After nearly 30 years in the electrical industry, Jim Pauley takes on a new role as NFPA’s seventh president
Jim Pauley started his new job on July 1, and 25 days later he celebrated his 50th birthday. “It’s interesting that that’s the age when I would decide to go do something else,” he says.
That “something else” was succeeding Jim Shannon to become the seventh president of NFPA, following a unanimous vote by the association’s Board of Directors in January. Pauley assumed his new duties following a month-long transition period with Shannon and NFPA’s executive staff.
"Digital changes everything," says Jim Pauley. "It brings people together - look at the impact of social media. The key is how we digitally interact with the next generation."
PHOTO: Mark Ostow
Pauley’s arrival at NFPA was preceded by a 29-year career in Lexington, Kentucky, with Schneider Electric, a French-based electrical distribution and management firm, where he served most recently as senior vice president for external affairs and government relations as a member of the company’s U.S. executive management team. Pauley began his career in 1985 as an applications engineer with Square D, an electrical equipment manufacturer. Schneider acquired Square D in 1991, a move that provided Pauley with a larger, more international perspective on the industry, one he put to good use in his own career. At Schneider, he worked in product development and marketing, industry standards, and global standards strategy before becoming director of codes and standards. He was vice president of industry standards and government relations for a decade before assuming the senior vice president job in 2011.
His sudden uprooting from his native Kentucky—he was raised in Greenup County, in the northeast part of the state, and received a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Kentucky—to New England for the top NFPA job was a little disconcerting to many of his friends, for obvious reasons. “People would call me up and say two things,” Pauley says. “They’d offer their congratulations, then immediately ask me, ‘You’re not going to become a Patriots fan, are you?,’ or, ‘You’re not going to become a Celtics fan, are you?’ And I would just think, ‘Holy cow. This is a lot more complicated than I thought.’”
Pauley’s mid-life transition isn’t a complete surprise, considering his long affiliation with NFPA. He’s been involved with National Electrical Code® committees and code-making panels since 1993, and has served on the Standards Council since 2000, chairing the body since 2008. “I love the NFPA mission and the people I’ve worked with in this organization,” he says. “After 29 years in the same place, you don’t necessarily go hunting for a lot of different opportunities. But if there was one thing that was going to draw me away from Schneider Electric it would be the opportunity I’ve been given with NFPA.”
Phil Stittleburg, who as former chair of the Board of Directors was part of the executive search committee for the new president, says Pauley’s long and varied NFPA work, along with his involvement with the American National Standards Institute, were key factors in his winning the job, as was his business background. “It seems the business paradigm for NFPA—how products are developed and delivered—is shifting more toward digital media, and we felt his business experience would help him manage that change,” Stittleburg says. “He also sees that paradigm existing in an international context, and those kinds of global opportunities would require a new kind of business model. We were very impressed with the knowledge and passion he brought to the position.”
“Digital changes everything,” Pauley says. “It brings people together—look at the impact of social media. It also makes things like codes and other resources more readily available. The key is how we digitally interact with the next generation—these are not paperback-book folks who are going to be our next generation of customers. With everything we do, we need to be thinking of how we position it in the digital environment, whether it’s here at home or in the global market.”
Pauley assumes his new post with the formidable task of spearheading the effort around the copyright lawsuit filed by NFPA last year. “Maintaining the viability of private-sector standards developers is obviously a huge issue, and central to what we do at NFPA,” says Pauley. “We take the widest set of inputs and get the best possible outcomes, and we’ve been doing it for a long time. I can tell you that nobody does it as well as NFPA.”
That commitment to mission has its roots in Pauley’s Kentucky upbringing. His father was an electrician who helped him with some of his earliest lessons in the trade, while his mother, badly burned as a child, endured numerous surgeries over her life, eventually succumbing to cancer that Pauley says manifested itself in the burn scars from decades earlier. “The mission doesn’t change,” he says of his arrival at NFPA. “This organization is built on a solid foundation with a great mission, and it’s a privilege to be able to build on that. We’re not done until everybody comes home—first responders, electrical workers, the public—and until everybody has a home to come back to. It’s all about protecting lives and property.”
As for his sporting allegiances, Pauley’s also opting for a safe approach—at least for now. “I’m thinking maybe I’ll just stay a Kentucky basketball fan,” he says.