Thomas A. (Tom) Fanning is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Southern Company, one of America’s largest producers of electricity.
Elected by the board of directors in July 2010, Fanning became president of Southern Company in August 2010 and assumed the additional responsibilities of CEO and chairman in December 2010.
Fanning has worked for Southern Company for more than 35 years and has held 15 different positions in eight different business units, including numerous officer positions with a variety of Southern Company subsidiaries in the areas of finance, strategy, international business development and technology. Most recently, Fanning served as chief operating officer, where he was responsible for Southern Company’s generation and transmission, engineering and construction services, research and environmental affairs, system planning and competitive generation business units.
Fanning serves as chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and vice chairman of the Edison Electric Institute, and is a member of the Business Roundtable. Fanning also is a chair of the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council, which serves as the principal liaison between the federal government and the electric power sector to protect the electric grid from threats that could impact national security.
Fanning earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial management and also was awarded an honorary doctor of philosophy degree from Georgia Tech. He is on the Georgia Tech College of Management advisory board and the board of trustees for the Georgia Tech Foundation.
His executive education includes programs at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Harvard University School of Business and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.
With more than 4.5 million customers and approximately 46,000 megawatts of generating capacity, Atlanta-based Southern Company is the premier energy company serving the Southeast through its subsidiaries. A leading U.S. producer of clean, safe, reliable and affordable electricity, Southern Company owns electric utilities in four states and a growing competitive generation company, as well as fiber optics and wireless communications. Southern Company brands are known for excellent customer service, high reliability and affordable prices that are below the national average. Through an industry-leading commitment to innovation, Southern Company and its subsidiaries are inventing America’s energy future by developing the full portfolio of energy resources, including nuclear, 21st century coal, natural gas, renewables and energy efficiency, and creating new products and services for the benefit of customers. The company is continually ranked among the top utilities in Fortune’s annual World’s Most Admired Electric and Gas Utility rankings.
Our business, energy, touches the lives of every family in America. And STEM touches every part of our business. So supporting STEM education is simply fundamental to our mission of providing clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy to the customers and communities we’re privileged to serve.
We see our jobs as about more than selling a product. Energy supports the economy and gives us a way to play offense to grow jobs, grow personal incomes and make lives better. As the energy industry continues to transform itself in an era of widespread technological innovation and changing customer expectations, we need to make sure the next generation of employees has the imagination and skills necessary to thrive in a world of new challenges and opportunities. STEM is indispensable for preparing America’s youth for that world.
Despite some obvious benefits to pursuing a STEM-related career – for example, according to 2014 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage for all STEM occupations is $85,570, nearly double the average for all other occupations – there continue to be obstacles to getting young people interested in STEM. Not the least of these is lack of awareness or negative perceptions about the reality of working in STEM fields.
That’s why so much of the STEM outreach conducted across the Southern Company system involves hands-on, experience-oriented activities that also put students — from pre-K to college — up close and personal with people who do the real work of improving lives through the better use of energy.
And we emphasize to students that a STEM career offers a diversity of opportunity. In the electric utility industry alone, that could include, among other things, working as a chemical, electrical, mechanical, civil, computer, environmental, nuclear or industrial engineer; biologist; chemist; programmer; data and information manager; environmental scientist; geologist; forester; physicist; line worker; plant operator; welder; or instrumentation and controls technician.
Across our primary service area of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi, we support STEM programs by engaging students and providing educators with resources to motivate them toward pursuing STEM-related careers. Southern Company system employees regularly visit classrooms to talk with students about their careers. We host career expos, camps, technology demonstrations, robotics teams and competitions. We partner with schools to develop curricula and award teachers who develop creative and effective approaches. Perhaps most important, our employees serve as mentors and role models. These and other efforts have helped expose thousands of young people to the opportunities presented by STEM, while also letting them in on a little secret – STEM is fun.
We are encouraged when we hear, as one 12-year-old in Florida told us recently after attending a career expo co-sponsored by our Gulf Power subsidiary, that the experience had for the first time sparked an interest in someday having a job in the energy industry.
At a time when men still outnumber women in STEM fields, we are especially committed to help clear the path for girls to reach their full potential. Many of our efforts are targeted to overcoming the notion that STEM is “not for girls.”
Michele Jordan, a Southern Nuclear engineer working on the Plant Vogtle 3 and 4 construction project in Georgia — which is leading the revival of nuclear power in America — is among those who have given their time to be positive examples for girls.
“I love having the opportunity to talk to young girls and encourage them to go into technical fields,” she said. “When I was in college, I had professors telling me I couldn’t do it, and I want them to hear that they can.”
As important as it is for Southern Company’s continued success to create a pipeline of qualified STEM workers within our own ranks, the real priority is to connect STEM outreach with our larger mission of making the communities we serve better off because we’re there.
We continually ask ourselves: What do our communities need to succeed and how can we help? Supporting education, and STEM in particular, just makes good sense.
There is a direct link between STEM, which prepares young people for good, well-paying jobs, and broader economic development that can help improve the standard of living for everyone. In the Southeast, the manufacturing, defense and high-tech industries are vitally important, and STEM learning aligns perfectly with their ongoing need for highly skilled workers. The growing new marketplace of jobs in the digital economy only underscores the importance of STEM.
Science, technology, engineering and math have been so fundamental to the energy industry’s ability to make lives better through advances that made the simple act of turning a switch to light and heat our homes an everyday reality that we often take for granted. Today, STEM is leading the use of robotics, unmanned aerial systems and other amazing new technologies that are ushering in the future of energy.
We at Southern Company are proud to support STEM education and are excited to think about what those students, in STEM classrooms today, will come up with tomorrow.