summer 2000

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Erroll B. Davis Jr., ’67

Being There: The DuSable Business Conference
Davis Champions Diversity

When Erroll B. Davis Jr., ’67, joined Wisconsin Power and Light Company as vice president of finance in 1978, there were few minority employees and no women in the entire management group.

Since that time, the Madison-based utility and its parent company, WPL Holdings, have merged with IES Industries of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Interstate Power Company of Dubuque, Iowa. Two female executive vice presidents join Davis and four other male executives at the helm of what is now Alliant Energy, one of the nation’s top 30 utility holding companies. With a diverse workforce of 6,300 employees worldwide, Alliant is listed on the Working Women’s Honor Roll and received the Wisconsin Glass Ceiling Commission Governor’s Diamond Award.

Davis, who also is chairman, president, and CEO of Alliant Energy and chairman of the board of trustees at Carnegie Mellon, discussed Alliant’s efforts to embrace diversity at the 15th annual DuSable Business Conference in April. Nearly 100 alumni, business people, and prospective and current students attended the conference, which was sponsored by the African American M.B.A. Association of the GSB.

Change in the composition of Alliant’s workforce is less the result of affirmative action programs than a bonus system for management that ties rewards to hiring more women and minorities, said Davis. “In a global economy such as the one in which we operate, we see diversity as an advantage,” he said.

Understanding an organization’s culture, then climbing the ranks, is essential for effecting change, Davis said. “An organizational structure is designed to withstand outside forces. It is not until you put yourself in a position of critical, load-bearing weight within that structure, then and only then are you in a position to make those changes.”

The challenge for minorities, Davis said, “is to remain as different as [you] want to be and still be a good team player. That’s something you’re going to have to work out on your own.”--Susan DeGrane

Continued: “Davis’s Tips for Success”

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