COLUMBUS — It was an easy decision for Nebraska Public Power District’s (NPPD) Board of Directors.

One so obvious that interviews weren’t even conducted with the four finalists.

Friday, the NPPD Board named Pat Pope the new president and chief executive officer of the state’s largest electric utility.

“There really wasn’t a candidate more qualified than Pat,” said Larry Linstrom, NPPD Board chairman.

Pope, who joined NPPD as an electrical engineer in December 1979, began his new role Saturday.

“I’m ready to get to work,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of opportunities and challenges in front of us.”

Pope was the only internal candidate in the search to replace former President and CEO Ron Asche, who retired Feb. 2 after 35 years with NPPD, including five years as CEO.

Asche is now CEO at United Power, a rural electric cooperative headquartered in Brighton, Colo.

John McClure, who had served as interim president and CEO since Jan. 21 and was not a candidate for the full-time position, will now return to his role as vice president of governmental affairs and general counsel.

In December, the board approved up to $96,000, of which $60,000 was billed, for Mycoff, Fry and Prouse LLC to conduct a nationwide search for a new CEO. That search yielded 18 candidates, a number that was cut to 12 before interviews were conducted by the Conifer, Colo.-based recruiting firm.

When the short list of four candidates was presented to the board last month, Linstrom said, it became evident Pope was the only one with the background necessary to run such a diverse organization. Instead of conducting interviews with the finalists, the board began negotiating with its vice president and chief operating officer.

“We were out to find the best person we could to operate this company,” said Linstrom. “ ... When it came down to the end, we felt Pat was our guy.”

Pope has worked in all of NPPD’s key areas except nuclear.

Since 1999, Pope has held vice president titles in transmission services, energy delivery and energy supply. In January 2008, he began his role as vice president and chief operating officer, which will likely now be filled internally.

Pope said he plans to focus on the increasing number of environmental and nuclear issues while continuing the strategic planning process and effort to keep electric rates affordable for Nebraskans.

“The challenges will most likely be numerous and substantial and will require as much hard work, creative thinking and tenacity as we have ever had to muster in our history,” he stated Friday in an e-mail to NPPD employees. “However, I believe we have the talent and attitudes within our ranks to ensure our success.”

But with his new responsibilities also comes a substantial pay increase.

The new president and CEO will be paid $395,000 per year — a $143,000 annual increase from his previous position.

According to Linstrom, this salary was determined by looking at comparable utilities in the Large Public Power Council (LPPC), where the average yearly salary for CEOs in the top 15 largest utilities was $405,798.

The average CEO pay for all LPPC members is $365,000.

Asche made $367,500 annually before his departure.

Pope also receives a $30,000 signing bonus, $1,000 monthly vehicle allowance, lifetime coverage through the district’s hospital/medical plan for both himself and his wife, $5,500 annual district contributions toward both 401k and 457 retirement plans and retention bonuses after 3, 5 and 7 years.

Pope is a member of the Southwest Power Pool Members Committee and serves on The Energy Authority Board of Directors.

He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and earned a master's degree in business administration in 1995.

Pat and his wife, Jackie, have three grown children and live in Columbus, where he serves on Columbus Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors.

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