Executive Profile: An Industry Leader Credits Success to Military Roots
US Air Force (AF) Veteran David Zabetakis, director (BOD) of Qualus Power Services, owner of Z.evolution LLC, and a 12-year member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power and Energy Society (PES) has been helping to create transformative change within the power and energy industry for over 35 years.
David joined the Air Force right out of high school, where he became a specially trained AF crew chief responsible for B52 bombers and F-4 Phantom jets, and credits much of his success to his time in the military and the far-reaching life lessons he learned.
“I was responsible for everything having to do with the operation of those aircraft, so I learned a lot and it carried forward with me throughout my entire career,” he said. “Skills such as military tactics, diagnostic processes, and strategy and planning – a lot of things you learn from the military can be applied directly to business. I attribute a great deal of my success to starting my adult life as a member of the Air Force.”
A long-time advocate of mentorship, David joined forces with lead volunteer Wanda Reder in the early 2000s, who later became PES President in 2008, to develop the highly successful PES Scholarship Plus program that was initiated in 2011. At the time, David was president of the Doble Engineering Company, a 100-year-old manufacturer of diagnostic equipment and engineering services for the utility and power industry, which he was charged with transforming into a solution driven, global advanced technology and services organization with long-term sustainability – an achievement that turned out to be one of the highlights of his career.
When asked how he came to join the power and energy industry, David noted that fate had a lot to do with it.
Growing up, some of David’s fondest memories were made on his family’s horse and cattle farm in Indiana, and his plan was to become a large animal veterinarian. Upon leaving the Air Force, David’s focus shifted after meeting an executive of Washington Gas at a networking dinner, who offered him a position as manager of Business Development, Northern Virginia.
“I worked [at Washington Gas] for nine years, which is how I started in the energy infrastructure business,” he explained. “After I received my MBA, I decided to stay in the industry. I found it very exciting. When you think about energy, everyone needs electricity, power, etc., and I thought it was interesting how important that role was for these companies, and for myself.”
As it turned out, David had found his niche. After Washington Gas, he joined Unitil Corporation in the mid-90s, just as the markets were getting ready to open up in New England for competitive retail electric sales – which turned out to be another highlight of his career.
“I’m proud I was able to be involved in the development and opening up of the retail business, which was a huge transformation for our industry,” he said.
While the power and energy industry as a whole has made huge strides toward meeting the needs of future generations, but there is still much work to do, he noted.
“We have to be more efficient, safer, and innovative, and we have to make sure we have a very resilient grid to do all the things we’re planning for. We are in the midst of a perfect storm. We have a senior workforce with vast knowledge that’s leaving along with an aging infrastructure, and alongside that we have a new workforce and infrastructure and technologies. All of which boils down to one question: how do we maintain the systems we have while connecting all these dispersed resources to the grid and make it work? It’s very complex, but that is where our industry is going in the future, and I’m proud to be a part of that.”
David has left an indelible mark on the industry through his management of companies that also include Pepco Energy Services, Current Group LLC, Aclara (ESCO Technologies), and TechPro Power Group Inc.
“I enjoy building companies that are able to serve society and attract, engage, and retain the younger population of engineers that we need to have for our industry as a whole. That’s the part that really drives me – the people. It’s the part I enjoy the most and find the most challenging.”
Through his involvement with PES, David has found many additional opportunities to engage and mentor the next generation of engineers.
“PES has allowed me to really focus on those efforts. Within the companies I have been president and CEO of, I’ve taken great pride in being able to encourage employees to grow, and that carries over into all my activities with PES,” he said. “One of the things we’re doing now is developing a formal PES mentorship program that will help transition our student members to young professional, and ultimately higher-grade memberships within the organization. It’s something I’ve loved being involved in, and I intend to continue to do so even more in the future.”
When asked what he enjoys most about his profession, David responded, “We should all be proud of what we do in this industry because we’re tasked with managing one of the largest man-made machines ever built – the power grid. And that energy infrastructure supplies the lifeblood to society.”
He continued, “When you look at the mission of IEEE and PES, it’s all about doing things for the benefit of humanity. To do those things, we have to make sure we’re keeping up with technology and that we are leaders in scientific and engineering information who are capable of using not just the tenured expertise of our workforce, but also the young professionals with new knowledge for the betterment of society. I can’t be more passionate about our industry and where it’s going,” he said.
As he looks to the future, David is focused on continuing to do his part to help initiate advances in infrastructure that will advance the industry as a whole.
In addition to his work with PES, David is a mentor for the New England Clean Energy Council and Greentown Labs; member of the Board of Directors for Qualus Power Services; member of the Advisory Board for Systems With Intelligence (touchless substation monitoring), ARC Industries (wind turbines), Cascadia Energy (hydrogen fuel cells), C Three Group (infrastructure database experts); and is a strategic advisor for several private equity and venture capital firms.
Not one to forget his military roots, David has long supported veteran hiring and received the National Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding CEO from the U.S. Navy during his tenure as president of Doble Engineering for his recruitment efforts. He also serves on the advisory board for Home Base, a consortium of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital that supports veterans and their families who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder.
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