R. Daniel Carson, Jr.
Class of 1970, BS
Over a lifetime, Dan Carson has tended to not shy away from accepting leadership roles, starting with his senior-class presidency in high school, through his successful management career with Appalachian Power Company, to his current volunteer work with organizations such as the March of Dimes, and his church.
The Pulaski, Virginia, native enjoyed a successful career as a dynamic electric power industry executive for more than four decades. Along the way, he managed to work on a multitude of projects, including the orchestration of support for land conservation measures, assistance in the restoration of the American chestnut known as the “King of Trees,” participation on Virginia Governor Tim Kaine’s Commission on Climate Change, and chairmanship of the United Way of Roanoke Valley campaign. In addition, he served with and led numerous state, community, and economic development organizations.
In 2011, Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering named him its Distinguished Alumnus, adding his name to a host of noted Hokie CEOs of companies such as General Dynamics, Exxon, and Hercules who have been similarly honored. The college bestowed this honor on Carson who had found time during his busy schedule to serve on its Committee of 100 and its Advisory Board, as well as serve his home department of civil and environmental engineering. In 2007, he was inducted into the CEE Academy of Distinguished Alumni. Carson had also orchestrated major industrial support for Virginia Tech’s Institute of Critical Technology and Applied Science.
Carson is a second generation Hokie, as his father was an electrical engineering graduate of Virginia Tech and a member of its Corps of Cadets. As a youngster, he made the trek to Blacksburg often and the experiences propelled Virginia Tech to his number one choice for pursuing his college degree.
His father and his parents’ engineering friends’ influence led him to enroll in architectural engineering in 1966. This specific degree path was short-lived as the university decided to eliminate the program in 1967. Civil engineering (CE) then became the closest match to his interests, and he switched during his sophomore year, selecting CE’s structural option.
That same year, fate delivered an unkind loss as a heart attack unexpectedly took the life of his father. But a close family friend who was the executor of the senior Carson’s estate managed finances to ensure that Dan’s college education was paid, “with little to spare when it was all over,” he recalled. Fortuitously, this executor was also an employee of Appalachian Power, and the company “was in my blood, so to speak,” Carson said. For a period of time during college, it generously provided him summer employment as a member of one of its survey crews.
As Carson graduated in 1970, his already sound relationship with Appalachian Power helped secure him an offer to join its Roanoke office as an engineer. He started as one of the designers of Appalachian’s parent company, American Electric Power’s (AEP), groundbreaking 765,000-volt transmission system. “The ultimate result was that we built an entire network,” Carson said, “analogous to the interstate highway system.” Historical records show the first 765,000-volt interconnection occurred in 1971 between American Electric Power and Commonwealth Edison.
As he moved rapidly into a senior role in the design of these extra high voltage transmission lines that are now known for generally providing the lowest-cost method for carrying large quantities of electric energy, he started to think about his long-term career path. He focused first on his credentials – achieving licensure as a professional engineer in Virginia and in West Virginia – and then on further education with an eye toward a management track within his company.
Carson decided to enroll in business classes at Lynchburg College on a part-time basis, and did so for five years. He described the time as “fairly intense,” as his family was expanding while he was holding down a job, studying, and commuting to class at least two nights per week. His quietly ambitious nature landed him two rewards: his master of business administration degree in 1977 and the opportunity to work as an assistant to the president of Appalachian Power in Roanoke the following year.
After four years, the president, a mentor to Carson, recommended that the company sponsor the budding executive as a Sloan Fellow, leading to a master of science degree in management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With his family in tow, he moved to Boston for 12 months, understanding that his next step could be to a management position anywhere within the seven-state AEP system. As things turned out, however, he was returned home to a Roanoke management position, then moved the following year to Abingdon to become manager of Appalachian’s far southwestern Virginia region.
In 1992, Joseph Vipperman, a Virginia Tech electrical engineering graduate who had become president of Appalachian Power, appointed Carson vice president with responsibility for the company’s rates and contracts, accounting, and government affairs functions. The latter involved acting as the company’s lobbyist, an opportunity that Carson said he “had never dreamed” would be part of his professional career. He soon discovered how “government had a lot of influence on the well-being of the company, and that representing one’s interests successfully could be challenging and often was conducted within a very competitive atmosphere.
"As a lobbyist, and later as a manager of our lobbying corps, I understood that maintaining one’s integrity and credibility was paramount. To compromise them could be ‘deadly,’ so to speak, to the company’s effectiveness, with little hope of recovery.”
Carson dedicated more than a fourth of his career with the power company to refinement of the regulatory framework for the electric utility industry, and he found these efforts “to be extraordinarily challenging and extraordinarily rewarding. The complexities could be enormous, as could the difficulty of imparting understanding to those making the decisions. I was pleased with our record for achieving success.”
In 1996, his accomplishments led him to the position of American Electric Power President for Virginia and Tennessee, and he later returned to a similar position with Appalachian Power, based back in Roanoke, when a regional operating company structure was reinstituted across the AEP system.
Over a period of 14 years, he led the company through a series of industry restructuring initiatives and difficult price hikes “related to dramatic cost increases being incurred by the utility industry. New environmental controls on our power plants and upon coal as a fuel were the primary drivers; incremental capital investments that exceeded the original costs of building the plants were common,” Carson said.
Global warming had become an issue, and he served for a time on Virginia Governor Tim Kaine’s Commission on Climate Change. Carson described the commission’s charge as being an “attempt to judge the reality of man-made climate change, to evaluate the modeling that suggests dire consequences, to decide what, if anything, Virginia should do to address its particular concerns, and, finally, what Virginia might advocate for at the federal level. “ Carson remains interested today as the debate on climate change continues and as new information regarding the issue is revealed.
In 2010, at age 62, he retired from his Roanoke office, and now among other things plays more golf. “You’d think I’d be a better golfer after 50 years” of playing, Carson joked. Some of that golf is played at Hilton Head where he and his wife Sandy co-own a home with friends.
His charitable work has been and remains very important to him, as most recently he served as 2009 annual campaign chair for the United Way of Roanoke Valley, and continues in a leadership role for March of Dimes causes. “The March of Dimes has done a lot over the years to reduce the incidence of premature birth and promote the cause of healthy babies. Personally, I’ve had three grandchildren born prematurely and understand how important the research funded by the March of Dimes is to all of us,” he said.
In 2010, Carson successfully proposed and brought to fruition a $1 million gift from AEP to Virginia Tech in the name of his friend and colleague, Vipperman. Carson is a past chairman of the board of directors of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, past chairman and director emeritus of the Western Virginia Foundation for the Arts and Sciences, and formerly served as board chair for the Roanoke Valley Business Council, the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority Advisory Board, and Roanoke Country Club.
He served in leadership capacities for the Virginia Manufacturers Association, the Virginia College Fund, the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, the Virginia Foundation for Research and Economic Education (Virginia FREE), in addition to a number of Roanoke-area organizations.
Carson and his wife Sandy now have eight grandchildren. In his retirement, he said he’s been “focused on the grandchildren.” One of his two sons, Hunter, is a third generation Hokie, earning his master’s degree in environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. Carson is an elder and long-time member of Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church of Roanoke.
Class of: 1970
Year Inducted into Academy: 2014