November 02, 2022
Longtime Cedarburg utility GM journeys into retirement
By: Sharon Wolf
This article was first published by MEUW in the Live Lines newsletter, Volume 71, Issue 11.
“Enjoy the journey — not just the destination,” advises Dale Lythjohan, former general manager of Cedarburg Light & Water, when asked to reflect back on his nearly 40-year utility career. Looking back, he says it seemed to go by in the blink of an eye.
Dale’s career started right out of college when he went to work for Wisconsin Power & Light Company (WP&L, now part of Alliant Energy) in 1983. Working as a staff engineer, he learned a lot about the utility business. “When you first come out of college, you think you know everything. Later in life you learn how little you know,” he jokes. After several years, Dale accepted an opportunity to work at the municipal utility in Sheboygan Falls. While it wasn’t a long-term fit, Dale credits that experience to exposing him to what a municipal utility was all about.
In 1993, an opportunity in Cedarburg became available. At that time, he and his wife Barbara, were looking for a place to raise their children and establish roots. Dale assumed the general manager role for Cedarburg Light & Water (CL&W), a role he’s held for 29 years.
Dale recalls that earlier in his career, the people out in the field wore a lot of different “hats.” Over the past 30+ years, because of the specialized training required for positions, they hold more specialized roles. For example, CL&W’s water and electric staff are no longer as able to cross train because of the safety and technical requirements of their roles.
What hasn’t changed, he says, is CL&W’s commitment to customers and employees. “We’re never going to make a decision that favors one over the other,” he says. “We make sure the customer is well-served and employees are treated fairly. This has allowed us to have very little turnover.” In fact, in its 121-year history, Dale was only the fourth general manager.
It’s the people that he’s worked with and met during his career that stand out as the most memorable part. “I was the second-youngest person when I came here,” he remembers. “Over the years, I’ve had a chance to work with a lot of great people and a very positive utility commission to run the utility appropriately.” He also celebrates the fact that, throughout his career, his team remained safe and sound. Although there was one significant lost-time accident on his team, very fortunately, the employee recovered and returned to work.
Dale offers the following advice to people entering the utility industry: Understand you’re not always going to be right. Be willing to admit when you don’t know something. Don’t overly sweat the little stuff — sometimes we get too caught up in that.
As an avid upland game hunter (pheasants, grouse, upland birds), fall is Dale’s favorite season. When he retires in November, Dale plans to spend more time with his dog flushing out birds. He also enjoys woodworking and says he’s been “accused” of playing golf!
He and Barbara are planning to spend half the year at their second home in Arizona, where he hopes that his three adult daughters will visit. Dale also plans to look for ways to volunteer and help out. “I have an ongoing passion to mentor the next leaders in the municipal world. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like yet, but I will do something,” he promises.
Ben Collins is already in place to take over the reins from Dale. They’re currently working together to ensure a smooth transition.
“I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work in the industry,” Dale says. I’ve met a lot of great people through MEUW and WPPI. Hopefully the relationships can continue.
Again, he stresses the importance of enjoying the journey. “My career spanned 40 years. It’s a fairly long time, but seems like only yesterday I was bringing a box of stuff to WP&L as a young engineer!”