Georgia Power's corporate fellow soaks up corporate life
Lt. Col. Rebecca Gray is diving into the corporate world much as she has in her military and civilian careers: head first.
Fittingly enough, Gray, Georgia Power's fifth U.S. Secretary of Defense Fortune 500 Corporate Fellow, is a three-time All-American in springboard diving, a sport that led her to join the U.S. Air Force.
"I was recruited as an athlete at 18. A lot of colleges were recruiting me. The United States Air Force Academy had the strongest academic and athletic programs of the schools I was considering, yet I was also looking for something more from my college experience. At the academy, you discover what you're made of," Gray said.
Gray's choice opened up the world for her, literally. She received her active duty commission in 1994 and was selected as a world-class athlete. The 18 hours spent training a week culminated in the military world sporting event, CISM (Conseil International du Sport Militaire) World Games in Rome, Italy.
Today, Gray is diving into a new role, that of corporate fellow for Georgia Power. Since 1958, the Air Force has carefully chosen a small number of officers and civilians to serve one-year tours at distinguished civilian institutions, senior service military schools and corporations. Southern Company has participated in the program since 1997.
"We're fortunate to have this partnership," said Anthony Wilson, transmission vice president and corporate sponsor. "The corporate fellows represent the best of the best in today's armed services. The leadership skills they've acquired in the military translate well into our business. We benefit greatly from this program."
The Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellowship selects 14 officers with general officer potential from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines to receive their senior service college credit outside the traditional career path by training with corporate America. Gray was the only female selected this year and the second Air National Guardsman to participate.
"It is an honor to be selected as a fellow and privilege to have this opportunity to serve back on active duty for a year at Georgia Power," Gray said. "There are obviously many other ways of doing things besides the military way. This experience will enable me to see and experience the Southern Company way. At the conclusion of this year I know I will be transformed, and, with this understanding of adaptive and innovative business culture, I will be able to talk directly to the people in the Pentagon who can transform the department that serves our forces."
Gray will be working in the customer service organization (CSO) in distribution under the leadership of Danny Lindsey, general manager of distribution, engineering, construction and maintenance.
"We've created an itinerary based on Lt. Col. Gray's resume that will maximize the experience for both her and Georgia Power CSO. The itinerary will focus on disaster response and community activities with added emphasis on education," Lindsey said.
Gray's 18-year military career includes active duty, reserves and, most recently, serving in the National Guard. At the Georgia Air National Guard headquarters at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, she started a FEMA Region IV Services Command and Control team, a specialized disaster team.
During this time, she was responsible for deliberate and crisis planning operations, including food, shelter and mortuary in support of Homeland Defense.
As a civilian, she served as co-CEO of a nonprofit community development organization that targeted inner-city neighborhoods, with an emphasis on providing housing and youth and senior programs, as well as educational and economic development.
"I was involved in the revitalization efforts of the East Lake community, which is what brought me to Atlanta. It was also my first experience getting to know Georgia Power since they sponsor the PGA tour at East Lake Golf Club," said Gray, a native of Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Gray, who holds a doctorate degree in transformational leadership in global cities, focused her work on urban issues and strategies in India, China, Europe and parts of the United States. Her research prompted her to open Wesley International Academy, located just south of Grant Park in Atlanta. With more than 600 students, it is an international baccalaureate elementary and middle charter school taught in a single gender setting with Mandarin Chinese as the second language.
Gray was the president of the LLC board, which ran the school for many years, but now she participates in a less formal role as a parent volunteer.
"Traveling in India and China and doing research for the school really impacted my husband, Chris, (who is also a lieutenant colonel) and me. It was after doing so that we decided to adopt our three daughters from China," Gray said.
At the conclusion of her fellowship, Gray will provide briefings to the Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense, service secretaries and chiefs and other senior officers and leaders on best practices from the private industry and her assessment as to their applicability to transform the Department of Defense.
In the meantime, Gray is soaking up corporate life.
"I have found things at Georgia Power to be very similar to the Department of Defense. There's high integrity, trust, a defined chain of command and a commitment to serve the good of the people. The principles here have really connected with who I am," she said.