David Sokol

In 2000, David L. Sokol surprised the energy industry by engineering a reversal of a traditional strategy to accelerate growth for MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company: He took the publicly held company private.

It was the second consecutive year that MidAmerican had set an industry precedent. In 1999, the company became the first independent power producer to acquire an investor-owned utility.

In the latest transaction, Sokol, chairman and CEO of MidAmerican, put his personal fortune upfront in organizing a small group of investors to buy all the company's shares. He chose the innovative course of privatization to overcome industrywide stagnation in market value for utilities during a period of great opportunity.

In doing so, he advanced the interests of shareholders, employees, customers, and communities. He created a premier vehicle with a long-term perspective and access to a vast pool of private capital, freeing MidAmerican from the short-term pressures of Wall Street and giving it critical stability to lead change.

In addition to Sokol, the other investors in the group are Walter Scott, Jr., previously MidAmerican's largest individual shareholder; Gregory E. Abel, the company's president and chief operating officer; and Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., headed by legendary investor Warren Buffett.

Buffett's participation represented a noteworthy endorsement not only of MidAmerican, but also of the utilities sector itself. It was Berkshire's first foray into utilities. The purchase - announced Oct. 25, 1999 and closed March 14, 2000 - attracted new investor attention to the long-neglected sector, where market valuation has risen steadily since.

Sokol has a history of leading growth in the industry. When he joined California Energy as chief executive in February 1991, the company had one customer and owned and operated one geothermal project. The previous year, the company had less than $100 million in revenues. By the end of 1999, CalEnergy had become MidAmerican, and its revenues had grown to $4.1 billion, a 45-fold increase.

Today, MidAmerican is a hybrid global energy company, with investments across the energy chain and 3.3 million electricity and natural-gas customers. MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, is a global leader in the production of energy from diversified fuel sources including geothermal, natural gas, hydroelectric, nuclear and coal. MidAmerican also is blazing a trail in the supply and distribution of energy in the rapidly deregulating U.S. and U.K. consumer markets. The company has 9,500 employees has approximately 9,700 net megawatts of diversified power generation under ownership, contract and in operation, construction and advanced development.

Its U.S. utility subsidiary, MidAmerican Energy Company, is the largest utility in Iowa and is strategically located in the middle of several major markets in the Midwest. It provides service to more than 650,000 electric customers and 620,000 natural gas customers in a 10,600 square-mile area from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois.

The U.K. subsidiary, Northern Electric plc, distributes electricity in the North East of England and supplies electricity and gas to more than 2 million customers across Britain.

MidAmerican's IPP subsidiary, CalEnergy, is an international leader in the development and production of energy from diversified fuel sources including geothermal, natural gas and hydroelectric. CalEnergy and its affiliates have power-producing operations in the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, the Philippines and Australia. CalEnergy operates over 1,300 megawatts of electric power and steam-producing facilities in the United States and the Philippines. The company also has another 750 megawatts under construction, as well as a 30,000-ton a year zinc production facility undergoing testing in Southern California.

Clearly, growth drives Sokol. But his vision of creating a global provider of a full range of energy services is unique for both its simplicity and comprehensiveness.

The energy chain - from extraction to production to distribution and sales - is volatile and complex. No one can chart the unfolding of deregulation, environmental mandates, and Third World development. The only certainties are rapid change and the continuing emergence of competition.

It is imperative to have information and expertise all along the energy chain - not only within the various elements but also in the ways they interlock with each other. One must be flexible and quick, be alert to change and first to market.