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2014 30 Under 35 Profile: Eric Keller

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Eric Keller
31
Utility Account Manager, Border States Electric

By Joe Nowlan

Eric Keller first heard of Border States Electric while a child living at home.

“My father worked for an agricultural construction company and interacted frequently with Border States, purchasing equipment in connection with his job,” said Keller who today is the utility account manager at Border States’ Billings, Montana location.

He also had a relative who worked for the company. After attending Montana State, where he studied construction engineering, Keller was uncertain about a career path.

“I ran into that relative one day who said, ‘You should go check out Border States. It’s a good company.’ So I looked into it, and the next thing I knew I was working in the warehouse,” Keller said.

He has been with Border States for nine years. Keller said he knew after about six months there that he had found a career.

“This is an exciting company…. The industry is aging,” Keller explained. “There was going to be retirements, [with room for] promotions.… [I wanted to] learn as much as I could and pick their brains … to try to prepare myself for future promotions and opportunities.”

The management trainee program at Border States is highly regarded in the industry. While intensive, Keller knew it was vital for his advancement.

“That was a lot of information thrown at me pretty quickly,” he explained. “I had a lot of mentors to help me along the way with that. And even to this day I still keep in touch with those mentors and I found new ones as my roles have changed.…”

A recent role change happened earlier this year when Keller was named utility account manager. He works closely with area public power utilities and utility contractors, managing a territory that totals nearly $6 million in gross sales annually.

A key position as a big, heavy blizzard creates quite a few problems in rural Montana. But it isn’t necessarily the mid January storms that can be worrisome.

“Typically, the major concerns are [blizzards] in early fall or late spring when you start to get that heavy snow that has a lot of moisture in it,” Keller said.

In a rural area like Montana, that heavy snow causes poles and wires to collapse under its weight resulting in power outages.

“We’ve had as much as a couple of hours [without power], if the utility has enough material on their shelves to handle it. But typically, when we get involved and start running special trucks in the middle of the night to try to get power back on, it could actually be from several days up to several weeks before power is restored,” he explained.

As a lifelong resident of Montana, Keller knows what each season can mean for his business but also for his own recreational interests.

“In spring and summer it is baseball, fishing. I coached Little League baseball for a couple of years,” he said. “I’ve also played adult, slow pitch softball for the last 12 years…Then come fall, it is golfing, hunting, and fishing.”

In September 2013 he married and he now has two stepdaughters: Sarah and Emily. Both of them love to fish, Keller explained and they and his wife Karie will also go camping—heavy snowfalls permitting.

Q. What advice would you have for other young executives in the electrical industry?

A. The biggest one for me is to realize what opportunities are possible and have the initiative to go and get them. Work hard even though it may not be immediately recognized. There is a purpose to going above and beyond what may be your normal daily job tasks. Take the initiative and learn as much as you can and pave the way to your own destiny.

Q. What you think is the biggest opportunity within the industry?

A. The biggest thing I’ve seen is alternate energy—renewables. Wind energy. Solar is huge. Hydropower. And there is a huge opportunity in the system reliability. Our power grid in the United States is so old. Rebuilding new technology.… This could be a never-ending answer, I guess. They kind of all tie-in. Grid automation is another big project. But I would say, if I narrow it down to one, I would say renewable energy.

Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at jcnowlan@msn.com.

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