Pablo Vegas is a true reflection of his younger self. A curious kid who played with microscopes and science kits. The son of an engineer who became a businessman. The mediator and problem-solver among the four Vegas children. A child who learned to get along with a range of people as he moved from Peru, to Puerto Rico, to Venezuela and finally to Indiana, where he settled with his family and attended grade school. It’s no wonder that Vegas matured into an engineer and a businessman who had a knack for communicating with customers from all walks of life. He was the perfect person to be the president and COO of American Electric Power-Ohio on June 29, 2012.
Vegas (BSE ME ’95) remembers the day. “I was in my office on the 30th floor of the American Electric Power Building in Columbus, Ohio. I knew a powerful storm was on its way that evening, but I didn’t suspect that it would be a nightmare. I don’t think anyone did. When I noticed the door to my office begin to sway I checked the weather again – I’d been doing that all day. The storm traveled 700 miles in seven hours. Winds in Ohio ranged from 55 mph to 84 mph. That’s when I knew we were going to have some real trouble.”
“I’ve thought about it – leadership – and I’ve seen that it takes compassion, honesty, transparency. These are qualities that can’t be taught. But if someone has those qualities, he can be taught how to lead.”
“Real trouble” turned out to be power outages that affected more than 660,000 people in Ohio alone, and 85 percent of customers throughout West Virginia.
“We had to let people know that we were picking up the pieces and doing it as fast as possible. That’s part of the job.” His grasp of technology and how to put people at ease was a tremendous asset each time he went on camera to update customers.
Vegas is indeed an outstanding asset at American Electric Power (AEP), which ranks among the nation’s largest generators of electricity. His history at the company is impressive, having held posts as vice president and chief information officer; president and COO, AEP Texas; director, strategic planning; director, commercial operations; and director, corporate IT planning. He came into AEP well prepared after stints as an associate partner at IBM and a senior consultant at Andersen Consulting.
“I didn’t always see how engineering would help me in business. My father had told me that with engineering as a foundation I could go anywhere because I’d become a strong problem-solver. There were times when I wondered if I would’ve been better off studying business. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. It was a surprise.”
His Michigan Engineering career almost didn’t happen. He was on his way to choosing Georgia tech when he got a last-minute call. “Michigan offered me a dean’s scholarship. That meant a full ride – full tuition, room and board, the works. The College had a great reputation. I couldn’t turn it down.”
He threw himself into the undergrad program. “I remember extended periods of hard work and stress that were interrupted by camaraderie and fun with great people. I loved the times right after exams. There was a feeling of accomplishment, of starting fresh. It was a time to reconnect with people for a couple of weeks. I had a small number of very close friends. Some of us still stay in touch. It’s special.”
Despite the days and weeks of book time, he was a familiar face at Cottage Inn Pizza (“my absolute favorite”), Amers Deli (“the best deli food you could get”), the diag and the law quad (“great places to hang out”). And without even knowing it, he was developing into a leader.
“I’ve thought about it – leadership – and I’ve seen that it takes compassion, honesty, transparency. These are qualities that can’t be taught. But if someone has those qualities, he can be taught how to lead. You have to genuinely care about others. I do. I’m proud when I can help others take advantage of new opportunities.”
Vegas’ flair for leadership has put him in a variety of positions where he can help – as vice-chairman on the Board of Trustees for the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the United Way of the Coastal Bend, to name just two of his affiliations. And about five times a year he and a group of Columbus rock out for charity. “I’m in a band, the Navigators,” he said. “I play alto sax. We like to get together and play. It’s a kick and nice to know that we’re helping out. I guess being a Navigator is appropriate… I’ve come a long way, from Peru to the top of the AEP Building. A long way.”