Bart Gaetjens is arguably one of the most recognizable and engaged individuals in the county. From Palm Bay to Mims, if there is an important issue or initiative, whether it involves essential electrical services or just making our communities better the Corporate External Affairs Manager for Florida Power and Light is usually on the job.
In his role, Gaetjens manages the relationships between the utility, the county and municipal governments, alongside roles with corporate, community and business leaders in Brevard and Indian River counties. His work assisting local Chambers, the EDC and a host of nonprofits such as Junior Achievement and Eckerd Connects provides experience and expertise in helping guide their stated missions.
Gaetjens grew up in South Florida and is the son of two schoolteachers. In fact, he has a yearbook signed by one of his father’s students, Jeff Bezos, who thanked him for the influence he had on his life. The family spent summers traveling across the country, visiting nearly every state in the continental 48. “We left when school got out and, usually, got home right before school began again; camping in a Sears tent and cooking on a Coleman stove,” he recalled.
Gaetjens attended FSU (which he likened to living in another state, compared to his hometown of Miami), and earned a Business degree. Upon graduating in 1981, the country was in a recession and jobs were scarce. He applied to many – and still keeps the rejection letters to remind him of his blessings today – before landing a job with FP&L, where some four decades later, he is still working.
“My kids say, ‘Dad you have been married to the same woman and working for the same company your whole life?’ and I say, “And your point is?” he responds to them with his easy, characteristic smile.
Chosen from a pool of 100 applicants for a specialized customer service program laid the groundwork for his career, where Gaetjens worked his way up from a call center to internal auditing and a stint in corporate security before his role managing corporate accounts. Though Gaetjens admits he felt underqualified and over-challenged in many of those positions, he developed a reputation as a problem solver and people manager. His predecessor and colleague, Sandy Sanderson, approached him about taking the external affairs job when he was ready to retire.
“I had worked with the CEO’s of major corporations and hospitals, which isn’t a lot different than working with mayors and city managers. They are smart, motivated people, who want to move things forward, so the transition wasn’t that difficult,” he said. “Now I deal with all of them.”
Bringing A Personal Touch
When FPL was building their first solar farm in the area, which backs up to the Barefoot Bay community, it was Gaetjens and his team that organized the community meetings, but they also hoofed it house to house among the neighborhoods bordering the project, answering questions and addressing concerns.
“I remember one man who, when he saw the renderings said, ‘I love the project, but when I look out, I will see a fence and then vegetation. I would like to see vegetation and no fence.’ At the time I thought, that was a great idea and very reasonable. So that is how we did it,” he recalled.
Gaetjens honed in on how to communicate with electrical end users, providing a personalized touch and approach from the largest energy company in the United States, as measured by retail electricity produced and sold. FPL serves some 10 million customers in Florida, with a typical 1,000-kWh residential customer bill that is billed at approximately 30 percent lower than the national average (and among the lowest in the country.) This is coupled with service reliability that is better than 99.98 percent.
FPL is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, based in Juno Beach, which was ranked No.1 in the electric and gas utilities industry in Fortune’s 2020 list of “World’s Most Admired Companies.” They operate in 33 states and Canada, and are also the parent company of Gulf Power Company, which serves 460,000 people in Northwest Florida. “The reason I am on so many boards, is twofold,” Gaetjens said. “First, they are all involved in worthy efforts that are moving the needle in our community. Secondly, it keeps my finger on the pulse of what is happening, now and next, in the region.”
In an era where people have multiple concerns that focus on energy supply and future demand, Gaetjens has a role as liaison, advocate and vision caster. According to him, FPL is leading in alternative energy, including natural gas and an ever-growing solar energy footprint.
“Solar technology has reached a point where it is becoming more and more efficient and cost-effective,” he said. “We have also spent billions ensuring our coastal communities are able to withstand and recover from hurricanes as soon as possible.”
Though he admits any power lost is too long for those without it, the commitment and engagement of people like Gaetjens add a level of humanity and a face to what otherwise would just be another corporate utility service.