Consumers Energy has a rich history of caring for our coworkers and a culture that values safety.  Listen as I talk with Justin Hobart about what the CE Memorial day means to him.

Retirement Planning with Kendra Grob Me You Us

Confused about alphabet soup that is your retirement plan?  Want to know what it all means?  Kendra Grob, Manager of Retirement Plans, at Consumers Energy breaks it down for us.
  1. Retirement Planning with Kendra Grob
  2. Double Bias: Black and Gay with Michael Belton
  3. I Did Not "Turn Gay" with Ben Annen
  4. Be Who You Are with Greg Lyles
  5. Memorial Day with Jon DeBoe

William Krieger 

The views and opinions of the guests of the Me You Us podcast do not represent the views and opinions of Consumers Energy. Hello, everyone and welcome to Me You Us, a wellbeing podcast. It’s another wellbeing Wednesday here at Consumers Energy. And I’m your host Bill Krieger. Today, my guest is Justin Hobart. He’s a senior engineering lead here at Consumers Energy. So Justin, if you’d introduce yourself, we’ll get the conversation started.

Justin Hobart 

Yeah. Thank you, Bill. I really appreciate it. Excited to be on today. Yeah, my name is Justin Hobart. Like you said, Senior Engineer lead. Actually, I’m going to be 13 years with the company here on this month. So it flies by so fast. In the engineering department, for quite a large chunk of that, but outside of work, I got married last year. My wife and I live in Cadillac Michigan, and we got a little puppy. Now she’s a big, big dog, but always going to be a puppy to me, named Polly. So yeah, just outside of work, just enjoy the outdoors and collecting things and being a little bit of a nerd, I guess with like, may the fourth and Star Wars and all that kind of stuff.

William Krieger 

So I gotta be honest with you, Justin, my wife, and I have watched every Star Wars movie probably five times. So totally with you on that one. If that makes me a nerd then I’m a nerd. So let’s talk a little bit about what you do senior engineer lead. You know, I’ve been a consumer for 28 years and I’m still deciphering what people actually do for a living. So if you can maybe talk the audience a little bit about what you do, and how that impacts Consumers overall.

Justin Hobart 

Yes, so I’m a senior engineer lead in the low voltage distribution engineering group. And what we do is, it’s, for my area, it’s in our group, it’s the electric side of the business. And we do, we take projects that come in from either residential, industrial, commercial, planning work, rehab, rehabilitation work on the system, and we design up make the drawings, check you know that everything’s being designed to our standards, you know, meeting the criteria, in that it’s safe, reliable, and the customer is going to be happy at the end of the day, that they’re going to not have issues with whatever, whatever they’re installing on our system. So I got a handful of designers and engineers that work with me on my team in the Cadillac, Big Rapids and Ludington area. And so, we make the prints, check easements, right of way loading, so verifying what the customer is installing on their system, and then we size appropriately all the poles, wires, transformers to make their electric a reality, I guess.

William Krieger 

To give them the best possible interaction with us that they can have. Right?

Justin Hobart 

Absolutely. Customer interaction and happy customers. Happy, happy life.

William Krieger 

So, a couple of things. One, first of all, congratulations on your anniversary here at Consumers Energy. You know, 13 years that’s quite a while. Uh, well, I you know, I got a I’ll have to play the one up you game. This is my 28th year at Consumers Energy. So been loving it the whole time I’ve been here it sounds like you’re enjoying it as well.

Justin Hobart 

Oh, absolutely. Starting I mean, this was the first I call it my big boy job. But my first big job outside of college. And I started right with the company in the engineering entry program right out of college. I am a Western Bronco so I graduated in 2009 from there with my electrical engineering degree. And then into the engineering Entry Program, where they take all the new engineers, and they rotate them through different departments and locations across the state. So you can get a good grasp on where you know what department what type of work makes sense to you and really, you know, you can thrive in and then just seeing different areas of the state because everywhere is just so different when you start going hanging out to some of these smaller service centers up in the north or being in a more metro area like Flint, or Grand Rapids. So I traveled all over the state, I was in Jackson, Grand Rapids, ended up in Bay City, Michigan. I’m originally from Northeast Michigan and really just, I always loved that side. I mean, Lake Huron, gotta be my favorite great lake. And I know, I’ll get some flak for that, but especially now that I’m on the west side. But I was three, four years in, in Bay City all in, in the once I got out of the engineering entry program, I was fully in the low voltage distribution design group, it changed names a few times we were distribution planning and performance, but with different organizational restructuring and moving of departments, we ended up in LVD design as the name and, and I’ve really just, it I love the interaction with the customer. And I love the mathematical and technical side of being able to take, you know, their vision of what they want in their house or in whatever business they’re designing or wanting to have, being able to make sure that they’re getting everything they need and the best reliability that that they can have. And then, once I was in Bay City, I got the opportunity to go to Traverse City and it was really a no brainer there for me, as my families had we have a furniture store that my families had. It started in Oscoda, Michigan, but we also had one in Traverse City. So, I spent a lot of time in my past over there so when the opportunity came up I jumped at it. And I’ve been over on the west side, it’s been five, six years. I did do a small stint in operations that really, I think helped me round my knowledge as an engineer to be able to make the best designs possible. Because one of our main customers in our design group isn’t just the homeowner or the requesting customer for the job but it’s our crews. And one of the biggest things we have to do is build the relationship in the trust, in the commitment. And it really all ties in the safety on the end of the engineering side. So it really opened my eyes up to a different part of design work out through that experience.

William Krieger 

And that’s interesting to me, because I did spend some time in the design group back in the day when we had CESs, and now it’s the CEM Group. So we changed names a lot. But I was a designer for a number of years, and then became a field leader, and kind of saw that interaction between the design group and the field and how sometimes it can be frustrating. And it reminded me of, so my dad worked for General Motors for 25 years, he worked the line was a member of Local 652. And I remember he would come home at night at the dinner table and he will be complaining that you know, we got this new engineer and he’s telling me that the machine can do this when I know it can’t and you know he’s down there telling me to make it happen. And we go to do it, and everything falls apart, if he would have just listened to me, we could have gotten this done. And that kind of echoed in my in my career here at Consumers. So that was always very important to have those two groups work together because we do have standards that have to be met. But we do have these guys and gals with all this amazing knowledge in the field. And when you put those two things together, we are unstoppable. So I know that we’ve come from an us and them kind of group to a we group over the years that I’ve been here and that’s what I want to talk about. So you know, today is Consumers Energy’s Memorial Day where we recognize those folks here at Consumers Energy who have given the ultimate sacrifice at work and the audience can’t see this. But as I look at you and I look at your background, you have our trust caring and commitment coin with the number 208 in it. So I know that safety definitely means something you, I have my coin right here in my office and I take it with me wherever I go. But let’s talk a little bit about that because you did mention safety in engineering and how all those things come together. So, you know first I know that you were part of our safety culture team. Can you talk a little bit about that and where your passion for safety comes in?

Justin Hobart 

Absolutely. I am currently a part time member of the safety culture team (SCT) and it’s, it’s one of my favorite parts of the job. Safety is so ingrained in everything that that I do. And it, it plays such a large role either when I’m wearing my SCT hat, and I’m, you know, working through some of the tools that the safety culture team can provide and help in building the culture, and solving some of the major cultural issues that we have. Or if I’m at the desk, and you know, creating a design or helping a designer make a safe design for our crews. Because it, it, it started with me, I mean, I’m from a small business background with my family. And it really started there, because if one person gets hurt, or injured or goes down, that disrupts the whole, the whole system, being we were really small, like doing furniture deliveries, it was myself and my dad, when I was really young. And there’s nothing you can do by yourself, really. And so it was it was constantly, you know, lifting things in the proper way so you don’t hurt yourself because we got to do this over and over and over. And then in college, when you’re in engineering, you really start thinking of, you know, safety on a whole and ethics behind what you’re designing. And all the safety precautions, you have to think through so that whatever you’re putting your time and effort into, is safe for everybody else that’s impacted by what you’re doing. When I moved to Traverse City in the engineering, I got involved with the local safety, health and guidance team. And it really just lit a spark, where I went from just a general member to the co-chair. And then I took the safety health and guidance team coach role, where I got to mentor a couple different teams in the north, and just dive more into the different struggles that we have. Because it’s very interesting to me that we can have the same types of incidents, but every different spot you go, has …no situation is the same. So the solutions, hard to make a big, large sweeping solution when Boyne is different than Grand Rapids. You know, and it’s like that across the state. But being in Traverse City, you know, and on in 2018, it just really hit home with me with our, the fatality that we had up there. And it really just made me really start thinking deeper into the whole safety part of what I get to do. Because before it was like it was very important. But it was the moment that it just clicked in my mind that I cannot imagine being a family member or having someone in my, you know, being in the shoes of his wife and family. And it really lit the fire in me and that’s when I started getting more involved with the safety culture team. And I was able to become a part time member of that team. And I carry my coin with me every day. And I share the same message with everybody because it’s one of my favorite things to talk about. I love talking about safety. Because you can do one little thing, you can stop somebody that’s going to trip over a cord or something they might not see – a wet floor – or it can one little thing, put on your safety glasses, you forgot to grab those. And it can make a whole world of difference. And it could mean the difference on where you land. When you have a safety incident because we don’t know if it’s going to be a minor injury, major injury, or heaven forbid a fatality.

William Krieger 

A couple of things. Justin, I want to kind of walk it back just a little bit. First of all, so you said something very interesting, kind of at the beginning, where you talked about how safety’s is something that’s ingrained in you. And it’s a part of it’s part of what we do. It’s like part of our culture here at Consumers Energy and I had the pleasure of talking with Pete Matrulnola out of the gas department a few months back and we were talking about safety. And you know, one of the things we talked about was it the beginning of our safety journey. So you know I’ve been here for a long time. And I remember that when someone would get hurt many times the thought process at that time was, well, you know, this is a dangerous profession, you know, people are going to get hurt. And we’ve gone from that to, yeah, it’s a dangerous profession, but people don’t have to get hurt. And when we started this journey down the road of safety, and really taking a look at how we do things, at first it felt kind of bolt on, like it was this extra thing that we had to do. And I think he just said it so brilliantly that it’s ingrained in us. It’s our culture, it’s, it’s how we do business. So safety isn’t an either or it’s a part of. And I think that’s just so important for our audience to understand. The other thing was, we talked about the coin a couple of times. And so again, for the folks in the audience who don’t know, our safety culture team has produced a coin, it’s a challenge coin. And on it is trusting caring and commitment, but also says never forget, and it says 208, and the 208 stands for the 208 coworkers that we have lost in our over 135-year history as a company. And it’s, you know, as a reminder, every day when we go out there, that we don’t ever want to have to create a new coin, with any new number on it that these are the people who paid the price so that we don’t have to. So can you talk a little bit about that coin? And what that means to you?

Justin Hobart 

Yeah, I, I carry the coin, I have the I have the 205 and the 208, I keep them both with me, because they both mean, it just means the world to me to be able to, to have them and then being able to pull them out and explain it ends up making the world a difference. Because the 208 that we have on the coin, like you said, is the people who have paid the ultimate price here at Consumers Energy, but on the coin, it’s got it’s the 208 wrapped in a red vine. Where that’s showing that, you know, we’re never going to forget those 208. But we’re, we’re making a commitment to never again.

William Krieger 

Justin, let’s talk about the wall for a second because many of our listeners may not know what the wall is. And as you know, we are here on Consumers Energy’s Memorial Day, that wall is pretty significant. And so could you explain what the wall is and what’s on it?

Justin Hobart 

Yeah, so the wall, today it’s announced that the wall is going to continue to be, to get traveled around cross the state, so people have access to it. But it was a wall made with all of the 208 names listed on the wall. And on the backside, there’s pictures and the history of the company. And this wall, it’s a pretty large installation. And it’s got all of the names listed on it from the first to the last, it drives you towards an experience of just the emotion and where we are and where we’ve been. Because it’s, we can’t move forward without acknowledging and accepting and just being aware of what all happened before. And it’s a testament to the names, so we never forget them. But it’s also helping to move and guide us in the future to pay respect to those to those people. So the wall currently sits in Jackson, for the longest time as we moved through COVID, we were unable to move it around to different locations. And it’s super exciting that it gets moved around because the reading of the names. And just the impact of seeing it in person is just unparalleled. I mean, we had the names listed on a poster before. But the impact of seeing it on the wall is just outstanding.

William Krieger 

Well, and I think the important thing to remember too is we have a coin with a number on it. And we have a wall with names on it. But the number isn’t just a number. And the names aren’t just names. We know the stories of all 208 people and they were, you know, brothers, sisters, you know, they all connected with somebody somehow. And so to be able to just see it and hear it and understand and then look at the pictures and some of the stories behind those. It’s just very moving, emotional, but also very inspirational in way like you said, to kind of move us forward to not put another name on the wall. And as you mentioned, there is no more room on the wall for another name.

Justin Hobart 

Because there’s not going to be another name put on it. And that’s, you know, our goal to you know, in that’s, you know, and I bring it back to what, you know, safety really means to me is like, I don’t want anyone to ever have to leave work different than they came to work. Because it’s, we work to be able to enjoy ourselves and our time and be with our family and loved ones. And, you know, that’s really why there’s no more room on the wall. Because we don’t have the opportunity, you know, there’s, we’re working to make sure that doesn’t happen. And that’s what our safety culture, our safety program our safe…..the company is number one safety. And that’s why another name’s never going to get added to that wall because we’re diligently focused and working on safety here at the company.

William Krieger 

You know, is there anything that comes to mind, I know that you mentioned 2018. And again, for our listeners that aren’t familiar, in 2018, we did lose one of our coworkers to an accident in Traverse City. And it was a I don’t know how to say it was a very just a very strange day for all of us. It felt like on that day, everything just stopped because it did. And we really had to reflect on what happened. And you were in Traverse City when that incident occurred. You know, and I understand that caused you to kind of stop and think about, you know, what you were doing. And I think the one good thing that came out of it, something you said is that we all take a look at what we do, not just from our desk in our silo and getting a piece of paper off our desk, but we look at what we do, and how it impacts others. And are we doing this correctly? And does it make sense? And is it safe for those folks who have to, you know, do this work. So I appreciate you bringing that up. Because I really think 2018 was a day where the world stopped for us. And we regrouped and rededicate ourselves to safety. That is, you know where we’re all this sort of came from. Is there anything that you can point to in your career that really drove you to want to be a part of the safety culture team?

Justin Hobart 

It was, the early in my design career, I had a I had a great person that helped me learn about, you know, the designing, and why we do what we do as a, as a design a company in general, but then as a designer to make sure that, you know, safety is just, you know, everything that we do. So putting a pole in a certain location, making sure it’s sized correctly. Because it’s not just CE or Consumers Energy that we’re, you know, worried about safety, it’s also the public. And so early on in the career, it was what can I do to make sure that, you know, the were working where my family, where my friends are, and I want to make sure that anything I put out in the in the world or out in Michigan, in any area that somebody so close to me is going to be, that it’s safe. And it’s not going to ever cause an issue to it as much as I can control in my little design world. And that’s really where it started. And then it just snow snowballed it seems like from there, it just got bigger and bigger because I can we have so many new designers and new employees and just across the whole company that we can share why. My aha moment was safety. And I love talking about it, because it, it made such an impact on me being that that incident 2018 was so close to home, being talking to Jim, about different designs and issues in the past in the Traverse City crewroom, having that relationship with him. I mean, we’re one big Consumers Energy family. And it’s as important to me, and I know, everybody that I’ve talked to or get to deal with and the company’s you know, safety related or not. We all feel that that. I mean, that’s one of the great things about Consumers, right? Is that it is such a family feeling that we have here at the company, and you don’t want to do any – whatever you can do to help make your family safest is what you’re going to do. And I think that helps drive that.

William Krieger

It’s a blessing to have that family atmosphere. I think a lot of companies say that they’re, you know, they have a family atmosphere but if you’ve ever worked here at Consumers Energy you know, that it’s true that we really do have that and it’s truly a blessing, you know, when things are plugging along, when something happens, you know, we feel that as well as if it was, you know, our own family. And so, you know, as we talk about CE Memorial Day, I got to ask, Justin, what does it really mean to you, you know, we’ve talked about safety, and I know that you’re very passionate about it, I wish the audience can see can see you, because Justin’s very excited about being on a podcast and talking about safety, you can just, you can see the passion on his face, I hope you’re hearing the passion in his voice, but, you know, what does CE Memorial Day…just what does it mean to you in in how you pause, reflect, and allow that to shape what you do going forward?

Justin Hobart 

You know, on Memorial Day, just, I get the opportunity to just take a moment, and just take in the, the gravity and the complexity, and just what all of these people have done and sacrificed for us to be here today. Like, a lot of the stuff that they were working on or did or built or made it possible for me to sit here today and have this conversation with you. And just think of myself and what I can do to help continue making this better. And making sure that, you know, we never forget. And we’re never again going to be in that type of situation. There are so many different aspects to safety of your physical safety, mental safety. And it’s, it’s amazing and great to me that you can do one little thing to help, you know, calling, reaching out to somebody seeing how they’re doing, just talking to them and, you know, hearing what they have to say. Or, you know, making sure that there’s enough salt in the salt bucket or the driveway is salted, that everything we like, that’s you contributing to the safety and the betterment of Consumers Energy and what we do. Because it doesn’t take, you know, being, you know, a big involvement with the safety culture team, you know, it’s so individual, individualized, where you can do stuff that, you know, you can do, I mean, I encourage everyone to join the safety health and guidance team, I’d love for you to come out and talk safety with me and all the other safety champions that we have across the company. But this Memorial Day, yeah, it’s just thinking about, you know, our past where we’ve been, I love history. So I’ve, you know, we have our virtual memorial wall, as we were talking before, we have the physical version, but we also have the virtual one. So if people aren’t able to go see it in person, you can use the virtual one has links, where you can click in on certain names, where we got information on each person, and just to take the time to be together, because that that’s one of the great things about the Memorial Day, this year, as we get the opportunity to come and share the experience with each other. Where, you know, we haven’t had that much opportunity to do that, with everything that’s gone on in the last few years. But being able to come together, and because that’s where it’s the most impactful is hearing, seeing, and talking and what does it mean to you why, why am I so excited about safety, because I want to make sure you go home, I don’t want you to get hurt, I don’t want to get hurt. And its Memorial Day is the day that we can all just level set, come together and just get on the same page and move forward in the in the right direction.

William Krieger

So Justin, we are getting close to the end of the podcast. And I would like to give you the opportunity to leave our listeners with a message you know, what would you like them to take away from this conversation that we’re having today?

Justin Hobart 

I would really… it’s Memorial Day. Please take the time to just reflect on where we’ve been and to make your commitment. It’s going to be different for everybody and that’s why it’s great that we get to come together but find what whatever that is that makes you just go I have to do this I have to make in put my all into safety for myself, for my fellow coworkers, for the general public. Because I mean, honestly, we I think we kind of take for granted how much we to deal and get to talk about safety, where other places and other companies don’t have this benefit, don’t have the opportunity to do what we get to do. But reach out to your local safety health and guidance teams. Get involved, if you are inclined to if not, that’s okay. You know, it’s just make sure that you’re doing the best that you can to make sure you’re being safe, and what you can influence on your end. But safety health and guidance teams are out there across the state. And we’re always looking for new individuals to join those teams, to get a different perspective, to bring some variety to the discussion. Because it’s, it’s an ever, it’s an ongoing commitment, we’re always going to be working on making things safer, making things better. So if you feel like you want to be involved, please get involved. Reach out to me, if you would like, I’d love to have a one-on-one conversation with anyone about safety. But just be safe. And in, take the time to remember, and please make a commitment for safety. Personally, for people around you, for your family. It’s not just that Consumers Energy, it’s at home with your family, friends, because it doesn’t take much to have a you know, an incident in safety. And it’s not worth it when we can prevent it or work towards that.

William Krieger 

Well, and I think it really speaks to our safety model, right? At home, work or play 24/7. And, you know, I know Justin, I don’t mow my lawn and flip flops anymore. And I throw my hearing protection on when I’m doing some work in the garage. And it’s really changed who I am so you’re absolutely right. It’s not just at work, it’s at home. It’s everywhere we go. I really appreciate you taking the time out today to talk about safety, to talk about Consumers Energy’s Memorial Day. And remember those folks who came before us who were not as fortunate as we are. Again, be sure to check out the wall whether virtually or in person. And you heard it from Justin, if you’ve got questions reach out, reach out to Justin Hobart. We have safety, health and guidance teams that are just amazing so make sure you check those out. And again, Justin, thanks for being on today.

Justin Hobart 

Thank you, Bill, it’s truly a pleasure. And so excited.

William Krieger

Thank you to the audience for listening in today. The Me You Us podcast is proudly sponsored by Consumers Energy leaving Michigan better than we found it. Remember, you can find the Me You Us podcast on all major podcasting platforms. So be sure to go out find us and subscribe. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. That’s 1-800-273-8255 If you are a veteran or know a Veteran who is in crisis, you can call 1-800-273-8255 and press one for the Veterans Crisis Line. And remember to tune in every Wednesday as we talk about the things that impact your personal wellbeing.