A Murder, Your Reputation, and the Meaning of Life

Posted August 21, 2019

By: Lisa Lovallo
Vice President of Cox Communications & UniSource Energy Board Member

The ILLUME Change-Maker Workshop brought together utility leaders from across the country to explore ways to leverage the dreams and aspirations of customers to achieve a triple bottom line of profit, grid, and climate resilience. Lisa Lovallo gave the opening keynote discussing the similarities between the utility and cable industries and provided her thoughts on innovation and navigating disruption in, “A Murder, Your Reputation, and the Meaning of Life.”


This spring, I got a summons for jury duty and was selected for a murder trial. I spent five days looking at autopsy photos, learning about DNA, listening to witnesses, and parsing through all the circumstantial evidence. Afterwards, we went back to the deliberation room and convicted the defendant of first-degree murder within five minutes. It was unanimous. It was clear they had their guy.

What does this have to do with the utility industry? Circumstantial evidence. Taking different pieces of information and making a conclusion. This is exactly what we have to do in our business every day and it’s becoming more and more challenging with the volume of data out there. This is the world now.

When you look up at the sky you see a million points of light. This is the disruption that’s happening—tons and tons of information coming in on a daily basis like a clear night sky crowded with stars.

There is a lot of change coming at telecommunications and utilities, so the question is: Are you just seeing stars, or can you see constellations?

If you can’t make connections, you can’t make choices. Disruption is the inability to connect the dots.

The key trends and challenges I see for the industry in my role as a UniSource Board Member:

  • Batteries are the wave of the future, they are getting better and better but China has most of the market share
  • Incumbency makes it hard to innovate
  • Renewables are bringing challenges and opportunities
  • Coal is dead
  • Getting the grid ready for a high penetration of renewables will be very expensive
  • Regulators listen to customers, and when they don’t, customers go to the ballot to get what they want
  • EVs are growing; in 2020 Ford will come out with an electric F150—the most successful vehicle in history

How do we navigate this change?

Embrace Your Rivals
I don’t think utilities think a lot about competition, but we in the cable industry think about it all the time with the rise of streaming services. We have to start thinking of our opponents as rivals, not competition because we’re not going to beat the competition. We’re never going to snuff out AT&T. We have to use our rivals to make us better.

Here’s a great example: To compete with Amazon, Wal-Mart invested in their online platform, offering delivery and grocery pick-up. Amazon then turned around and invested in brick and mortar, buying up Whole Foods. What is happening between these rivals? They are not giving up any space, and now customers are getting better service, options to shop in-store or online, and same day delivery.

To innovate and weather disruption, we need to see our rivals as an opportunity to bring companies to the next level.

Your Reputation

When I started at Cox Communications, I went out and asked influencers in the region what they thought of us. The feedback was basically: You’re a dinosaur that’s not progressive and charges too much for poor service. But that’s not how I think of our company; we’re actually progressive, we invest in our community, and we care. So, I asked the influencers, what can we do about this reputation problem? They said: Tell your story.

We tell our story by talking about how much community investment we make, how many hours our employees volunteer, how much we spend on local infrastructure. These stories should not be a secret, they are powerful in influencing how our company is perceived. This is important for utilities too, you’re more than just a customer bill.

The Meaning of Life

It’s important to find your why. Our why statement at Cox Communications: We’re going to empower people today to build a brighter future for the next generation. People. Empowerment. Brighter Future. Generational Thinking. That’s something people can get behind. This why statement is something you need to not only have customers believe in you, but to recruit and retain the talent of the future.

If you don’t create a great culture, it’s very difficult to create an environment in which the innovation that needs to happen will take place.

Learn from cable—you can turn disruption into opportunity by sorting through datapoints to find constellations, thinking of competition as rivals, and finding your why.

Click below to listen to Lisa Lovallo’s full Keynote from our Change-Maker Workshop in Atlanta.