Spotlight On: Jon Stretch

ERM Power has come from humble beginnings. 


The story of ERM Power began in the 1980s, with a boutique energy consultancy.

Made up of a small group of innovative entrepreneurial engineers, the company began developing gas-fired power stations across Australia from scratch.

After the deregulation of the Queensland wholesale electricity market, ERM Power set out to become a commercial and industrial retailer. It has since evolved into the second largest electricity provider to commercial businesses and industrials in Australia (by load), and the largest wholesale buyer of electricity in the NEM. ERM Power’s customer base includes federal and state government departments and agencies, and some of the largest retailers, manufacturers and industrials in the country.

Today, ERM Power is run by Jon Stretch. Jon has spent the majority of his career in IT and telecommunications, previously working for some of the world’s most innovative companies. From time in Hong Kong with IBM, Paris with AT&T, and Switzerland with Landis + Gyr, Jon’s passion for innovation and technology has taken him around the world.

But it was his role with ERM Power that saw him plant roots in Australian soil again in 2015.

Speaking of ERM Power with a great sense of pride, Jon says the reason the company has built such a strong reputation is due to its genuine dedication to its customers.

“ERM Power for the longest time was a small group of entrepreneurial engineers that developed gas-fired power stations across Australia,” Jon says.

“Trevor St Baker did this eight times. He pulled off these unimaginably complex sets of relationships that helped bring gas-fired peaking generation to many parts of Australia.

“Originally, the proposition was just about price. We’ve got some clever people, we’ve got a real customer mentality, and we’ve got some pretty cool systems, but we’ll also give you a good price.”

As power prices skyrocket across the country, Jon says consumers that once thought about electricity in the same way they would any retail commodity are now changing they way they use and manage their power.

“The customers have seen rising electricity prices, they’ve got supply security issues, they need to understand their consumption and how to improve their efficiency, and they need transparency over the long-term price,” Jon says.

“We give customers visibility of the long-term wholesale market, so we use technology to give transparency as to what’s happening in price futures, if you like, and help give them tools to better manage it.

“We can give customers insights into their consumption which lead to ideas as to how they can use less electricity or use electricity in a more effective way or a less wasteful way, so they can think about that energy productivity.

“They’re not only confident they’re getting a good price, but they can track what’s happening with future prices and gradually hedge in their requirements for both their green certificates, as well as their energy, at the time that’s right for them, not the day they sign a new contract.”

Each year, ERM Power participates in the national Utility Market Intelligence (UMI) survey of large customers of major electricity retailers It’s no surprise the company has come out on top for the seventh year in a row.

“We’re not just a little bit ahead, we’re miles ahead,” Jon says.

This year, the results found ERM Power’s customer satisfaction was at 92 per cent – at least 25 per cent higher than its competitors – across all categories, including understanding the customer, data provision, billing accuracy, response time, technical knowledge, value for money and energy efficiency advice.

“Why are we different to those guys? It used to be price, and then price and service, and now its price, service and solutions,” Jon explains.

“Because we don’t have that large baseload power, our motivations have really aligned with our customers.

“We want them to not only get the best-priced electricity for their business, but to use the least amount of electricity they can. And we want to be able to help them improve their energy efficiency or their energy productivity, and make sure they match their energy consumption to their business to get the best outcome.

“That’s something that none of our competitors want to do.”

Using data science and analytics, the company has a range of innovative solutions for consumers, no matter their needs.

“Customers have a whole bunch of drivers – some want to save money, some want to reduce consumption, some want to make sure they have electricity available to them, some want to be more green, they want to use less electricity at the right times, they want to use more renewables, and some want to make money from their energy assets,” Jon explains.

“What sets us apart? We are customer-led, a real focus on customer. That we can balance supply and demand, we can see your consumption, we can help you reduce it, so we can help play that off – that’s really important. We’ve got data scientists that are just trawling through gazillions of bits of data around the customer.”

The company recently started building energy solutions for Queensland schools to save energy.

ERM Power installs energy efficiency measures such as solar panels and LED lighting and, most importantly uses education to involve the students and get them learning about energy efficiency.

“We’ve had schools saving around 30 per cent on their energy, and when you think about it, that’s new iPads or it’s a supply teacher.

“We’ve done about 50 schools in Queensland and because of what we had done, in conjunction with the state government, they committed $97 million to energy saving initiatives in Queensland schools at the last election. The double-whammy is you end up with kids who understand energy efficiency.”

There’s no need to wonder why 89 per cent of employees say they are proud to work for ERM Power.

“We have this fantastic level of employee engagement enablement,” Jon says.

“It’s creative, it’s interesting, it’s customer-oriented, and it’s cutting edge and we care about solving problems. And where that derives from is we have fantastic employee engagement and fantastic employee enablement.

“We use a company called Hay to measure it, and they are a global leader in employee engagement and enablement measuring about six million employees annually.

“Through quite a sophisticated survey that takes about 45 minutes to do, you can look at your company and compare yourself against other Australian companies, you can compare yourself against other energy companies.

“We compare ourselves to what Hay calls the global high performing norm, which is the top 30 companies in their global database for employee engagement and enablement, which we compare favourable to.

“We do this survey every 18 months and we work very hard to understand where we can improve. Itis really important that we’re great, we want to be better – because that is the heart of, it’s the engine room for the customer satisfaction and broker satisfaction.

“And that’s the engine room for the fact that customers continue to contract and allow us to give them advice and guidance on their energy solutions, so a lot of what we do is actually about our people and process and technology, not about is our widget faster, is our electron brighter.

“Competitors just can’t recreate that, it’s not like a system or a webpage or a product that they can look at and copy. It’s about the internal fitness and beauty of the company, which they won’t be able to change.

“It’s a fundamental part of what we do.”

It is evident Jon cares not only about consumers and employees, but giving back to the community.

This year, he has been named a St Vincent de Paul CEO Sleepout Brand Ambassador.

“I do work with Vinnies as a Sleepout Ambassador, and I like to raise money for them, but also get other people involved because I think it is an issue that is not well understood. People think it is about old blokes sitting on a park bench, and it’s not, it’s about young kids that haven’t been able to find work, it’s about young mothers who have been victims of domestic violence and they have taken kids out of a bad situation quickly, couch surfers… Very few people understand that.

“And I think I’m lucky to be in a situation where whenever I am addressing a room on the energy industry, I will talk about homelessness.”

He also encourages employees to support the organisation, offering time off for philanthropic work.

“It’s really important to us as a business, and it’s important to me personally,” he says.

“When you have engaged employees, when you’ve got such a great sense of purpose – you want employees to say ‘one of the reasons I’m proud to work for ERM is because we do a lot of work with the homeless and whether that is the work we do with the CEO sleepout or we do a food drive.”

For more information about the CEO Sleepout, visit www.ceosleepout.org.au.