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2019 Top 10 30-Something: Brian Buckham

Top Ten 30 Somethings

Brian Buckham always thought he was going to be a miner. His great-grandfather, grandfather, and father all worked at the same mine in northern Idaho. Buckham also worked at the mine after high school and during the summers while earning a degree in mining engineering, assured of his path in life. But at the time of graduation, the price of precious metals plummeted.

He went back to school and earned an MBA, only to experience bad timing once again — an abysmal job market upon graduation. Buckham again returned to school — this time law school — and found a second calling. The circuitous route notwithstanding, he is now being honored for leading Idaho Power’s legal, compliance, risk, and security departments.  

He didn’t know what he was getting into when he joined Idaho Power, Buckham admits. After a five-year stint in private practice focused on M&A, securities, finance, and corporate governance, he joined the utility in 2010 and was initially responsible for those same areas. In his first week, he was told to rewrite the company’s regulatory disclosures in an SEC filing, which involved quickly learning the distinction between “base rates” and “rate base,” among other regulated utility industry oddities. Now he describes a whiteboard filled with government agency acronyms that he uses to onboard company new hires.  

In addition to legal and compliance responsibilities, he also oversees risk management, ethics, and both physical security and cybersecurity. But his biggest contribution, he says, is promoting the culture within his 55-person strong department. His department strives to relentlessly pursue compliant, ethical, and safe solutions for its clients — put simply: be business-oriented and client-first.  

He asks that his team respond to a request within 24 hours, even if it’s only to say the request was received, and to communicate early and often. Collaboration is key, both within the legal department and with clients. Budget awareness and being proactive at identifying and solving issues are the other hallmarks of his legal philosophy. Buckham asks his department to make compliance easier by finding front-end solutions. To help advance that approach, Buckham arranged a leadership and business topics series for his department.  

The electric utility industry is changing rapidly as the demand for clean energy grows, and Buckham touts Idaho Power’s existing strong clean energy portfolio and goal to make it even cleaner. For over a century, Idaho Power has harnessed the flow of water cascading down Idaho’s peaks and now generates 50 percent of its power from hydroelectric plants in a typical year, one of the reasons its customers have some of the lowest energy rates in the country.  

Buckham is proud to be a leader in a company that recently announced a goal to transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2045. He and his team helped close a purchase agreement for utility-scale solar power with one of the lowest prices ever. Buckham’s team has also been instrumental in negotiating an agreement and obtaining regulatory approval for the cessation of Idaho Power’s operations at one of its coal plants, a move that not only reduces the company’s carbon output but also makes economic sense for the company’s customers.  

There is an almost guaranteed baseload amount of legal work that a company generates, Buckham states. Idaho Power staffs for that baseload, then augments with external resources when peaks arrive. He also asks his team to be proactive in reaching out to business units to offer assistance before being asked.  

It is another part of the law firm mentality that Buckham champions — the marketing angle. That way “people know who to call on what issues and when they should call.” By building trust and highlighting capabilities, the department can more proactively address the company’s challenges. In the utility space, not knowing about an issue well in advance can have serious consequences.  

Buckham’s two young children are keeping the family mining legacy alive by panning and digging for gold in Idaho’s creeks and hillsides in the summer months. It’s all for fun now, he emphasizes, and immensely unprofitable, but fortunately he also enjoys his job working with a team that keeps the lights on for over half a million customers.

More 2019 Top 10 30-Somethings

Fernanda Beraldi

Thomas Cluderay

Lewis Dolezal

April A. Goff

Sadeq M. Kahn

William K. Piotrowski

Melissa Reiter

Alana C. St. Aude

Erin K. Stewart

About the Author

Joshua H. Shields is the managing editor of the Association of Corporate Counsel.

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