Early in his career, Jon Hansen remembers coming home with second thoughts about his new job. He envisioned himself designing and building cars, not crawling through precipitators and inspecting boilers inside a power plant.
Hansen told his father he was having second thoughts about the job, not sure it was exactly what he had in mind for his mechanical engineering degree.
“Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and keep going,” Hansen’s father told him. “You’re fortunate to have this job.”
Fortunately for OPPD and the hundreds of thousands of customer-owners Hansen has served over the years, he heeded the advice and didn’t look back. Now, after 35 years at OPPD, Hansen, vice president of Energy Production & Marketing, is retiring.
At OPPD, Hansen spent his career in generating plant operations. He served as a test engineer in Plant Engineering at Fort Calhoun Station (FCS), operations engineer in the Test & Performance Department, supervisor in the then-newly created Peaking Plants department, plant manager at North Omaha Station (NOS) and division manager of Production Operations before being named a vice president in 2010.
Looking back to the beginnings of his career, Hansen never thought he’d end up as a member of the utility’s senior leadership team. Instead, he said his focus was always doing the best job he could in the role he was in.
Admittedly, he was restless, which allowed him to work in a lot of different areas within generation. Something that gave him a wide range of experience and expertise. His role as a vice president was the longest period of time he’s spent in one role – nearly eight years.
Along with his work, Hansen and his wife, Beth, have been involved in areas outside of work as volunteers. In 1990, Hansen was named Big Brother of the Year by the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Midlands for his work with the organization. They also spent many years providing and serving lunch at the Omaha Street School.
He just completed his term as president of RMEL, an industry organization that works to enable industry collaboration and develop strategies vital to the electric utility industry as well as serving on the Southwest Power Pool’s (SPP) board and members committee.
The Ralston native will spend his remaining days visiting all the generating stations around the district, walking through the shops and thanking people, all with the knowledge that many of the faces he sees are ones he may not see again.
Naturally, Hansen has been thinking back and reflecting on his career. The memories range from the nostalgic – like climbing up the stack behind Sarpy County Station Unit 3 to hang Christmas lights – to the “defining moments” including the flood of 2011 when he helped lead the charge to keep Nebraska City Station protected from the Missouri River so the station could still receive coal deliveries and power the district in the hot summer months.
He also spoke of the development and negotiations to use the Arbor Rail Line for economic development in Otoe County. And the years of work spent getting OPPD ready to join the SPP and the Integrated Marketplace also ranked high.
Along with the highpoints have been other moments that helped shape and define Hansen.
Times like when he was working at Sarpy County, putting together the peaking department. He remembered sitting at his desk and feeling some rumbling start. The unit they were testing and working to get into service experienced an explosion and fire, and Hansen said he remembers running up the hill – despite being only weeks removed from knee surgery – to shut down a fuel source, his crutches left on his office floor.
“I like to share with younger people coming up through the ranks that those times of adversity really forge character or demonstrate character,” he said. “I call them ‘defining moments in leadership.’ How are you going to react and can you handle some of those situations? That’s when your true colors come out and you demonstrate if you have the mettle to lead.”
Much like the story of that time early in his career when he talked to his father, questioning his career choice, the times when things don’t go right are just as important, maybe more so, than the times of success.
“It comes from your upbringing and the character that is forged through the years that you don’t necessarily know is there until something happens to bring it out,” Hansen said.
It’s that view that OPPD CEO Tim Burke said he admires so much in Hansen and what has made him such a valuable leader to the organization.
“Jon is a steady, predictable guy,” Burke said. “He’s calm, cool and collected. He always wants to make sure he understands the whole situation and asks great questions. We may be going 100 miles per hour on a topic and Jon will say something to make us stop and consider a different aspect.”
Burke said he’s happy for Hansen, though he’ll miss his sage advice and wisdom. Hansen’s fingerprints have been all over the transitional work that’s gone on at OPPD the last few years, he said.
“What a great way to go out,” Burke said. “He leaves at a time when we are not having any general rate increase and we are leading with our cost and process initiative.”
As the generation trends in the energy industry continued to change, Hansen helped fold renewables into OPPD’s generation mix.
Hansen’s role of nuclear oversight at FCS will now be carried out by Mary Fisher, vice president of Energy Production & Nuclear Decommissioning.
Hansen said he will be spending plenty of time enjoying the outdoors, doing the things he loves like hunting and fishing, camping and cycling.
He was also the person who thought of putting up the peregrine falcon nest at NOS, which after 10 years became home to a family of falcons in 2014. That was just one of the highlights OPPD’s Board of Directors brought up last week when Hansen was honored at the December board meeting, where each director praised his work and character.
He plans to keep pursing his love of outdoor photography. His office is decorated with black and white prints he’s shot in Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons and the Keyhole on Long’s Peak.
And as Hansen makes his rounds through the district one last time, he’ll think of those first days and the awe he felt.
“I still remember that first time I walked through Nebraska City, through the alleyway with the mills on the one side and thinking ‘Wow, that’s some pretty big darned stuff.’ It was pretty exciting for a mechanical engineer.”
But mostly, he’ll remember the people. Both those who went before him and whose work helped make OPPD the company it is today and those who worked on his team.
“We have great people,” he said. “Any success I’ve achieved I’d attribute to those who worked on our team. You don’t do it without good people and we’ve got very good people in the trenches.”