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Life After Conesville: Dave Gray and Les Davis

by on June 9, 2021

Before joining AEP in 2010, Dave Gray was a regional manager at a concrete company. Gray lost his job when the business went under. He bounced back by landing a maintenance apprentice position at the Conesville power plant and envisioned a stable job there for the rest of his career.

“Driving into work very my first day at AEP I remember talking to my father,” Gray said. “He said I’d never have to worry about that again. Everybody needs electricity. That plant will be there forever. And then ten years later it happened again.”

Dave Gray joined AEP in 2010 as a maintenance apprentice. He later went on to become a maintenance supervisor at Conesville Plant, leading a team of as many as 30 employees.

Gray and Les Davis were among the employees affected when the facility closed in May 2020. Gray – a maintenance supervisor with a team of as many as 30 – and Davis – an electrical team leader who joined AEP in 2006 as a control technician and worked his way up to frontline supervisor – were two of the last to walk to out of the plant.

Ryan Forbes, who was plant manager at Conesville before joining AEP Ohio, had worked alongside Gray and Davis for more than a decade. The plant reduced its workforce from over 230 in recent years to as low as 80 when operations ceased, and Forbes said it took resilience to be a leader during those times. He saw the value and impact Gray and Davis could bring to any group fortunate enough to have them.

Les Davis was an electrical team leader at Conesville Plant. He joined AEP in 2006 as a control technician and worked his way up to frontline supervisor.

“Dave and Les were meaningful to the plant and our culture as we neared closure. They kept their teams focused and managed morale,” Forbes said. “They were some of the last leaders remaining. They hung in there until the job was done and I respected that very much.”

A new home eventually came in our Project Management Office (PMO). Though Forbes says Gray and Davis are quick studies as project managers, the transition has not been easy. At Conesville they grew accustomed to a controlled environment where every single variable was located inside the perimeter fence. They were self-sufficient and were able to orchestrate most planning on their own. Now they are dealing with many different entities across the state and establishing new relationships from the ground floor.

“Distribution is a totally different business than generation. There are very few similarities,” Forbes said. “It’s almost like working for a totally different company. That’s how big the learning curve is.”

The change has been especially tough during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gray and Davis have yet to step foot inside an AEP Ohio facility; they haven’t met anyone they work with in person (including their supervisors); they’ve only experienced their co-workers buttoned-up online personas. According to Davis, it’s hindered his ability to learn and fully understand the culture and personality of AEP Ohio.

“It’s definitely been difficult. Sometimes I’ve been a nervous wreck,” Davis said. “I used to be only a five-minute walk from everyone I worked with. You start to realize how much you take human contact for granted.

“Whenever ninety-five percent of meetings happen on Webex, everyone is very professional all the time. You start to wonder, ‘Does anyone ever have any fun around here?’ I can’t wait for that to happen in real life.”

As COVID restrictions ease and a sense of normalcy returns, it’s only a matter of time before Gray and Davis hit their stride. They knew it wouldn’t be a simple transition but placed faith in Forbes’ confidence in them.

“Dave and Les are highly engaged employees and will do what it takes to make any of our business units successful,” Forbes said. “They didn’t have to stay. But when the chips were down they did. Their loyalty and inner strength were qualities we wanted to keep at our company.”

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