Photo above: (L-R top row): Supervisor of Customer Service Diane Smith, Supervisor of Networks Michael Parker, System Engineer Chris De Troye, Supervisor of Electric Engineering David Hacker, Supervisor of Purchasing and Stores Cody Johnson, Customer Relations Representative Leslie Blevins, (L-R bottom row) Business Development Manager April Eads, General Accountant Heather Jenkins, Network Specialist Jesse Adams, and Administrative Systems Analyst Jessica Waterman. Senior Leaders (inset L-R): CEO Mike Browder, Director of Engineering Clayton Dowell, Director of Operations and Safety Kenneth King, Director of Management Services Tara McCall, Director of Accounting and Finance Lola McVey.
By Scott Robertson
Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES) is one of five winners of the 2017 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, becoming the first utility to be so honored and the third Tri-Cities-based entity to win, joining Eastman (1993) and Pal’s Sudden Service (2001).
In announcing BTES’ win, the U.S. Department of Commerce said that among BTES’ qualifications, the utility, “offers electricity and fiber services to 33,000 customers with only 68 employees. It offers the fastest internet available in the United States at 10 Gigabits per second, has implemented efficiencies that saved its customers approximately $70 million over the last 40 years, and has customer satisfaction levels approaching 100 percent on many products and performance measures.”
BTES participated through the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence (TNCPE), which the utility has been part of since its inception in 1993. Fifteen members of the BTES staff have served as TNCPE examiners.
CEO Mike Browder said he was not initially enthusiastic about taking part. “I said, ‘I’m not going to jump through a bunch of hoops just to win an award.’ But when Browder saw the list of recommendations in the TNCPE report on BTES, he said, “Most of them made sense. So I said, ‘The things we ought to do anyway, we need to do.’ Whatever was left was not much and I would jump through those hoops.’” BTES won TNCPE Excellence Awards in 1994 and 2012.
The BTES application for the 2017 Baldrige Award was submitted in May. After extensive review, the first round of judging took place in mid-August, after which BTES hosted examiners for a week-long site visit in October. The judges completed their work in November, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross called Browder to inform him of the results around the middle of the month.
“We thought we had a pretty good chance,” said Customer Relations Representative Leslie Blevins, who headed up the application process for BTES, “because the commerce secretary only calls the winners, and when we were working with the commerce department to set up the call, they told us the secretary wouldn’t be available at the time we initially mentioned.”
“We also had been tipped off that if we were winners, the call would come from the 202 area code,” Browder said. “When it rang, I looked around the room and told everyone, ‘It’s from 202,’ so we had a chance to scream and celebrate for a second before I picked up.”
Since its inception in 1988, more than 1,700 companies, communities and organizations have applied to win the Baldrige Award. Only 110 have received it, including five from Tennessee. Fedex won in 1990. Caterpillar Financial Services Corp., won in 2003.
BTES is scheduled to receive the award at the annual Quest for Excellence Conference April 11, 2018 in Baltimore.
Browder said he is proud of the people at BTES, but that despite earning the pinnacle award for performance excellence, everyone at the utility knows there will be no resting on the newly-acquired laurels. “We know what we do next time has always got to be better next time than it was last time. Good enough is never good enough forever.”