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AGL CEO Takes Blame for Billing Fiasco
Walter Higgins, CEO of AGL Resources Inc., stood and faced themusic recently at the annual shareholders meeting in Atlanta asstock owners voiced their opinions concerning AGL Resources’subsidiary Atlanta Gas Light’s (AGL) over-billing controversy. TheGeorgia Public Service Commission and AGL settled the issue earlierthis month, with AGL agreeing to alter its billing methods andrefund $14.5 million to customers. The incident enraged manypeople, including one shareholder who demanded Higgins’resignation.
“It happened on my watch, and it is an intolerable mistake.There’s no sidestepping that,” Higgins said in an apology to theshareholders.
Yet many at the meeting demonstrated loyalty to the CEO. “Thiswon’t be the last hiccup,” said Raymond Riddle, and AGL Resourcesboard member. “He’s plowing new ground.”
Higgins said his future is tied to the company’s board ofdirectors. They could “.fire me or take it out of my pay.”
His salary is tied heavily to the company’s performance, so itmight be cut anyway. AGL Resources reported its earnings for thequarter ending Dec. 31 1998 on Thursday. Consolidated net incomewas $15.9 million, down $9.8 million from the same period of 1997.The company said the primary factor for the decrease was a lossincurred from a joint gas marketing venture with Sonat Inc., whichdrained $4.1 million. For the same quarter in 1997, the venturenetted $2.1 million in earnings.
“We’re very disappointed with the results of the natural gasmarketing venture with Sonat,” Higgins said. “We are evaluatingwhether to continue our investment in the [Sonat venture]. Our[agreement] provides an option to exit the business on favorableterms.”
The company also had troubles overcoming warm temperatures.Revenues for this quarter were down $75.2 million from 1997 to$323.9 million. Operating margins fell from 145.1 million in theyear-ago quarter to $136.9 million for the quarter ended Dec. 31.
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