Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
After leaving thousands of their customers in the dark for a week, Connecticut Light & Power’s name doesn’t smell so sweet these days. The “face” of CL&P’s response, Jeff Butler, endured withering criticism from reporters and the public, with some observers even calling him ‘Baghdad Bob’ for his dissembling explanations about why the utility could not get the lights back on.
CL&P will soon be subjected to investigations, legal proceedings, and legislative inquiries over their staffing levels and preparation for catastrophic events like Winter Storm Alfred. There will be plenty of time and much attention paid to the possible policy changes. But with their brand irreparably tarnished, a more practical question to consider is this: how long will it be before CL&P gets a new name?
Other companies have been in similar positions in the past. After their employees were criticized for behaving like lawless cowboys in Iraq, the private security company Blackwater got a new name, Xe, but not before they lost their federal contracts to provide security to American officials in Iraq and Afghanistan. Subsequent to ValuJet Flight 592 crashing in the Florida Everglades in 1996, the airline re-emerged as AirTran Airways – and was bought by Southwest back in April of this year.
But the award for most brazen rebranding effort easily goes to the company formerly known as Phillip Morris Co., Inc. After the maker of such ubiquitous cigarette brands as Marlboro settled their years-long legal war with the numerous state governments, Big Tobacco’s biggest villain became the Altria Group in 2003.
A new name won’t fix the problems of course and there will certainly be big changes implemented by state and local officials as well as company leaders. Though many drivers enjoy the fall foliage canopy over the Merritt Parkway, for example, tree trimming will almost certainly become a higher priority. After the predictable demands for burying power lines are ruled out as too costly, alternatives like microgrids, competitive distribution schemes, or state ownership of the utility will be on the table as well.
Ultimately though, politics is the art of making a sale in the marketplace of ideas. To do that, CL&P will need more than new leaders, revised company policies, and tougher penalties to make them do what they are supposed to do. It will also mean rebuilding customer confidence in the company’s ability to quickly and effectively respond in a crisis – and that likely means a new name. I’m going to take ten months in the betting pool.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com