'Does Eversource have an image problem in Connecticut right now? Absolutely.' New CEO Joe Nolan talks about the utility's future

Photo of Luther Turmelle
Eversource CEO Joseph Nolan.

Eversource CEO Joseph Nolan.

Courtesy Eversource /

Those who know Joseph Nolan describe the Eversource Energy executive as someone who cares about his community and employs boundless energy to make change happen.

Nolan — Jim Judge’s replacement as president and chief executive officer of Eversource Energy — will now have a bigger platform to benefit the New England region, where Eversource provides electricity and natural gas to three states, including Connecticut.

“The world is a better place with people like Joe in it,” said Rob Griffin, chairman of the Boston Children’s Hospital Trust Board, which is the philanthropic resource for the hospital. Nolan has served on board for about a decade, according to Griffin.

“He’s got one of those contagious personalities,” Griffin said. “If he’s into something, you find yourself not only wanting to help, but being enthusiastic about it. And in the case of the hospital, he’s really moved by the need.”

Nolan serves on a number of boards. But the Boston Children’s Hospital Trust holds a special place in his heart, he said.

“I have really been touched by [the hospital’s] ability to change children’s lives,” Nolan said.

The 58-year-old Belmont, Mass. native joined what would eventually become Eversource Energy in 1985. Nolan’s first job, fresh out of Boston College, was running a customer service office for Boston Edison at the Prudential Center. In 1999, Boston Edison became part of NStar, and the current Eversource Energy was created following a merger with Northeast Utilities in 2012.

“We’d get wealthy people coming in from the Back Bay and poor people coming in from the South End, which had a lot of poor people back then,” Nolan said. “But our philosophy was the same: to solve the problem they came to us with.”

Nolan’s fellow board members are heavy hitters in Boston’s business community. The Camp Harbor View Foundation, which provides summer activities for children in Boston’s inner city neighborhoods, is chaired by Jack Connors Jr., a founding partner of Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, one of the top 20 advertising firms in the United States.

Sam Kennedy, another Camp Harbor View board member, is the president and chief executive officer of the Boston Red Sox.

Those who know Nolan well said he has the unique ability to be as comfortable in the board room as he is with rank-and-file employees.

“I’ve known him for 35 years, and to see him with the blue collar employees is incredible,” said James Brett, president and chief executive officer of The New England Council, a business group that works to promote the economic fortunes of the region. “He not only knows the names of the workers, but also information about their families.”

Nolan, who has served on The New England Council board for a decade and a half, said he is partial to meeting with Eversource Workers whenever possible.

“I love to get out there and see my troops,” Nolan said. “I’m a people person.”

Nolan’s people skills will be tested in his new job, particularly as it relates to the company’s Connecticut operations. Lawmakers and Eversource customers are still smarting from the company’s handling of power outages that followed Tropical Storm Isaias last August.

The storm was one of the largest power outage events in the state’s modern history. Thousands of residents remained without power more than a week after it hit, and countless roads were blocked by damaged trees and power lines.

“We tried to do everything we could to prepare for the storm, but I know we let some people down, and I’m sorry about that,” Nolan said. “We’ve done some soul searching about what we did and how we can do better. But does Eversource have an image problem in Connecticut right now? Absolutely.”

Nolan said most people don’t recognize the magnitude of the recovery effort, which brought in workers from other utilities in addition to Eversource’s repair crews.

“We had to get 6,000 motel rooms and provide 14,000 meals per day,” he said.

Nolan is also hoping Connecticut lawmakers and the utility’s customers take into account the good the company does in the state.

Eversource pays more than $300 million worth of property in the state and has over 4,000 employees in Connecticut, which the largest number of workers in any of the utility’s three state service territory.

Eversource and its employees are also heavily involved in community activities, like the Connecticut Special Olympics Winter Games and the Hartford Marathon.

Beth Shluger, president and chief executive officer of the Hartford Marathon Foundation, met Nolan in 2014, when officials with the road race were seeking a new corporate partner.

“He was the first Eversource executive I pitched the title sponsorship opportunity to [back when it was Northeast Utilities],” she said. “ I found him approachable, straight-forward and an enthusiastic champion of the event from the first meeting. He was all in then and has been steadfast in his support through the years, and not just because he signs the contract. He shows up, and it’s evident that he cares about being there.”

Shluger said that year after year, Nolan positions himself at the finish line to show support for staff, volunteers and the runners.

“Even in the cold and rainy years, he stays on to cheer those runners who stick it out for hours, congratulating them with that great Boston accent of his,” she said.

Shluger said the importance of Eversource’s support of the Hartford Marathon is immeasurable.

“Eversource makes it possible for the Hartford Marathon Foundation to produce an event that brings an immense positive community impact,” she said. “Not just because of the significant economic benefits or the millions of dollars raised for local charity, but for the inspiration, joy and pride delivered through the event each year. The relationship with Eversource goes beyond a sponsorship, they are a true partner in our success and we're grateful to Joe's commitment to keep it running strong.”

luther.turmelle@hearstmediact.com