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ESC Partners CEO and founder RJ Kumar was born and raised in the utilities business—and it shows

BY: Kathleen Wolf Davis, Director of Digital Marketing

“The person who gets most excited about my job and the work I do for utilities is my dad,” said RJ Kumar, CEO and founder of ESC Partners, when I talked to him about his work one warm and sunny afternoon. “He was a substation engineer for a large electric company in India my entire life—nearly 50 years when he retired. And he’s just so proud I’m continuing that legacy.”

In fact, RJ has been a part of his dad’s legacy long before he started ESC or even worked in the business arena for this industry. When he was born, his family was living within the substation complex in quarters supplied by his father’s company.

“I guess I have lived the life of a utility guy since childhood,” he added. “And it really inspired me—all of it. As a small child, I loved the big machines that came to deliver those super large transformers. As a teenager, what amazed me was the engineering and the technology side. And today, I’ve rather rounded out that evolution by concentrating on the customer care aspect of the business. Honestly, I’m so proud to carry on my father’s legacy—as proud as he is to watch me do so, I think.”

Now, don’t get the idea that the path from childhood utility insider to adult utility insider was exactly smooth or direct. RJ started his career in finance after those years of substation living, even bringing concepts around modeling and total cost of ownership (TCO) to the U.S. Navy. Then, one day, he ran into a utility bill solution company looking for some finance insights—specifically around billing. And it all came full circle.

The whole family gets a tour of the substation from the current engineer on staff.

“I was excited to join them, to connect back to my dad and my childhood and pick all that up and move it forward,” RJ said. “It was a fascinating puzzle, too, you know? How do I take an outcome-based model and make it simple for both a utility and its customers? How do I get the customer a better outcome at a lower price and not impact utility reliability or service? And, best of all, if I can solve that problem for the utility and the utility customer, I can solve that problem for the community itself and make a real difference in people’s lives daily.”

After some consulting work with some of the largest names in the business, RJ finally decided the fastest way to solve this issue and make this difference wasn’t by attempting to convince others. It was by offering the service himself. He flipped the script from a balance-sheet-based thinking to that service-based model, and, as he says, “ESC was born.”

RJ explains the substation equipment from the transformers to the insulators to his daughter on their visit.

For RJ, ESC’s methodology—again born from that outcomes-based thinking—reflects the simplest, most direct answer to better customer care across utilities (and, increasingly, across the public sector as it all continues to be tied together with software and data). The concept of essentially template-tizing his years of consulting work and ingrained childhood knowledge of the industry allows the ESC team to constantly and continuously evolve a set of services that almost instinctively solve integration and implementation issues before they occur. And that re-use/recycle process saves a lot of money for the client.

“Having a standard set where we don’t start over from scratch saves each of our customers a bundle,” RJ added. “But we’re also never locked in. It’s always fluid. We’re always learning. You’re not getting concepts from 20 years ago or 10 years ago or even five years ago, we’ve updated that methodology with our last project, so each client gets best practices that are both historically proven and up to date. That combination is rare. Most companies can offer you one or the other—proven or timely—but not both.”

RJ and his dad pose in front of the substation his dad worked at when RJ was a kid.

You can hear that excitement about the industry and this evolution of his father’s legacy in RJ’s voice not just when he talks about his childhood or his family but also when he talks about ways he can make this industry, his business, and the communities they both serve better.

“We just went live with two projects where there were no customizations, where all of our pre-planning and services methodology updates fed into a smooth transition, and it was so amazing to see that come to fruition. And the first thing I did? I called my dad to walk him through everything we’d done and how we’re helping those utilities evolve. He may be retired, but he’s still my best advisor. He said one thing to me: ‘Keep it up, kid.’ And I plan to. I absolutely plan to.”


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