Front Lines

JIM HICKS IS NOTHING IF NOT PASSIONATE

Having failed at his first attempt at retirement, Hicks, president of The Shaw Group's Energy Delivery Systems division (Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S.), said yes when called to assist in rebuilding Iraq's electric infrastructure. Whether coming to the aid of his country and coworkers or organizing a fundraiser for the Hope at the Point Foundation, Hicks can be found in the thick of things, striving to find a solution to the problem.

The son of a railroad lineman/part-time rancher, Hicks was born and raised in California — although you wouldn't know it from his Southern drawl. After graduating from high school, he attended college but dropped out after only one semester.

“I was a miserable failure. Not because I was stupid,” he stresses. “But because I had a great time.”

Instead of heading back to school or taking a 9-to-5 job, Hicks opted to join the U.S. Air Force. “I spent four years in the service,” he recalls. “My last year was in Vietnam. I did a lot of growing up during that time.”

In the Air Force, Hicks was given an aptitude test that showed he had a talent for electrical work, and he subsequently received training in maintaining missile guidance systems. He decided to give college another try after his military discharge, but found he would have to pay out-of-state tuition to attend his college of choice, Louisiana State University (LSU; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.), or work for one year to establish residency.

“I decided to work for a year and just happened to get a job at Gulf States Utilities as a lineman building substations,” says Hicks. “As a lineman working out in the field on hot days, I would see these electrical engineers drive up in their air-conditioned cars, get out, make a few calculations and leave again, and I'd think, ‘That looks a lot easier than what I'm doing.’”

After the one-year prerequisite was up, Hicks enrolled at LSU. This time he graduated with honors in electrical engineering. “Not because I was smarter,” he says, “but because I applied myself.”

Fresh out of college, Hicks accepted an engineering position with Duke Power Co., which eventually became Duke Energy. He held various positions at the company, including CIO, vice president of customer service, and senior vice president of power and delivery. After a successful 31-year career at Duke, Hicks tried to retire.

However, it wasn't long before he was prevailed upon to serve his country once again. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense asked Hicks to travel to Iraq to assist in rebuilding that country's electrical infrastructure.

“At first I thought, ‘Why would I want to do that?’” he says. “The more I talked with them about it, the more I realized it was an opportunity to be involved in something that could have a significant world impact and help out a cause I thought was worthwhile.”

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Hicks accepted the assignment. He spent February 2004 to June 2004 working for Ambassador Paul Bremer. He made return trips to Iraq in 2005 and 2007 to provide additional assistance.

“I have a completely different view of the work being done over there than most people have,” says Hicks. “In my opinion, of the 26 million people in Iraq, 25.9 million of them are good people — people you'd love to have as neighbors. These people are trying hard to make their country a good place to live, to be peaceful. I've met a lot of Iraqis who have put their lives on the line and who have died trying to make their country a better place to live. Sadly, one of the good friends I'd made over there was kidnapped and assassinated because he was trying to do the right things. He and those like him are unsung heroes.”

According to Hicks, he was contemplating another trip to the Middle East when the opportunity to serve as the president of Shaw EDS presented itself.

“I love being at Shaw EDS. I'm having a great time helping to grow this company. Right now, we have tremendous growth potential,” he says.

In his free time, Hicks enjoys reading and playing golf. He also serves on the board of directors of the local United Way as well as for a private foundation that raises funds for local charities. While in Iraq, he led an effort to arrange for an Iraqi teenager with brain cancer to receive medical treatment in the United States. In addition, he is an avid supporter of both the Special Olympics and World Vision, a humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide.

When he retires for the second time, Hicks says he would like to do volunteer work in a foreign country and also take the time to travel for pleasure.

“I'm fortunate that I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams,” he says. “I'm now in a position that when I retire I can do a few of the things my wife and I have wanted to do our whole lives. I'm looking forward to that.”

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