Good luck to Allegheny's CFO

July 22, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND


Hey there, Jeff, your ole pal Tim here. So how are things? OK? Good. Family doing well, I trust? That's fantastic. How's the crabgrass?

Look Mr. Serkes, I don't mean to appear to be beating around the bush here, but I see you left IBM and have now taken over as chief financial officer for Allegheny Energy and I believe I speak for the entire community when I speak these four simple words:

What were you THINKING?

I mean, this ain't Big Blue. Allegheny is $5.8 billion-with-a-B in the red. It got in a race with Enron, which was a little like chasing Thelma and Louise right off the cliff. Moody's is running out of alphabet letters to describe Allegheny's bond rating.


And the stock? You don't buy a share, you buy a chance. Buy a hundred shares and you get a bowl of soup. Type "Allegheny" and "bankruptcy" into a Google search and you get more hits than Marina Sirtis at a Star Trek convention.

Pretty soon Allegheny's going to be raising capital by selling all the antique glass insulators it can scavenge from the old Chesapeake and Ohio telegraph line. Executives are jumping off Allegheny like fleas off a burning dog. Until you came along, I think the highest ranking exec left on board was an auger-crew foreman named "Little Butch."

And you want a part of this? To jump right in the middle of the Allegheny books? You want Captain Smith to hand you the wheel of the Titanic and say "steer for a while, will ya?"

You're used to being written about by the Financial Times, now you're being written about by - oh, you don't even want to think about it.

You are a far, far better man than me. I choose my bandwagons carefully - or at least I have ever since that New Coke debacle. Indeed, when Allegheny was a member of the Fortune 500 and not the Foreclosure 500, I am proud to say that the company had no bigger supporter than myself. Now, however, when Allegheny asks me out I tell it I have to shampoo my hair.

Believe me though, Jeff, everyone in the community is rooting for you to help turn this around. See, Allegheny was Hagerstown's lone, home-grown connection to the glamour world of big business. It was our big, shining success (well, it and the place that makes the catnip chew toys). It was the only reason Hagerstown would show up as a dateline in the Wall Street Journal - although that's been happening a bit more than we'd like of late, truth be told.

We desperately want you to be Don Shula to our circa 1970 Miami Dolphins - or at least whoever Don Shula's assistant coach was in charge of renegotiating energy contracts.

I don't know much about corporate hierarchies, so I don't know whether you're Smithers or Mr. Burns. (It used to be companies had a CEO and that was it. Now there are CEOs, CAOs, COOs, CFOs and UFOs. You don't know whether you've walked into a corporate headquarters or the governing board of pro wrestling.)

But "financial" anything at Allegheny is likely to be the most critical job there is, and I trust you are being well-compensated. I see where you get 550,000 shares on Jan. 2 as an "inducement." That's an inducement of labor if I ever hear of one. Because this is going to take some work.

And we're all counting on you. We're like the dirty-faced urchin looking hopefully up at Jimmy Stewart saying "Everything's going to be all right, isn't it, mister? Sure it will, mister, sure it will."

All of us want to see the corporate headquarters continue to operate at its proud Downsville site, not out of some Halfway mini-storage unit.

I know its a longshot, but my fingers are crossed. I read where you once said back in the '90s: "Our biggest challenge is going to be something none of us have yet imagined. Some risk will pop up that none of us saw coming."

Well, this is one risk that has done popped, so at least you don't have that to worry about.

Best of luck.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. You can reach him by phone at 301-733-5131, extension 2324, by fax at 301-714-0245 or by e-mail at

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