August 2015 Hot Topic Intro Section

Get To Know: New GRU GM Edward Bielarski

Written By: Chris Eversole

Edward Bielarski Jr. became general manager of GRU in late June, and he’s still breaking into the role.

He took over from Interim GRU General Manager Kathy Viehe, who is continuing in an advisory role until she retires later in the year.

Bielarski was the chief operating and financial officer of the Lehigh County Authority in Allentown, Pennsylvania, from October 2012. He was an executive with Constellation Energy Group serving as its General Manager of a facility in Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania, from 1992 to 2012.

Business in the Heart of Florida interviewed Bielarski as a way to introduce him to our readers.

What attracted you to Gainesville?

The challenge professionally was the main thing. I thought that I could really add value.

Also, it’s a warm-weather city. My wife and I experienced about 20 years in the Lehigh Valley, and the last winter was a back-breaker, so this opportunity came at a really interesting time.

There’s such a nice vibe from Gainesville. People are friendly; there are activities; the social scene offers a whole host of amenities. Gainesville is a hidden gem.

How do you plan to build trust and set your agenda?

Part of building trust is being able to go out into the community and say what you mean and mean what you say.

Kathy has done an excellent job. She’s been able to mitigate a lot of the impacts of higher expenses – which helps as we work to make our rates more competitive.

Building trust doesn’t come overnight. You have to work with people over a period of time and build a relationship. Trust isn’t just a word; it’s a feeling and an emotion.

What do you bring to the job from your previous experience?

I’ve been in tough situations. At Constellation Energy, I managed a waste-coal-fired power plant.

I used to call us the environmentally friendly power plant because we took waste coal and put it to use in producing electricity, while mitigating acid mine drainage.

We also took 1 million gallons a day of mine pool overflow material out of the Lehigh River for which we received a Friend of the Lehigh River Award.

The community didn’t necessarily see the benefits we were providing.

I had people who would come in and say, “Every morning, I see that smokestack. When they came into town, they said, ‘We won’t have any impact.’ That’s a big impact to me.”

I learned that in these types of situation, you have to work together with the community. You can’t resolve issues by saying, “There are some people in the community who don’t understand us.”

How do you plan to develop a relationship with staff?

I march to my own beat, and I can be a little touchy-feely – trying to keep in touch with the staff’s perceptions and emotions.

We have a lot of excellent people with a lot of skills who are ready to go. I hope that I can capture those strengths.

I tend to look at an organization holistically. It’s not just putting a fire out here, put a fire out over there.

How are we going to look in five years? How are we going to look in 10 years?

You have to decide who you want to be when you grow up.

What do you think about the commission’s plan to create an advisory that will include some customers from outside the city limits?

Creating a forum that goes become the city commission is imperative. With the Lehigh County Authority, we actually reported to a board that was appointed by the county commissioners – and was a structural authority.

Having either an advisory board or a separate organization to which commissioners will appoint members would be beneficial.

In Lehigh County, the chairman of the board had experience in the water and wastewater business and had been in the engineering business. A couple of members had served as commissioners in the past.

It was very nice working with people who had the aptitude, the talent and the willingness to give of their time.

In my previous life, I had fairly open board meetings. I had people who worked with me who didn’t necessarily agree with the decision I had made on a topic.

I don’t mind having other opinions displayed. Vetting those options is so important. I don’t use an iron fist.

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