Those who aspire to reach the C-suite— and perhaps to become CEO — are a small group.
According to the U.S. Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, U.S. Hispanics represent only five percent of executives nationwide. Yet, CPS Energy made history when the Board of Trustees elected Rudy D. Garza as the first Hispanic to serve as President & CEO.
To wrap up our blog series celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re sharing Rudy’s journey to the C-suite.
Rudy D. Garza packed up his 1984 Monte Carlo and headed to North Texas. Fresh out of college, TXU Energy, one of the largest electricity retailers in the country, hired Rudy to work as an engineer and account manager. Prior to this opportunity, he was an intern with the company while completing his engineering degree at the University of Texas at Austin.
“It was one of the most rigid disciplines at the university,” said Rudy. “There weren’t many Hispanics entering the field.”
Humble beginnings and grandpa’s wish
Rudy was born and raised in Corpus Christi, and he came from humble beginnings. His parents were teenagers when he was born.
“My parents were so young, and I was raised by my mom’s parents. My parents had to work and so I lived with my grandparents through high school, until I graduated and went off to college.”
The family shared a two-bedroom house, 800 square feet, with no air conditioning. Windows remained open to provide what little relief was possible under the sweltering Texas heat.
“You are going to college and becoming an engineer because the engineers are the bosses at the refineries,” insisted Ruben, Rudy’s grandfather.
Fulfilling his grandfather’s wish and inspired by his grandmother, who was a high school valedictorian, Rudy achieved an electrical engineering degree. He was one of 11 grandchildren who all earned college degrees due to his family’s emphasis on education.
“I worked my way through a good portion of college, along with whatever money my family could scrape together and the scholarships that I got, and just kind of fell into the electric industry.”
Rudy witnesses Texas’ energy transformation
It was the mid-90s when Rudy entered the energy industry. Almost immediately, he would witness the change to come. Texas adopted energy deregulation, and competition was fierce. Rudy had a front-row seat to experience business and political changes that helped shape the current state of the Texas energy grid.
Rudy’s work ethic didn’t go unnoticed at TXU Energy. He had a knack for connecting with colleagues, regardless of their background or company status. The company sent him to the state capitol as the deregulation legislation was working its way through the legislature. Rudy excelled and this led to a temporary assignment in Austin and his first opportunity to represent the utility in government affairs.
What was supposed to be a short-term role became much more, and Rudy became Director of State Advocacy. He was 33 years old and serving in a position rarely occupied by a Hispanic.
Soon Corpus Christi would call him back. He left as a college hopeful and returned to accept a role as the city’s director of intergovernmental relations. Rudy was on track to become Corpus Christi’s City Manager when a growing metropolis 2 hours north appeared on his radar.
In 2012, Rudy joined CPS Energy as Vice President of External Relations and later moved to Senior Vice President of Distribution Services & Operations – simply put, the poles and wires side of the utility’s business.
“I worked with line and field crews that deal with the electrical system beyond the substation to the meter,” he said. “I loved it! I got to meet our people in the field and their families.”
Rudy gets in some brotherly love as he wishes a safe journey to the crews departing for Florida on a Hurricane Ian storm restoration mission.
Doyle’s influence sends Rudy on an uncommon path for Hispanic leaders
A memorable conversation with former CPS Energy President & CEO Doyle Beneby sparked the idea of becoming a CEO, something that previously seemed unattainable.
“Doyle changed what was possible for me,” Rudy explained. “He flat out asked me if I wanted to be in the corner office. I honestly had not thought about it before that moment.”
In January 2020, Rudy served as Interim Chief Engagement Officer, a position that broadened his scope to learn further and lead the utility business. At the time, he was managing the division that included CPS Energy’s customer service centers, metering, billing, corporate responsibility, community engagement events, and corporate communications.
His time leading these frontline teams came during two of the most unprecedented events in local, state, and national history. There was the COVID-19 pandemic followed almost a year later by Winter Storm Uri. The painful financial aftermath was still being felt when the Board asked Rudy to step up and serve as Interim President & CEO.
Moving into the C-suite, Rudy and his leadership team successfully gained support from the Board of Trustees and San Antonio City Council for a tough proposition. CPS Energy needed a rate increase – the first since 2014 – to help shore up the utility to better serve the fastest-growing city in the nation. There were other big tasks, including the need to attract and retain top talent, replace a 20-plus-year-old, antiquated IT system, and increase the resiliency of power plants.
“It couldn’t have been a more challenging time to step into the role, but it presented a great opportunity for our leaders and me to make some changes in the company,” Rudy added.
In September 2022, it was official, Rudy accepted the role of President & CEO. He was no longer an interim leader.
“I will tell you, the pathway to get here has not been easy. There are all kinds of forces that end up working against you when you’re trying to climb that ladder. There are not a lot of Hispanic CEOs in the country, in any industry, much less the utility industry. It’s hard, but nothing happens without hard work,” Rudy said.
Rudy the day he was appointed to serve as President & CEO of the largest electric and natural gas public power utility in the nation.
Keeping the lights on and air conditioners humming during our recent brutal, record summer heat was a test for the state grid. Rudy promised the community CPS Energy was prepared and would do everything in its power to keep energy flowing locally – and we did. In a parallel effort, Rudy and other company leaders are working with the Rate Advisory Committee to support a recommendation to the Board of Trustees about how to power our fast-growing community in the years to come.
True to his commitment, Rudy vowed to listen to customers and community stakeholders to get their input before rolling out new power generation plans. He asked his CPS Energy team to hold open house events to share the utility’s path forward. More will be scheduled, including two more public events in December and a virtual town hall.
Rudy swears by the book “Crucial Conversations” and considers it a “must-read” for CPS Energy employees. The book is available in the company’s training curriculum.
“You must have tough conversations; you can’t avoid them,” he says. “If you don’t, you will not create a win-win solution. When CPS Energy is strong, the entire community is strong.”
Hear from Rudy firsthand in our Engage Newsletter