Justin Swarens happened upon the utility industry by chance.
By the time his high school summer job was over, he knew where he was headed.
As it turns out, not only was he headed to the industry, but to leadership roles within it.
Now Swarens is Vice President Operations at Hoosier Energy and doing what he set out to do before utilities were on his radar, helping serve communities and serve others. He recently spoke with GridLines about the journey.
Q: Can you provide a broad overview of your responsibilities as Vice President Operations?
A: As Vice President of Operations, I have the privilege to lead several talented teams of dedicated employees with responsibilities in multiple functional areas of our business. Operation and maintenance of our transmission system, member system delivery points, generation fleet, System Control centers, facilities including physical security, and management of our operational business relations with our members, neighboring utilities and regional transmission organizations are my primary areas of focus.
Q: You’re in what is your fifth different role at Hoosier Energy over the years, not counting the five years you spent at Harrison REMC, a member cooperative. What have you learned about the company as a result that helps you in this latest position of Vice President Operations?
A: My biggest takeaway from serving in multiple roles at Hoosier and our member system is the diverse understanding of the various functions within operations and the value each of those brings to accomplishing our mission. I have also recognized and grown to appreciate and respect the level of talent and dedication of our employees. The understanding of the various roles along with the relationships and acquired trust are extremely valuable when addressing operational challenges and developing a long-term vision and strategy.
Q: To follow up on that, how does having more of a background in the transmission side of things give you a different perspective on the generation side of things?
A: Spending most of my career working in transmission and distribution has helped me develop a greater respect and appreciation for the generation side of our business. I quickly realized the importance and necessity of reliable generation when I transitioned into a role in our System Control center with the responsibility of reliable grid operation. From my perspective, reliability and efficient operation of both sides of our business are equally important and are both core functions of our cooperative.
Q: Tell us a little about your background. Were you always interested in things related to the energy industry? If not, what took you down that path?
A: During my childhood, my parents owned a small community-focused business and taught me the value of relationships and the satisfaction of serving a community. Although I was not always interested in the energy industry, I knew I wanted a career focused on serving others and providing for my community.
I stumbled into the electric utility industry with a summer job as a laborer on a contract crew working for Clark County REMC shortly after graduating high school. I quickly recognized the value electric cooperatives provide to their local communities and was fascinated with electricity and the process from generation to end-consumer consumption.
I have spent my entire career in the energy industry continually trying to learn all aspects of electricity, energy delivery, and the cooperative business model. It has been a very satisfying career and I am thankful for all the opportunities the industry has provided.
Q: Your bachelor’s degree was in business administration. Was this where you saw yourself going with that?
A: Yes, although I started college studying engineering, I quickly recognized I enjoyed working with people and building relationships. After completing my first year studying engineering, I changed my major to business and wanted to focus on management and leadership. My career goal has always been to obtain positions with progressive responsibility where I could make the biggest impact.
Q: What do you like to do with your free time — any notable hobbies or activities?
A: I enjoy spending most of my free time with my wife and three children doing various outdoor activities. We enjoy boating, water sports, hunting and fishing, watching our daughter compete in cheerleading and volleyball, and watching our boys play tennis. My most notable hobby is probably fishing and competing in a national crappie tournament trail.