A Man of Integrity in a Series of High Posts, Including Central Maine Power
David Thomas Flanagan. While the name may be familiar, the success of this man’s endless magical touch certainly is well documented and respected. Flanagan, born in Bangor and the eldest of eight, has a reputation for reviving ailing corporations, businesses, and institutions.
“To tell the truth, I never planned how my career might go but simply have worked on whatever was in front of me and people asked me to do. As time went on, apparently, I developed a reputation for dealing with difficult situations, and that has been a theme for what I’ve done over the years,” says David.
Presently, this “turnaround specialist” is the Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors of Central Maine Power (CMP). Other positions on his resume are interim President of the University of Southern Maine; President and CEO of CMP; and CEO and Director of Preservation Management, Inc., an affordable housing management. In addition, David has served as General Counsel of the US Senate Homeland Security Committee investigation of Hurricane Katrina; Legal Counsel to Honorable Joseph E. Brennan, Governor of Maine; and a partner at the Portland-based law firm, Pierce Atwood.
David also serves or has served on the boards of several Maine companies and community and educational organizations. He is the former Chair of the University of Maine System and the Maine Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. And he has served on many government study committees. He even shared his skills internationally on the board of the American University of Bulgaria.
So, who is the 73-year-old man behind all these roles? What are his accomplishments, and why does he remain steadfast and in full-speed-ahead mode on the job?
“He is a person of integrity, and he strives to imbue his values in the organization he leads. David embodies the traits of a servant leader, says Joe Wishcamper, a friend and colleague of 40 years.
David credits his parents for instilling the foresight, spunk, and inspiration to be a leader. “My parents were members of the Greatest Generation. Surviving those decades, and all the tragedies that entailed, gave them a resilience and determination that I guess they passed on to their kids.”
He recalls learning and seeing a lot of eastern and northern Maine, “As a boy I traveled extensively for work with my father and brother during summer vacations. I’ve had first-hand knowledge of all parts of our state since a very early age.”
Schooled in Bangor, Hampden, and Portland, David went on to Harvard and graduated at the height of the Vietnam War. “The Army declined the benefit of my service, but I was so surprised by that, despite a serious health problem, that I hadn’t made any other plans. So, at the last minute I started applying to grad schools, and I got into the University of London, King’s College in London School of Economics.” He goes on, “For tuition, I vividly remember it was $600 a year, which was a struggle to get. So, I went to Europe for a year. It was a terrific experience. I hitchhiked, traveled by train, and flew to Moscow and Leningrad, which was extremely interesting at the height of the Cold War.”
Back stateside, David enrolled in Boston College Law School, hoping to learn a trade and make a living, while simultaneously working with the Maine Legislature. This dual stint ultimately led David to serve four years as legal counsel for Governor Brennan. “I dealt with the legislature, the press, the business community, and really all the elements of Maine society. I saw how he [the Governor] worked to improve the University of Maine System, balance the budget, improve highway safety through nation-leading OUI [Operating Under the Influence] laws, investing in highway, port and economic development infrastructure, and institutions to care for people in need. I was privileged to be part of those efforts.”
The stabilizing and redirecting of CMP to reverse what he called “the hideous trajectory of prices” was his next mission and first stint with the company. He goes on, “Keeping prices within the rate of inflation was a prodigious job because I had the full weight of public policy, ironically, against me, and a huge legacy of contracts on very unfavorable terms that the company had been forced to negotiate.”
This job included managing the shutdown of Maine Yankee [Nuclear Power Plant], which David says was “undoubtedly the most difficult and enduring challenge of managing prices.” He credits his team that worked tirelessly, “It was a tremendous challenge, but we met it, and that was a big factor in the high level of public approval we achieved.” Rounding out the ’90s, the tremendous team effort at CMP continued with leading the company in fighting the Ice Storm catastrophe in 1998 and securing federal dollars for recovery.
David tried his own hand in politics with a brief bid for Governor in 2002 but withdrew, concluding he had no chance of winning. However, that setback did not slow down this stalwart man. He has an innate desire to accept challenges, all while learning and seeking to satisfy his curiosity.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and FEMA’s many failures, Senator Susan Collins, then Chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, with jurisdiction over FEMA, invited David to be General Counsel of the investigation into what went wrong. Reflecting on nearly a year’s worth of work, he said, “We identified problems with unrealistic planning and inadequate preparation, poor coordination between state and federal agencies, and even among different federal agencies and the military, contracting issues, logistics, and leadership.”
David then went on to accept the “turnaround specialist” job with USM, a time and a role he recalls with pride. “I think my job as President—keeping the University of Southern Maine from financial implosion and ruin—was an important achievement because that school is so critical to so many Maine families.”
It’s clear David Flanagan has a great interest in dealing with demanding problems and being a servant leader rather than simply maintaining a successful operation. It was disheartening for him to see the decline in CMP’s reputation since his first stint. “Certainly, my current job as chairman of CMP is particularly challenging because the company which has served Maine so well over the last century had encountered some very serious problems in 2017 that really undermined public confidence. So, helping to bring back its reputation, with the help of hundreds of fellow employees, has been both challenging and encouraging, as we have made so much progress in recent months.”
David admits he faces a lot of challenges at CMP, but the exciting part of the job is the company’s future. “It’s an exciting time to be in this business, as society tries to get away from fossil fuel dependence. There are going to be good opportunities, and I am happy to be engaged at this time of transformation.” He contends anything like a government takeover would be unwise. “I believe in an electric future and very happy to be a part of it.”
The man’s selflessness is evident when speaking to his former and present-day colleagues. Wishcamper, who first met David when working at Pierce Atwood, knows this stately man as “quiet and understated. For him, it’s not about him. It’s about the organization, the people in the organization, the customer, the public interest. People trust him and are drawn to him because of his character and his modesty. Not least, David is a highly intelligent person who applies his intellect to every challenge.”
Greg Powell, of the Harold Alfond Foundation, first met David in 1980s as fellow lawyers. Because David is, “an intellectual whiz with good practical common sense,” Powell secured him to work with the Harold Alfond Foundation. Powell says whatever his colleague and friend does is “really thoughtful and carefully planned, leading to concrete solutions. He speaks clearly and can reduce complex problems down to simple terms. He is just a terrific human being.”
Retired Navy Admiral Greg Johnson came to know David during the Katrina investigation, and today calls him a friend, saying, “In addition to the seemingly endless list of consequential service across every possible area of endeavor, he is a profoundly decent person.” Johnson goes on to note that David is a superb “doer,” and “He is an even better listener—compassionate and empathetic.”
Susannah Swihart, Board Chair, Maine General Health, worked with David on many boards. “He pulled together a divergent group from all political and philosophical bents, to advise the Muskie School at USM. It was really illuminating to see him lead in that setting—to see his ease, quiet leadership, his openness to listening to all viewpoints, his incisive mind, his gentle but clear determination to get answers to our questions.” She goes on, “When a Maine business or a significant nonprofit has sought to tackle challenging and interesting industry problems, they have talked to David.”
For the past 46 years, Kaye, David’s wife, has been by his side, supporting each new adventure. “She is wonderful!” he boasted. “When CMP came calling, I did not want to take the job without her support. She said, ‘Do what you want to do. You can’t watch daytime TV all the time.’”
While David has no crystal-ball insight on his next adventure or possible retirement, he does make it clear the state’s future is centered on technological growth. “My total focus is to bring back CMP to the standing and reputation and credibility that we used to have.”
You may wonder how a man at the helm finds time to relax. Aside from the time he and Kaye take to enjoy Maine’s beautiful outdoors and boating, David gets immersed in building model ships. While noting that, “Everybody in my family has an artistic streak,” he says of his hobby, “It has allowed me to step away, and those ships never talk back.”
Looking at the big picture, Admiral Johnson reminds us to reflect on the whole man and all he has done. David is “a giant and truly one of the finest, most productive, thoughtful, consequential people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Maine and all its citizens are blessed each and every day by the selfless service of David Flanagan.”