"Our success is essential to the well-being of the people in the Southeast," says Fanning, IM 1979, MS IM 1980.
Based in Atlanta, Southern Company is the largest producer of electricity in the U.S. It serves 4.4 million customers with more than 42,000 megawatts of generating capacity. The company owns electric utilities in four states, including Georgia Power, and a growing wholesale generation business as well as fiber optics and wireless communications.
Overseeing energy transmission, fossil/hydroelectric generation and all competitive generation units, Fanning also serves on the board of directors of Southern Company's nuclear generation subsidiary—which is helping to lead the first expansion of new nuclear capacity the U.S. has seen in 25 years. He also takes the lead on corporate strategy in his role as COO, a position he's held for two years.
"It's a great assignment involving a lot of people," he says. "We keep the power flowing and the lights on. Southern Company is highly rated for reliability, and maintaining that level of performance is very important….
"When you think about a job like this, you're always working," he says. "Hitting the BlackBerry is the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night.
"But my self image isn't all about Southern Company. It's tied to being a good father, husband, and citizen in the communities we serve," says Fanning, who's raised two sons into young adulthood with his wife, Beverly. "But the work aspect rarely turns off for me. I love it. I have a lot of fun."
Fanning has spent his entire career, nearly 29 years, at Southern Company, including stretches as chief information officer and chief financial officer. He says his Tech education was instrumental in gaining his footing in the company's finance operations.
After earning his bachelor's in industrial management in 1979, he immediately enrolled in the master's in industrial management program (which evolved into the Georgia Tech MBA) to strengthen his competitive edge. His exposure to the quantitative side of finance and information technology paid off because Southern Company then had a real need for someone with both capabilities.
"Georgia Tech prepares its students exceedingly well on the content front," he says. "Perhaps more importantly, the same can be said about the preparation students receive in the work ethic and teamwork arenas."
A new member of Georgia Tech College of Management's Advisory Board, Fanning is excited about the school's growing emphasis on bridging business and technology. "Technology needs a sound business case to assure its relevance," he says.
"In our role as leaders of U.S. energy policy, it's important that we bridge the gap between what is technically feasible and what is acceptable as an economic consequence to our customers. We always have to think about the risk/return relationship involved in any application of new technology."
Southern Company is increasingly turning to Georgia Tech for help not only with technology research, but also with the building of business cases and forming of public policy positions. Operations management associate professor Mark Ferguson is taking a leading role on the College of Management side of the collaboration.
"Our institutions have a historic relationship dating back to the 1920s," Fanning says. "Further blending our efforts will be great for Tech, great for us, and frankly great for America."