Several months after Hurricane Katrina crushed the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mississippi Power Company spokesperson Kurt Brautigam began mulling his goals and dreams.
Brautigam was 48 years old, single, with a long history of public relations and marketing experience in the healthcare and utilities industries. He had options. Perhaps, he thought, it was time for a life transition. “An event like Katrina makes you take stock of your life,” he said.said.
After the Category Four storm washed ashore, Brautigam was the communications point person when all of Mississippi Power’s 195,000 customers in a 23-county service area lost electricity. With the help of more than 12,000 outside workers, service was restored within 12 days to all of the company’s customers who could receive it. For its efforts, the company was recognized with the 2006 Edison Award, the electric utility industry’s highest honor. .
“I was so fortunate because my house received minimal damage and I was able to live in it after the storm, and I’d had a wonderful job with a remarkable company for eight years and enjoyed many opportunities to do things I never would have imagined,” he said.
Then Brautigam was presented with an opportunity he couldn’t ignore. His alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, created a distinguished visiting lecturer position to replace a departing public relations professor.
Brautigam, who has a bachelor’s degree in radio, film and TV production and a master’s degree in public relations from Southern Miss, had taught classes on the Hattiesburg campus in the late 1980s. He applied for and got the job.
“It was a perfect opportunity for me,” he said. “Teaching college has always been in the back of my mind and it seems the timing is right for the coming together of many really good things. Hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute something worthwhile to the school and the students.”
Back to the private sector
Also in mid-July, Nick Walters announced he was leaving the federally appointed position of state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and returning to the private sector.
“Like our founders, I believe that you go in and do your time and go back out and live with what you did,” said Walters. “I’d been involved in public/private partnership projects for five and a half years on the public side. I know doggone well that you cannot have growth or development or a successful venture if the public and private folks don’t work together. Each side has a specific role and these two very different entities can work beautifully together. Now I’ll do that from the private sector side.”
Walters said the timing was right “with the rebuilding efforts going on post Katrina and with other groups trying to settle in Mississippi.”
Bev Smallwood, a Hattiesburg-based executive coach and author of the upcoming book, “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me: 10 Choices After Tragedy that Make or Break the Rest of Your Life,” said there’s definitely a trend among both executives and employees to emphasize meaningful work rather than simply moving to the next rung on the corporate ladder benefiting from the status and financial gain it brings.
“People are focusing more on making a difference than making a buck,” she said. “Adversity often precipitates decisions to make changes. In fact, adversity often comes bearing gifts. When a Katrina or another ‘life storm’ happens, it becomes more apparent what’s really important in life. Pretty quickly, the real priorities become apparent and some of the things that had previously seemed important become accurately defined as ‘small stuff.’
“After the crisis passes, and a person has done whatever was necessary to weather (the life storm), some retain the courage to act on their newfound insights and make significant changes in life. People either come out of tragedy with a new strength and renewed commitment to fulfill dreams and life purpose, or they let it destroy them. Wise people make the choice to learn from it and to have the courage to act on what they’ve learned about themselves.”
Executives who make life-changing decisions “weigh out what’s most important, what they can do potentially, what they will lose or risk losing in the change and how they will deal with those losses,” she said. “They put contingency plans and support systems in place (and) they have the courage to step on out without having all the answers.”
Brautigam, who is establishing KRB Communications, a private consulting firm that will, among other services, provide crisis communications counseling, admitted the decision to change careers was “very, very tough, of course.”
“I’ve loved my job and my time here,” he said. “But I’m very excited about this new direction in my life and hope it will be equally rewarding.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.