Christine Keck says the theme of her life is that it’s nonlinear. Looking back, her journey has taken many unexpected turns that ultimately led to her current position as the director of federal government affairs with Vectren and Energy Systems Group.
“If you charted out my career — I don’t know that we would write this in a textbook of how to do what I do — my career path is not linear,” says Keck. “It will look like an odd career path.”
This tendency for Keck to move with life’s surprises can be traced back to her college days. A transfer student from McGill University, Montreal, Canada, to Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, her ultimate goal was to continue to law school. However, Keck chose to go in a different direction at the last minute.
Around 1996, after moving around with her husband Jim Keck’s job in the hotel management industry, Keck moved back to the area where she joined Old National Bank. She had worked for the bank in college as a teller and rejoined through its management training program.
She eventually shifted toward corporate lending, which was her primary focus at the bank and would give her relevant experience needed in her future positions with ESG and Vectren.
“When I’m going into a loan committee, I’m really there advocating for the customer — that they need this line of credit to expand their business or start up their business,” she says. “I’m in that forum then advocating for the customer while still being an advocate for the bank. That background really prepared me for what I do now.”
Keck was on track to excel to the top of Old National. Then, in October 2008, she left her role with the company to join Energy Systems Group (ESG) — one of Vectren’s subsidiary companies — as the director of strategy and business development.
She says the decision was not an easy one. In fact, it is the biggest decision she has made so far in her professional life. Earlier that same year, a longtime friend and officer at ESG Lawrence Roth approached Keck about a new role with the company.
“I was highly immersed in my work for the bank and our clients, incredibly proud of the bank’s leadership team and our colleagues, and couldn’t really envision making a change,” she says. “Over the next several months, I began to do a lot of industry research and a lot of praying and thoughtful consideration over what a career change like this might entail. Increasingly as I did this, I was really drawn to the opportunity and the possibilities that a move like this could bring, especially given how important — how essential and fundamental to our lives — energy and the energy industry is.”
After her transition to ESG and with her work focused on renewable and federal energy projects, the role quickly evolved into a government relations position. In 2011, ESG developed an actual position for a director of government relations, which Keck took over. As a result, she started closely working with colleagues in Vectren’s government relations area. Then, in the fall of 2013, Keck became the director of federal government affairs for Vectren, while maintaining her role with ESG.
She says it’s like having two jobs — she has two business cards and email addresses (one from ESG and one from Vectren) to prove it. Walk into her office and visitors will see four different computer screens on her desk — two for her work at ESG and two for Vectren.
“People always come up to my office and say, ‘Are you a day trader? Why do you have all these screens?’” says Keck.
The largest portion of her position is advocating on behalf of ESG and Vectren to federal representatives about the companies’ initiatives like energy efficiency and sustainable infrastructure projects. A core function of ESG also is energy savings performance contracting, an audit in existing government facilities as well as other institutions, like K-12 schools, of everything creating a major utility spend — lighting, windows, heating and air, and water systems. Through the energy savings performance contracting, the company determines opportunities to upgrade infrastructure to make it more energy efficient. The savings — guaranteed by the company — from the increased efficiency then pay for the project.
Part of advocating on behalf of the companies means monthly trips to Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill where she meets with members of Congress and their staff — a process she likens to speed dating. Members of Congress and staffers can have 10 or more meetings in a day with people like Keck. Each person typically only has 30 minutes maximum.
“They’re hearing from all different people from all walks of life on all different issues all day, running the gamut from animal rescue groups and tax reform to you name it,” she says. “It’s everybody and everything.”
Making connections, establishing rapport, creating understanding, tying in to constituents, and asking for what she needs, has been a process developed over time and with practice for Keck.
“She’s one of those people you could call out of a crowd of 10,000 people to give an impromptu speech, and she would have no trouble,” says Jim Keck. “She would have no fear.”
She admits, however, it can be intimidating to go in knowing a member of Congress already is extremely well versed on the issue. She has found herself in meetings being asked the hard questions. “Why is it the role of the federal government to support this particular tax measure?” “Why is that proper policy for the federal government?” She has to have an answer, one that is supportable and also addresses where they’re coming from.
“She can really reach high, knows a lot of people, and has great political instincts,” says Jennifer Schafer, the executive director of the Federal Performance Contracting Coalition. “She is able to secure meetings at the highest level. She’s dogged in pursuit of her companies’ goals.”
Building rapport, relationships, and connections is at the core of everything Keck does, through all of her path’s many twists and turns.
“Christine is adept at rallying stakeholders behind a proposal or issue, which is essential to impacting public policy outcomes,” says Stefan Bailey, a managing director of Prime Policy Group, a public affairs agency that works closely with Vectren. “Christine has reinforced for me the importance of being persistent in bringing people together around a common cause.”
Aside from the connections and relationships she builds, it’s the environment that truly inspires Keck. She says there’s not a single time — even in the midst of a snowstorm — she has visited Capitol Hill and hasn’t been in awe of her surroundings. The key to her job is respecting the institution, the roles, the service, and the process.
“It’s inspiring to me every single time, and I think that’s important,” says Keck. “I respect it, and that give me a lot of enthusiasm for what I do. It’s very exciting to be able to be a part of this and to be a small voice in the process of where our nation is going on these really important issues.”
For more information on Energy Systems Group, call 812-471-5000 or visit energysystemsgroup.com
For more information on Vectren, call 800-227-1376 or visit vectren.com.