It’s December 1984 and a young Kevin McCullough, decked out in the blue overalls that signify he’s a member of the non-professional-grade staff, is in complete awe as he’s being shown around his local power plant. Kevin was 18 at the time and it was the first day of his first job, at a coal power station in Yorkshire, UK, in an industry that he is still working in more than 30 years later. “I remember that day as if it was yesterday; I just fell in love with the industry,” he says.

Kevin McCullough has a noble calling

While today Kevin is an inspiring leader and CEO of Calon Energy – a relative newcomer to the UK energy sector – it was with tenacity and drive that he moved his way up the career ladder.

“I made small but positive career steps in the early days. I’d be the guy at 3am running the plant, and I loved that sense of responsibility and the sense of contribution, because we were keeping the country’s lights on. That felt a very noble thing to do – it still does.” Kevin worked internationally and in gas, mining, nuclear, and renewables, at the likes of RWE Npower, RWE Innogy and Horizon Nuclear Power before, at age 50, getting the call to join Calon Energy in 2014.

Established by Macquarie (Infrastructure and Real Assets), the prospect initially involved a small number of power stations before the operating assets were brought together to form Calon Energy. Today, the portfolio includes three gas-fired power plants – Baglan Bay in Port Talbot, Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire, and Severn in Newport – with talks underway for investment in more sites. 

Calon Energy is "at the shoulder of its growth"

Founded in 2012, Calon Energy is regarded as a new player on the block, though one that is increasing its footprint. “Calon has to respect its size at the moment. It’s still relatively small, at 5% or 6% of the UK market,” says Kevin, adding that beyond the physical side, it has a large voice in the sector. “We really bat above our weight in political and other trade-body circles. We’re frequently asked to contribute, and to give opinion or advice on a wide variety of matters, from nuclear to renewables.”

Kevin McCullough CEO of Calon Energy
Kevin McCullough, CEO of Calon Energy

Kevin describes the business as being at the shoulder of its growth; having acquired the best opportunities, it’s set to take off on a steep trajectory. “There are many opportunities, not only with gas, but with renewables and in other newer technologies,” he explains. 

In November last year, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the UK announced a consultation to close the remaining coal-fired power stations by 2025. We have an obligation as citizens to use energy in a way that is “as responsible as technology allows, at a pace that we can afford,” Kevin says. 

“I’m a huge renewable-energy advocate, but I’m also a realist and you have to introduce technologies at a pace where the societal need and the technological infrastructure can cope with, and adapt to, that pace of change,” he says. And with coal being phased out, there’s need for an alternative to fill that energy gap.

“For the next 40 to 50 years, I personally believe we’ll rely on a substantive amount of clean and fossil generation in the form of highly efficient combined-cycle gas turbine plants to complement the increasing amount of renewables that will be brought into the system.” Having said that, Kevin points out that diversity is best. “If you put all your eggs – whether that’s nuclear, wind, gas or coal – in one basket and something goes wrong, then you’re in trouble.”

“There's no such thing as ‘lower level’”

Fast facts:
In 2011 Kevin accepted an invitation to appear on reality TV show Undercover Boss. While he admits he found it difficult, especially watching himself on screen and having to pretend to be someone else, ultimately it was a rewarding experience. He described it as “incredibly insightful” and “a real eye opener”. 

Kevin is someone who has achieved success through a strong attitude and work ethic, in spite of only possessing basic qualifications when he started out in the sector. As a leader today, he admires these qualities in others. “When I see people do well and apply themselves, it gives me the biggest thrill.”

To get the best out of his team, he never asks anybody to do anything he hasn’t done or wouldn’t do, and he surrounds himself with people that can help ‘fill the blanks’. “There’s no such thing as ‘lower level’ because you need all parts of the machine to work to make it happen.”