Wine & Spirits

J. Patrick Keyes, WEC Energy Group

J. Patrick Keyes

Financial Strength

Editors’ Note

J. Patrick Keyes was named to his current post in June 2015. He held the same positions at Wisconsin Energy Corp., and its principal utility subsidiary, We Energies, since September 2012. Prior to joining Wisconsin Energy in April 2011 as Vice President and Treasurer, Keyes amassed nearly 25 years of experience in the utility practice of Accenture and its predecessor organizations, Andersen Consulting and Arthur Andersen. Keyes holds a B.A. from Duke University in economics and an M.B.A. in accounting and finance from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

What excited you about WEC Energy Group and has it been what you expected?

In the 24 years as a consultant, I either ran or checked in on various projects and then flew on to the next city. What I didn’t get to do is see how those projects fit into a company’s long-term operations. I thought this was a great opportunity to see things from an ongoing operations standpoint.

Is the CFO role and your role in the oversight of information technology complementary roles?

The CFO role has long-term strategic elements to it, but obviously with more of a financial emphasis. The senior IT role is similarly strategic, but involves aligning technology with company strategy.

If we’re going to be focused on providing superior customer experience, reliability, and financial discipline, and we have a significant portion of our people that are retiring every year, we have to step up our IT investment in order to sustain that operational excellence. The reality is that we have many folks eligible to retire with more than 20 or 30 years of experience and we don’t always have all of their knowledge captured.

Thus, in the long-term strategic sense, the two roles are very complementary.

How is the company’s financial strength a differentiator in the market?

With our A- credit ratings at the utilities, we’re clearly in the top quartile. The rating agencies are very comfortable with our balance sheet. We are one of the only utilities in the country that is positive free cash flow; by our definition, that means we still have cash available after capital spending and after paying dividends. That’s part of the reason we were able to undertake the acquisition of Integrys.

How important is cybersecurity and how much can you secure against it?

We can never fully secure our systems against all threats all the time. But what we do is separate the systems that operate the grid and keep the plants operating from the rest of the IT systems. There are also specific federal regulations concerning the protection and operations of these systems.

For the rest of our IT systems, we try to keep up with the latest security technology and best practices. For instance, we recently implemented a data loss prevention system such that when data gets sent out of the company, we encrypt, know what was sent, and who sent it. We also have 24x7 monitoring capability to watch for attacks on our systems.

As the CFO, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the cybersecurity portion of our budget isn’t going down.•