If things went according to plan, Matt Mabrey would have retired on October 1, 2022.
But as Mabrey has found out in life, and at Hoosier Energy for the past 21-plus years, things rarely go according to plan. So it wasn’t until January 6, 2023, that he officially retired, sort of. The former Vice President of Operations, who transitioned into heading up Continuous Improvement Training over the past year, will still be doing some consulting work two days a week, attempting to finish the work that never ends.
“(Retirement) definitely snuck up on me,” Mabrey said. “If anyone tells you the last year you work will feel like it takes forever, that’s not true. It’s gone so fast, and it’s not something I expected.”
The unexpected was a big reason why Mabrey wound up at Hoosier Energy to begin with.
It all started in college when a two-year stint at Southern Illinois on a wrestling scholarship took a turn.
“I had a pretty serious injury to my left knee,” Mabrey said. “I finished my sophomore season, but I knew I was done.”
His sister’s boyfriend attended the University of Missouri-Rolla, which is now known as Missouri S&T (Science and Technology), and recruited Mabrey to be an engineer.
A sanitation technology major at SIU, Mabrey was eventually convinced to transfer despite having to catch up on extra math classes en route to a degree in mining engineering.
“He and my sister have been married nearly 40 years now, but had she not met him, I might not have wound up at that school and become an engineer,” Mabrey said.
A St. Louis native, Mabrey’s interest was always peaked by mining with the lead belt – copper, zinc, cobalt, etc. – being a feature in southeast Missouri. He envisioned himself taking a job in the area, close to family. But after a six-month stint doing carpentry upon graduation, Mabrey found himself with two different options: a job in the coal mines of West Virginia or a job with U.S. Gypsum mining in Shoals, Indiana.
“(Working in Missouri) was the plan, but it didn’t work out,” Mabrey said. “But I landed in southern Indiana, so it worked out for me to get a job in the mining field, and it wasn’t a long drive to St. Louis.”
From mine engineer to project engineer to production department management and then into plant engineering and maintenance, Mabrey saw himself with a future, be it a gypsum plant, automotive plant, chemical plant or something else.
During those years at U.S. Gypsum, he met his wife, Patty, via a blind date and established a family with four children in all. By 1997, those kids were all in high school or older, as a management shakeup saw Mabrey making some more unexpected moves.
Three jobs in less than two years eventually landed Mabrey with Rogers Group as a project engineer. Even there, things didn’t quite go according to plan. A month in, Mabrey’s new boss resigned and he was promoted to engineering manager. A few months later, the director was let go by the company and Mabrey was promoted again to Director of Northern Engineering Services, overseeing work in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. Within a few years, the company decided it did not need a Bloomington office and while Mabrey’s job remained intact, his department was dismantled. Sensing more change on the horizon, he began to weigh his options.
Rogers Group had sold Hoosier Energy scrubber stone, so when Mabrey saw an ad in the newspaper for a Technical Coordinator at Merom, he was immediately interested. A phone call and interview later, Mabrey was hired in June of 2001. He was quickly sure that he’d found the place he belonged.
“Once I got to work at Hoosier, I saw the way they treated employees and valued your work,” he said. “I knew this was my home. … I was never a job-hopper, so I was pretty happy to have found Hoosier as a company.”
With a total of nine different jobs over the course of his Hoosier Energy career, Mabrey still found plenty of the unexpected along the way.
The most surprising might have been in 2012 when Mabrey was called into headquarters and asked to manage the company’s two new building projects – the new HQ in Bloomington and the Operations Center in Spencer.
“We were right in the middle of doing a ton of work at Merom, big projects,” Mabrey said. “Right in the middle of those, they asked if I’d be interested in stepping out of generation asset management and into building management. I did not see that coming and almost didn’t know how to react.
“I agreed to do it and am really glad I had the opportunity to do that for Hoosier. It was a challenge with a lot of things going on. I don’t know where three-and-a-half years of my life went, but it was good. For the company and the members, it was really rewarding.”
Another career highlight was a trip to the Chicago with colleagues Angie Lee and Caleb Steiner to meet with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding requirements to remove arsenic, mercury, nitrates and selenium as part of the plant production process.
“We demonstrated to them that what they were proposing to do, the industry could not respond in any way, shape or form as fast as they were proposing,” Mabrey said. “We did two pilots and both failed, so I was able to demonstrate that no technology existed to do what they wanted.”
One of the EPA scientists questioned Mabrey’s analysis of the pilots because of a couple outliers in the results.
“I responded, ‘Look, technically based on the statistical analysis I could’ve thrown those out, but I left them in purposely,’” Mabrey said. “After that, he was done asking questions. It was fun to banter with their scientists and show what goes on in the real world. That was a big deal for us at the time.”
And it at least in part played a role in the EPA saying that if the retirement of a plant was announced by a certain time, then making the necessary wastewater adjustments weren’t required until 2028.
The third highlight of Mabrey’s career was being selected to serve as vice president of operations.
“I had a chance to work with a diverse set of groups from gas to coal to meter relay, delivery services, system control, facilities and compliance,” he said. “What I really enjoyed about it was working with the people and watching them work because of how knowledgeable and professional they were. They really knew their job, from skill work to crews to power plant workers to coordinators to managers, it was really skilled people.”
Of course, dealing with a global pandemic in recent years was just yet another detour from things going according to plan.
“I’ve seen things I never dreamt would happen,” Mabrey said. “But it all worked out.”