For many students come out of college these days, that first employer is the first of perhaps 6-7 during their employment career. And over 30 years ago, David de Leon, the vice-president of operations – Wisconsin for Alliant Energy had the same expectation.
It wasn’t de Leon’s intention to become an engineer when he was growing up in Guatemala. He thought he would follow in his father’s footsteps. His father had different ideas.
“When I was in high school, I was going to go into agriculture because my dad was a farmer,” de Leon said. “And I thought I was going to farm. My dad basically said, ‘Why do you want to farm? Look at me.’ So I had no idea of what I wanted to be. But I knew that I was good at math in high school. We started talking about engineering. I said that I would give it a shot. And I started engineering not really knowing where I was going to land.”
De Leon began to study for an engineering degree in Guatemala and then came to Wisconsin to spend some time with his grandmother who lived in Wisconsin and to get a degree in mechanical engineering from UW-Platteville before heading back home.
“My full intention was to go back to Guatemala, but because I received my job offer from Alliant Energy before I graduated actually, I told myself that I was going to give myself three years and then go back,” de Leon said. “I had the opportunity to move to Madison and enjoyed Madison and enjoyed working with the company. I had more opportunities with the company. And I never went back to live there.”
Throughout a 30-year career, Alliant Energy kept giving de Leon promotions that he couldn’t refuse, positions that kept giving him increased responsibility for Alliant Energy’s success. He started out on the ground floor, so-to-speak as a thermal performance engineer.
“I was looking at a power plant and then improving the performance of the power plant so that we burn less coal to produce the same number of megawatts, the same amount of energy out of the plant,” de Leon said.
From there, he steadily rose through the ranks.
“I went into construction as a project engineer doing projects at the power plants, replacing an air compressor or a system that was at end-of-life or there was better technology out there,” de Leon recalled. “Through my career, I’ve been a maintenance manager at one of our larger coal-fired facilities. And then I was the plant manager at one of the facilities down in Beloit. I continued to live in Madison, but I commuted down to Beloit every day. And before my current job as vice-president of operations for Wisconsin, I was the director of our strategic projects, large construction projects in our fleet of mainly coal-fired plants. Most recently, I was involved with negotiating the contract for our new power plant that is being built in Beloit.”
As the vice-president for Wisconsin operations, de Leon is responsible for the electrical distribution, the gas distribution and the electrical generation in Wisconsin for Alliant.
“I am responsible for the power plants, the operation of the power plants and all of the remote offices that are serving our customers, the people on the trucks who are going to our customers and meeting with them and trying to solve any issue they may have with connections, working on storm restoration; those individuals are all part of that same group,” de Leon said.
De Leon likes the challenge and the change of pace that Alliant Energy has offered him.
“It’s a challenge just trying something new and different, but it is exciting,” de Leon said. “I like learning. I’ve always enjoyed learning. And that is something this company has always given me an opportunity for. For me to be able to grow just by doing the things that I like doing, being motivated just by participating and doing the best that I could and that was recognized. It is a large service territory. We have a lot of customers. And we definitely are looking at ways to improve and keep our costs low.”
De Leon has stayed at Alliant Energy because of the opportunities it has offered him as well as the kind of environment that allowed him to grow personally and professionally.
“I am happy here and will continue to be here as long as they want me,” de Leon said. “The company actually has so many different parts of the organization that if you are interested, you can move around. If you do a good job, people recognize that and they want you to be in other parts of the organization. You get the chance to do different things, new things. Or you can stay doing the same thing you want to do for many, many years. Except for a few occasions, I never hesitated to take on any new work or anything new and different. Sometimes you’re a little nervous about taking something new on. But there are always great people around you who can help you develop and learn. Because a number of folks have been here for so long, you get to know them and you develop friendships around here.”
When he first came to Alliant Energy 30 years ago, it was the seasoned veterans who showed him the ropes and how he could contribute. Now, it is de Leon’s turn to mentor the new kids on the block. And what advice would he give them or anyone starting out?
“You should dedicate yourself to your job,” de Leon emphasized. “Do a good job and the opportunities will come. That’s what people need to think about. A certain level of loyalty is important. You have to know that the loyalty piece is one, but the dedication piece in making sure that you are doing your job is important. You shouldn’t hesitate to volunteer and help the company succeed. That may be where the loyalty comes from. You want to make sure that the company is successful and that you are a part of that. And then you will be successful as well.”
De Leon should know. He’s been doing it for 30 years and still going strong.