dr. Harvey had left Westinghouse as well and was serving on a number of corporate Boards. A number of these companies became my clients and I worked closely with him on a number of projects including one that would become the template for Sarbanes/Oxley compliance for one of the world's largest merchant banks.

In 2004, Dr. Harvey was nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate to become the 19th Secretary of the Army. So, in addition to my other work, I serve as an unpaid advisor to the Secretary of the Army, working primarily on Lean/Six-Sigma and industrial safety projects.

Also, while all of this was going on, Congressman Lewis continued to be elected by his constituents and is currently the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

One of the folks who briefed Dr. Harvey during his transition as SECARMY was Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett author of The Pentagon's New Map who was at the time teaching at the Naval War College. Dr. Harvey explained the brief to me and suggested it was a book I should read. The concepts in Barnett's book supported a business strategy for a client of mine, so I went up to the War College to meet Barnett and to discuss his ideas and how they would fit with my client.

Barnett and I hit it off and at the time he was in the process of leaving the War College and starting his own company. I decided to invest in his company and in about six months, his company was acquired by Enterra Solutions, LLC. Enterra brought me on as a consultant and this May, convinced me to come on board full-time.

Kevin Billings '77

In my personal life, I have a 19 year-old son who is a 3rd Class Midshipman at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, King Point, NY and a 6 year-old daughter adopted from Wuxi, China and a 4 year-old daughter from Hefei, China. All three have brought great joy to my life and opportunities to give something back as well.

After the adoptions of our daughters, I was asked to serve on the Board of Directors of the International Children's Alliance, and I now serve as its Chairman of the Board. That has proven to be a great opportunity to use the skills I have learned over the years to help families and children come together and also to provide much needed resources to children in orphanages throughout the world.

My work for the Secretary of the Army allowed me helped the Superintendent at Kings Point with a couple of projects with the Department of Defense and the Army. Subsequently, I was asked to participate in the Academy's strategic planning process and most recently I have been asked to assemble and chair an external affairs advisory board for the Academy.

As I get older, I find I enjoy the things I do solely for their intrinsic value lot more than the things I do for monetary remuneration. The ironic thing is that those things often lead to opportunities one wouldn't have imagined at the outset. If you told me 30 years ago, I would have done half of this; I never would have believed you. Clearly, the lessons from UPS have been valuable. From Wallrof, to Cousens, to Heppe, I can't put my finger one thing in particular, but it all seems to have worked out OK.

What comes next? Churchill had some good advice on that -- It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.