Neal E. Schmale, the chief financial officer of Sempra Energy and slated to become chief operating officer in 2006, climbed the corporate ladder the hard way. A 30-year veteran of the oil business, Schmale started out as a roustabout offshore and as a drilling foreman.
“Management issues in the oil fields are the same as at a top level of an organization,” he observed. “You need to find a balance between taking care of details, which is critical, but not taking responsibility away from the people.”
What are his big challenges these days?
“Getting new transmission lines built, to bring in electricity from Imperial Valley,” he said. “These are tough times, getting them permitted. There tends to be opposition to permitting new infrastructure where people live.”
The high price of natural gas is another concern, sparked by the recent hurricanes along the Gulf Coast.
“We are in a very fragile balance between supply and demand,” said Schmale, “dependent on the weather.”
Another priority is to promote renewable and sustainable energy, as well as conservation efforts, to shore up supplies.
“Solar will be a significant part of the energy mix throughout California,” he said.
Name: Neal E. Schmale.
Title: Executive vice president and chief financial officer.
Company: Sempra Energy.
Family: Wife, Margaret; sons, Eric, 23, and Michael, 20.
Residence: La Jolla.
Essential business philosophy: If it doesn’t make sense, from a basic economic perspective, it won’t stand the test of time.
Best way to keep a competitive edge: Always stay on your toes , don’t be complacent.
Guiding principles: Beware of business fads and Wall Street fads. Cycles come and go. Don’t be afraid to hire people smarter than you are.
Yardstick for success: Customer satisfaction.
Goals yet to be achieved: Developing the next generation of managers at Sempra Energy.
Best business decision: Going to law school. In my early career, I was an adviser to people 20 years older than I was. My law degree involved me with tougher decisions earlier in my career.
Worst business decision: Not foreseeing oil prices in the ’80s , conventional wisdom was that they’d go up. They, in fact, went down.
Toughest business decision: Navigating the financial perils of the California energy crisis of 2000-01 and keeping the company’s balance sheet intact.
Biggest missed opportunity: Living abroad early in my career.
Mentor: Sam Snyder, former general counsel at Unocal; Claude Brinegar, former CFO at Unocal.
What you like best about your job: The integrity of the people. Seeing the businesses, and the people who develop the businesses, grow.
What you like least about your job: Wading through 10 pages of text when one would suffice.
Pet peeves: MBA-speak.
Most important lesson learned: Markets are nearly impossible to predict.
Person most interested in meeting: Winston Churchill.
Most-respected competitor: Kinder Morgan.
Three greatest passions: Family, masters swimming and reading European history.
First choice for a new career: Teaching.
Favorite quote: History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. (Attributed to Mark Twain.)
Most influential book: “Maxims and Reflections,” by Francesco Guicciardini.
Favorite status symbol: Mike Eaton-built paddleboard.
Favorite movie: “Tommy Boy.”
Favorite restaurant: Tapanade.
Favorite place for business meetings: Sempra conference room, with sandwiches.
Favorite vacation spot: Marrakesh, Morocco.
Favorite way to spend time: Swimming at La Jolla Cove.
Favorite automobile: 1971 BMW-2002.