April 25, 2016
Entergy Executive Vice President Rod West (L ’93) calls students’ most valuable asset “a demonstrated ability to learn, unlearn and relearn.”
Photo courtesy of Entergy
The challenge of restoring electrical infrastructure knocked to smithereens by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 transcended any legal hypothetical imaginable. But, oddly enough, Entergy Executive Vice President Rod West (L '93) recalls relying on aspects of his law school training to get a handle on the catastrophe.
By focusing on the problem-solving mechanism lawyers call IRAC -- shorthand for Issue, Rules, Analysis, Conclusion – West, then Entergy’s electric grid manager of the New Orleans region, set the foundation for a recovery game plan.
"I wasn't acting as a lawyer, of course, and this was certainly not a legal problem, but my legal training complemented my leadership approach immeasurably," he said. “Both the rules and the facts we tended to apply them to changed right before our eyes … literally overnight.”
That experience demonstrated the trait West calls essential to success: adaptability.
And that's a message he hopes to convey to the Class of 2016 at Tulane Law's Graduation Ceremony May 14. The event is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Avron B. Fogelman Arena in the Devlin Fieldhouse, following Tulane University's Unified Commencement Ceremony, which starts at 9 a.m. at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“The most valuable asset the students will bring to their careers,” he said, “is a demonstrated ability to learn, unlearn and relearn.”
That and an understanding that “life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans,” he said.
After growing up in New Orleans, West left to attend the University of Notre Dame, where he played football for then-Coach Lou Holtz. The team went undefeated to become the 1988 national champion. On a table in his Entergy tower office, West displays helmets and balls from the 12-1 1989 season, which ended with an Orange Bowl victory.
His windows offer a sweeping view of the city, with the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the foreground. West has been executive vice president and chief administrative officer since 2010, and the company recently announced that he’ll take on new and expanded leadership duties in the utility.
West started in a traditional direction after his Tulane Law graduation, practicing at Jones Walker for five years, then Vial Hamilton Koch & Knox in commercial litigation. He joined Entergy in April 1999 as senior regulatory counsel and six months later moved to the business side of the company. In 2004, West returned to Tulane for an MBA — and received his degree in August 2005, two weeks before Katrina struck.
Though he veered from practicing law, West credits his legal education with setting him on the professional path he’s taken.
He said Tulane provided “an absolutely wonderful academic experience,” during which he “learned more than I ever thought I would,” especially outside the classroom through activities such as the Juvenile Law Clinic and moot court competitions.
But Tulane also was embroiled in contemporary debate over using race as a factor in admissions and hiring, with the case of Hopwood v. Texas percolating through the federal courts. West applauded administration leaders at the time — President Eamon Kelly, Law Dean John Kramer and Associate Dean Robert Clayton — for expanding opportunities for African American and Latino students.
Attending Tulane enabled West to work early in his career with lawyers who taught him about professionalism, integrity and competence, he said.
“The skills that I learned through my studies and the profession, I leveraged to the path I find myself on today,” he said. “I remain profoundly grateful to my friends and colleagues who taught me early on what being a professional is all about.”
As Entergy’s chief administrative officer, West has led an ambitious reorganization of the corporation’s business operations and overseen the company’s vast responsibilities in finance and business operations, regulatory and government affairs, human resources, information technology and corporate communications.
His community contributions include serving on the boards for Notre Dame, Louisiana State University and Xavier University, and he presented the closing arguments to NFL owners that successfully brought the 2013 Super Bowl to New Orleans. He was inducted into the Tulane Law School Hall of Fame in 2015. His wife, Madeline West (L ’97), also is an alum.
Note: This item was amended Oct. 6, 2016, to reflect the full name of the event location.