Williams' Steve Malcolm talks

Wednesday, May 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

You may not know his name, but he is about to become one of the most powerful men in Tulsa.

Thursday, Steve Malcolm will become only the 6th man ever to take the helm of the energy giant Williams. And he goes in with a full agenda. "At times it feels a little intimidating. And I certainly recognize I have big shoes to fill." Those shoes, both literally and figuratively, belong to Keith Bailey, the man who led Williams through an incredible decade of growth and profitability.

Hood, "Is this actually his size?" Malcolm: "That is his size, and when he gave them to me. I had to slip them on." Hood, "Did they fit?" Malcolm: "No." Hood, "They were too big?" Malcolm, "They were a little too big, but I told him that I would grow into them." Steve Malcolm will have to do his growing in an unfriendly environment.

In the past year, Williams has been rocked on a number of fronts, all made worse in the wake of the fiasco at Enron. "I think there's a tremendous crisis of trust today between shareholders and senior management, no one believes what senior managers have to say anymore."

The latest bombshell came just last week, when a memo was found that appeared to confirm suspicions that Enron had deliberately cheated electric customers in California, helping create last summer's rolling blackouts. It was a body blow for Williams.

Williams has of course been named in that as well. Hood, "Do you expect a federal investigation?" Malcolm, "I'm sure that there's going to be a federal investigation having to do with those allegations sector-wide. We don't believe we were involved in anything similar to that but we are obviously reviewing the events that took place in that period of time to be sure we didn't."

The bankruptcy of Williams Communications is another potential landmine. While common shareholders are being wiped out, Williams, the former parent company, could come out with almost half the assets. "We are now effectively creditors, and bottom line, they owe us money." These controversies have helped send Williams' stock to a six year low. And even Tulsans, who don't own a dime of it, sometimes worry about the effect.

Last year alone, Williams pumped more than $10 million into the state, supporting everything from sports and healthcare, to arts and education. Malcolm says he'll do all he can to make sure that support continues. "It really is a core value that resonates with me and many of our employees. It makes us proud to work for Williams." Malcolm has been part of Williams since 1984. Working his way up through the ranks.

Under his leadership, profits in Williams energy services group went from $400 million to $1.5 billion, in just two years. He also seems to be blessed with nerves of steel. On the eve of taking over a multi-billion dollar company at a crossroads in its development, Malcolm is apparently unruffled. "I don't feel that it’s overwhelming. Again, I think I am able to deal with pressure fairly easily." That ability will no doubt be tested more than once in the months ahead.

Steve Malcolm believes in his company, but he isn't expecting any quick fixes. "I think to a certain extent we may be in this white water for quite a period of time. This may be the environment that we are faced with."