by Leo Adam Biga
Eugene (Gene) Padgett has always been a numbers guy. Since completing a stint in the U.S. Navy and graduating from an Historically Black College, he applied his aptitude for digits to a career in accounting. After years crunching numbers in various industries around the country he became Senior Vice President, Finance and Chief Accounting Officer for Valmont Industries Inc. on November 1, 2023.
Even though, one of his former employers, Duke Energy, is a major client of Valmont’s, he was not familiar with the Nebraska-based company. Having worked for large employers before, such as Duke, Padgett found attractive the prospect of joining Valmont, a leading global provider of engineered products and services for infrastructure development and irrigation equipment and services for agriculture.
“It was three things,” he said that made him want to work for Valmont. “One was the size of the company.
Valmont’s a very big company. Two was the global footprint – the opportunity to work internationally.
And third, the story behind their whole environment and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) program. A lot of the things we do, benefit global sustainability, whether that’s infrastructure with respect to utilities and aging power grids, or cell phone towers or lights on the freeway. Coupled with that, is the agricultural piece – getting water supplies to water scarce places around the world to feed the growing population. All those things really intrigued me.”
Padgett felt his experience fits the needs of Valmont as it looks to bring in, new perspectives from experts who’ve learned to pivot in fluid times.
“I’ve seen a lot. The companies I’ve been at, are pretty large with a lot of things going on. I’ve been through cycles, both up and down, and learned how to navigate through those tough times or good times. I think the marriage of my experience and the need to bring in a fresh set of eyes from the outside, worked perfectly. There’s a lot of folks at Valmont who have been here for a long time and are used to doing things a certain way. I’m not going to be making changes wholesale. I need to build relationships, understand folks, then I can have the ability to influence change.”
Valmont is tasking him with implementing advanced technology and automation to streamline processes, redeploy capital, and strategically position talent.
“It’s really to be transformative,” he said. “Valmont is a 75-year-old company and we’ve grown by buying a lot of other companies. But a lot of those systems we have, don’t talk to one another. We need to put in tools, to get us all on the same system, or at least put in bridges so the infrastructure group can talk to the agriculture group, et cetera.”
The ability to lead others is part of his skill set.
“The first thing I learned about leadership is that it’s hard. You have a lot of people who are really good at their work. Then they get promoted to leadership positions; they struggle because the skill set that’s required to be a good leader is a lot different than the skill set you need to be an individual contributor.”
He applies tenets learned from a leadership development program he graduated from.
“I’ve learned it’s about building trusting relationships. It requires having open, honest conversations, getting feedback, even if it’s negative, in real time. You must manage each person individually. So, the way I manage one person cannot be the same way I manage another person. You’ve really got to understand them on a personal level. Then you can get the most out of them.”
Padgett grew up in a poor, single mother-led household in Rochester, New York. Even though he attended a school for the arts there, his fluency in math set his sights on studying accounting. But his family didn’t have the means to pay his way to college. His pathway to higher education came through a program in which he did one year of active-duty service with the U.S. Navy in return for attending the college of his choice. He chose Prairie View A&M. The program required him to do three years of reserve service while he studied business.
He’s proud to be a first-generation college graduate.
“At the time, I didn’t realize how significant it was. But as I’ve gone through my career and seen my children (he’s married with children) and nieces and nephews, follow that same path, I was a trailblazer in changing the trajectory of my family going forward.”
The experience of going away for college and having that military background has paid dividends.
“You meet folks from all over the country and from different walks of life. It allows you to navigate and build friendships with people that you normally would not interact with. Not to get philosophical, but I think that one of the issues we have in the country, is that we don’t have shared, common experiences like we used to.”
His Naval experience instilled discipline that proved helpful, once he got to college and into his career.
“You really had to be a master of time management, and self-discipline. Even when I got to college with the freedom and flexibility that came with being on campus, getting my work done and everything came easy because I had that accountability ingrained in me.”
His corporate career began with Price Waterhouse Coopers in his hometown. He moved strategically over the next two-plus decades, his last stop before Valmont being Enbridge (formerly Spectra Energy Corporation) in Houston, Texas.
Spectra had spun off from Duke Energy, where he worked from 1999 to 2007. He was part of the team that made the spinoff and the IPO (Initial Public Offering).
“Then I got put on the CFO succession plan. For about three years I was moving to a different role under the CFO umbrella. I did operational accounting, corporate accounting, and tax accounting.”
His next role was going to be treasurer when Canada-based Enbridge bought Spectra. Instead of moving to Calgary he opted to take a buyout.
Becoming a CFO is still his ultimate goal, but he doesn’t obsess over it.
“A lot of times we get hung up on the goals. If we don’t reach it, then it feels like a failure. I don’t think that way at all. If l had a fruitful career, and never get there, then I still consider it a success.”
Padgett enjoys balancing his corporate career with community involvement. In Houston, his volunteer activities included serving on the board of Target Hunger, a nonprofit addressing food insecurity. He can relate.
“I know there were times when my mother used food banks.”
He’s mentored several boys and he anticipates doing the same in Omaha.
“I really like mentoring young men of color. Growing up in a single mother household, not having that father figure, I can kind of relate to the struggles of those boys generally going through.”
He believes when young men of color can shadow or intern with someone who looks like them, it opens their eyes to opportunities beyond what they see on television.
He’s still often the only person in color in the C-suite. “At times, being in those situations, can be challenging.
But for the most part, I kind of relish it. I don’t mind having those conversations to break down barriers and explain that we’re very much alike. We all want the same things – prosperity, health, our kids raised in a great community. I don’t want to be the voice of the Black community, but I can be a bridge to overcome misconceptions.”
In Texas, he was also active in the North Harris County Educational Developmental Foundation, which gives mentorships and scholarships to underserved students. Mentors helped pave his own way. Working with boys today is his way of paying forward what he was given.
“The late Sidney Howard Credle, then chair of the Department of Accounting & Information Systems at Prairie View, “really took a liking to me,” he said. “He told me, ‘You need to be in public accounting, and you need to start your career at Price Waterhouse. ‘He was a Price Waterhouse alum. He made some calls to some folks in New York, and they flew me up to interview me and offered me the job on the spot. He was definitely, a big catalyst to my career.
“The then-CEO at Spectra, Greg Ebel, was a good mentor. Spectra put together a formalized mentor-mentee program and luckily, I got matched with the CEO. Even after the formal program ended, he was still a great sounding board and a good mentor. I still reach out to him to this day.”
Padgett’s community service down South extended to serving as president of the Houston Chapter of the
National Association of Black Accountants and forming The Black Professionals Alliance, a consortium of prominent professional affinity organizations. BPA’s annual holiday event drew thousands of Black professionals from different fields.
“Hopefully if there’s’ a deep Black professional community here in Omaha that’s something I’d like to eventually recreate here.”
Padgett is a big believer in the power of networking.
“There’s a lot of synergies – not just the organizations themselves, but employee resource groups, Black fraternities, and sororities. There’s a lot of ways for us to get scaled by bringing those groups into the same room.”
While in Houston he also tried his hand in some entrepreneurial ventures, owning a paint and wine studio franchise, he later sold and forming a real estate investment firm, TAG Capital Holdings, that he still has.
“During the pandemic I ended up buying three properties. Interest rates were low, cash was available. I like to do some of the renovations myself. That allows me to get a little creative.”
He expects to find some rental properties in Omaha.
He’s also part owner of the vodka brand GO3 Vodka (General Orders No. 3). It takes its name from the General Order read by U.S. Army General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865, also known as Juneteenth, informing the people of Texas that enslaved people were now free.
“We launched the brand Juneteenth weekend this year 2022, in Houston,” said Padgett. “We give 8.65 percent of net proceeds back to HBCUs.”
Now that he’s made Omaha his new home, Padgett said, “I’m trying to get connected with the community and where I can plug myself in. I’d like to think that what I did in Houston was impactful and hopefully I can repeat that here. I’m really looking forward to learning and immersing myself in the community and being a part of what grows out of it.”
His early impressions of Nebraskans are positive.
“The folks I have met have been very genuine, friendly, kind, helpful. There’s a lot to be said for Midwestern values.”