Kevin Marsh found two loves growing up in Athens, Ga., the son of the University of Georgia’s chaplain: his wife, Sue, and cars.
Sue and Kevin have been married for 37 years and have two daughters and two grandchildren. He still tinkers around with old cars like he learned to do from his auto mechanic grandfather, though he gave up on the dream of being a racecar driver when he decided he wanted a family.
Instead, Kevin went to the University of Georgia and earned a degree in accounting, not something expected from an auto racing fan, and landed a job that eventually would lead him to become the chief executive officer of the Columbia area’s largest home-grown company. Now, after more than 30 years with SCANA Corp., Kevin is leading the energy company and South Carolina into a nuclear power renaissance that will see the state’s first new nuclear plants built in more than 25 years.
He also is putting into practice other lessons from his childhood, such as the importance of offering a helping hand where it is needed most. That lesson, he says, came not just from his father’s sermons, but also from his mother’s actions in the community. It is what drives him to serve on the boards of local nonprofit organizations, most of them dedicated to helping children.
At 57 and just two years into his stint as SCANA’s CEO, Kevin has no plans to retire any time soon, and certainly not before SCE&G’s two new nuclear power plants come online in the next five years. “I would not even contemplate retirement until these nuclear plants are done,” Kevin says from his office at SCANA’s sprawling 90-acre campus in Cayce. “It is certainly a goal of mine to make sure we see those two plants through to completion, and we stay on schedule. It’s a big obligation for the company. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sure that we do it right, and we’ve got a great team working on it.”
The two new nuclear plants being built at the existing V.C. Summer Nuclear Power Station will help replace six coal-fired plants that will be retired in the next five years. The new plants will provide about a 20 percent increase in base-load power generation that Kevin and others say is essential for the continued economic development and growth of the state in general and central South Carolina in particular.
“I believe customers will be served with that energy source 60 years down the road,” Kevin says. “I believe it will be a huge benefit to them to have clean, reliable, safe energy. The challenge of that was building those plants at a time when the economy has been stagnant.”
SCE&G got permission from the state Public Service Commission to begin charging customers higher rates for electricity before the plants were built to help defray the cost of financing. The company says the cost savings from that agreement helped make the plants more affordable in the long run, but customers grumbled about paying for the plants upfront and questioned whether the company couldn’t seek a more affordable, renewable source of energy with less baggage.
Kevin says that the company is exploring more uses for solar and wind energy. SCE&G partnered with airplane manufacturer Boeing on a solar laminate at Boeing’s assembly plant near Charleston. The solar panels generate 2.6 megawatts of electricity. “It’s the largest solar energy output in the Southeast, probably one of the top five or six in the nation,” Kevin says.
But, he says, that type of power is simply not reliable enough at this point for base-load generation. “There is no other known technology today that can serve a load that large 24 hours a day,” Kevin says. “You have wind and you have solar, both of which are renewables and are great when they work on your system, but they’re very much more expensive than nuclear based on the technology that’s in place today, and they don’t run 24 hours a day.”
“By nature, solar’s not going to run when the sun’s not out. We’ll improve our ability to store solar energy, as times goes on, and I believe one day we’ll probably conquer that, but not by the time we need this new generation.”
Still, Kevin says he hears customer complaints, sometimes even putting on headphones and listening in to calls to the customer service department. “A couple of years ago, we had an extremely cold winter, and I went down and listened in to some of the calls that were coming in. It was heartbreaking to hear the stories that people have and some of the challenges they’ve run into that impact their ability to pay the bill,” Kevin says. “It’s cold outside, you don’t have heat and don’t have electricity; it can be scary. They don’t want to complain because it’s high or they think they’ve been overcharged. They are asking, ‘Help me figure out how to pay my bill.’”
SCE&G helps connect customers with government agencies and other organizations that help with high utility bills. SCE&G customers received nearly $10 million in bill-paying assistance last year through those agencies. Kevin says that assistance is about more than helping keep bad debt off the books; it is the right thing to do – something he says he learned as a young man. “My dad was a minister, and my mother was always doing things that would impact people who were less fortunate,” he says. “I’ve always felt obligated to do those things and give back to those organizations. As I tell people, I look for organizations to serve that don’t show up on the front page of the newspaper; they’re the ones that really need the help.”
Among the groups that Kevin has helped by serving on their boards are Epworth Children’s Home in Columbia and Junior Achievement of South Carolina.
The Rev. John Holler, Jr., has been president of Epworth Children’s Home for seven years. The residential facility is for children from broken homes, who have suffered abuse, neglect or significant loss. The children receive emotional counseling, education and help rebuilding their young lives.
John says that Kevin is a hard-working member of the board, who brings his low-key demeanor and high-end organizational skills and strategic planning to work for the children. “He is a dedicated board member and brings a lot of expertise to the board, but he also brings a big heart, and he genuinely cares for children and for people who maybe don’t have it as good as a lot of other folks do,” John says. “He is somebody who wants to give back, not because he wants to be recognized. What he does is on the quiet. He’s just a joy to work with.”
Kevin has served on the boards of several organizations that deal with children. “It seems like when you look for people in need, it’s easiest to get latched on to the kids who are in tough situations,” he says. “It was just something I saw growing up and felt like it was my obligation to continue.”
Another obligation Kevin takes seriously in his role as CEO of SCANA is finding his replacement. Even though it will be years before he thinks about retiring, he is already looking to his current employees for his successor, much like his predecessor William Timmerman did. “I had known Bill since the early 1980s, and we had a very close relationship,” Kevin says. “I guess about a year before Bill Timmerman stepped down, the board made a decision to make me president of SCANA, and that’s when we announced the transition plan. Probably a couple of years before that, I knew from Bill that I was being groomed for the job, and he took a lot of opportunities to get me exposed to different things that I needed to have more experience in before I took over. Bill and I talked about the direction the company was moving and the importance of that role and different philosophies on leadership.”
One thing Kevin had to learn was to let go of the reins a little. “I am a perfectionist by nature. I’m used to rules and regulations and spending a lot of time on the details, which I believe has helped me over the years,” he says. “I had to learn to back out of the details, and I am fortunate that I have great leaders who work for me. I trust them, they have a lot of skill sets that are needed to run the business and, when I lean on them, they make my job much easier.”
Now, he is looking to that group of leaders to find the one who might some day fill his shoes. “I’m confident we have the future leader of SCANA within our organization today. Certainly nobody’s been picked; nobody’s been anointed. That’s not a decision we need to make now,” he says. “We’ve got time to let those people continue to develop.”
“It’s my responsibility, in my opinion, to have several people ready. I don’t believe in finding one person and putting all your eggs in one basket and pushing that person. I think you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a number of people in the organization who are qualified and who have the skills sets or can develop the skills they need to lead the company. It’s my responsibility to prepare those people for additional responsibilities down the road.”
Chief Executive Officer, SCANA Corp.
Education – Bachelors in accounting from the University of Georgia
Hobbies – Cars, preferably fast ones
Quote – “I’m not your typical accountant. People like to peg us as these boring nerdy kinds of guys who don’t ever do anything. I know a lot of accountants, and we don’t fit that bill. We are normal people and we have a great time.”