Bret Carroll has been CEO of Conway Corp. since 2017. The former chief financial officer replaced longtime leader Richard Arnold, who retired. Carroll was CFO for 19 years, joining Conway Corp. in 1998. Before that, he worked for Acxiom Corp., Entergy Arkansas and Arkansas Nuclear One. Carroll is only the sixth CEO to lead the 93-year-old utility, which offers electric, water, wastewater, video, internet, voice and security services.
Carroll received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Central Arkansas in 1989. He received an MBA from UCA in 1996.
You’ve been CEO for five years now. What are you most proud of having accomplished?
Certain projects tend to grab headlines: Conway Solar at Happy, our launch of 2-gig internet service and the Arnold Innovation Center are some of those, but I’m most proud of the way we continued to serve our customers during a very challenging time. Regardless of the uncertainty, our employees are committed to serving and providing essential services to the community that we care about. That consistency was important in the midst of chaos.
How is work going at Conway Solar?
The project is progressing along really well, and we expect it to deliver power to the grid early next year. The benefits are numerous: It is 95 MW and will provide about 25% of our load, enough to power 21,400 homes. It will provide low-cost energy year-round, but it will help our customers most in the summer when energy costs typically peak.
How does the rise of streaming video affect Conway Corp.’s TV and internet businesses?
The video business has been very competitive for some time now, the margins are very thin, and the competition for those customers will only get more intense. To better compete, we launched ConwayCorpTV, which is a streaming service that, in general, carries our existing cable lineup but includes features that you can’t get from a traditional cable product. The unbundling of services has contributed to the erosion in video customers, but customers have increased their internet usage so our internet subscribers continue to grow. Reliability, price and outstanding customer service continue to be key to customer retention and growing our market share.
Reliable utilities are musthaves for cities competing for business. How does Conway Corp. work with economic developers and city leaders on key recruiting or expansion projects?
Our partnership with the city of Conway and the Conway Development Corp. is a competitive advantage for our community. Conway Corp. teams are involved in the very beginning of the recruitment or retention process, and there have been times that weekends and holidays have been given up to provide responses to site selection consultants in a timely fashion. You mentioned reliable utilities and we are proud to have a Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3) Diamond Designation from the American Public Power Association that demonstrates our commitment to reliability, safety, workforce development and system improvement.
What leadership lessons have you learned?
Get the right people in the right place and trust them to do their job. Be open-minded with strategic decisions; if you have the right people in place, they can at times change your mind with a better decision. When times are especially challenging and seem chaotic, focus on your core values; they remain constant and can help provide direction and purpose. Communicate effectively and often even if the news is not good.
Is net metering by businesses and residents with solar panels affecting Conway Corp.? How?
It affects us to the extent that we had to pass an ordinance with the City Council that codifies the rules by which we work and how we interact with our customers from a safety and billing perspective. Environmental and economic factors have largely driven most of the reasons to consider a solar installation, but our electric rates are among the lowest in the region so the economics are hard to justify in Conway.
What's a mistake that you've made and what did you learn from it?
I wish there were only one. Waiting for the pandemic to force more flexible work arrangements was a mistake. I should have had the foresight to encourage and facilitate that change quicker.