When Don Meiners was a sophomore in high school, he wanted to be a commercial artist. Instead, he studied electrical engineering at Mississippi State University in Starkville and parlayed his education and experience into a 39-year career with Entergy. He will retire this summer as president and COO of Entergy Mississippi in Jackson.
“I fell into being an electrical engineer by default,” said Meiners, a native of Hazlehurst. “My dad, Oscar Meiners, was in the butane business and in that business, things slowed down in the summertime. Around 1950, my dad started fooling around with televisions. There were no television stations in Mississippi at that time so he put up a tall antenna at our house and we were able to get a New Orleans station. That led him to start selling tall antennas and TV sets.”
“He thought it would be a good idea if I could study television since it was a new field,” Meiners said. “On career day, the dean of the engineering school at Mississippi State University told me to study electrical engineering if I wanted to work with televisions. So that’s what led me to engineering.”
After Don Meiners graduated from MSU in 1957, he joined the U.S. Army.
“When I got out of the Army, I was really looking for a way to get back into Mississippi,” he said. “I went to work for the power company in the marketing division because I thought it might be a platform to find a more permanent career in Mississippi. But the power company moved me about once a year for the first four or five years of my career and by then, I was on the move and never looked for anything else.”
In 1960, Meiners, a licensed professional engineer, joined Entergy, formerly Mississippi Power & Light Co., as a residential salesman. In 1968, he became a corporate officer and later senior vice president of corporate operations before moving to New Orleans in 1987. He held various positions within Entergy Corp., including president of Louisiana Power & Light and New Orleans Public Service, president of Entergy Services Inc., System Fuels Inc., and ELECTEC Inc., all in New Orleans. He returned to Entergy Mississippi as president on Jan. 1, 1992.
“There haven’t been any real obstacles along the way,” Meiners said. “Things have moved along rather smoothly for me. The only obstacle, I suppose, has been my own impatience. When I was younger, I thought I should have been an officer in the company by the time I was 40. I think it happened when I was 42. But so many people have been good to me, given me opportunities, tutored me, enabled and empowered me.”
His most unusual assignment was when he was “on loan” to the second International Ballet Competition.
“The International Ballet Competition had gotten into financial trouble and was about to not make it,” he said. “If the second competition didn’t happen, none of the others would follow.”
Meiners located people who knew quite a bit about ballet and “all I had to do was use some good management and leadership skills,” he said.
STEPPING DOWN — BUT NOT OUT
Family and pending deregulation are primary reasons Meiners decided to retire early, he said.
“Family is one of the reasons I decided to retire now instead of 16 months from now,” he said. “Over the last several years, we’ve lost my wife’s two parents and my mother. I want to spend time with my wife, our sons and their families and my father, who is now 90.”
His elder son, Charles Meiners, is an accountant with an electrical supply house in Memphis, and has daughters Hannah, 4, and Mallory, 1. His son, Christopher Meiners, is a stockbroker in Ridgeland.
Meiners said there’s no doubt that retail competition will occur. It’s only a matter of when, he said.
“It wouldn’t make sense for me to lay a foundation on which to build a house for someone else to come along and have to build it,” he said. “This way, Carolyn Shanks, my replacement, will have an opportunity to build that foundation, take ownership in it and build a house on it herself.”
Watching Mississippi grow economically has been among the highlights of his career at Entergy, he said.
“Entergy has been a vital economic development force in bringing in industry,” he said. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed helping Mississippi grow economically in what role I’ve had to play.”
In addition to traveling to MSU sporting events, going antique shopping with his wife, Patricia Stone Meiners, playing tennis and golf, Meiners will probably pick up some art supplies and take an art course or two.
“I still have a real passion to learn things,” he said. “I have a few church and civic jobs to finish up. After a year, I’m going to pause and see how well things are going and whether or not I want to do something on a regular basis — either volunteer or otherwise.”