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Banks and Davis on becoming leaders: ‘Use every experience as an opportunity’ and ‘find that unique skill set’

Editor’s note: February is Black History Month. We’re spotlighting some of our African American leaders who model high standards and are paving the way for others at SNC. Here, we’re focusing on Donell Banks, testing and completion deputy manager, Vogtle 3&4, and Demitrius Davis, director, Fleet Outage Services.

When and why did you become interested in nuclear energy?

Banks: My first real interest came when I took nuclear chemical engineering as a technical elective in college, and we toured the nuclear reactor we had on campus. During my senior year at a career fair, I walked by a booth for Southern Nuclear and learned about the opportunities available. I submitted my application and got an interview with the Farley Engineering Support manager at the time. He was very passionate about what he did, which amplified my interest. I accepted the position that was offered and the rest is history!

Davis: In college, I was afforded the opportunity to intern on both the fossil/hydro and nuclear side of the company, which gave me a unique perspective. I chose nuclear because in the early 2000s, the suggestion of a “nuclear renaissance” started to emerge due to the growing demands for energy coupled with the rising costs for oil and natural gas. Southern Company was leading that charge and I wanted to be a part of it.  

What does it take to succeed in the nuclear industry?

Banks: To me, the keys to success are integrity and accountability. If you spend enough time in this business, you will encounter challenging circumstances, but you must always remain aware of just how special and unique this technology is. Having the courage to bring issues to the forefront and the drive to help correct them is essential.

Davis: High standards and an unwavering commitment to continuous improvement.

Have you encountered any obstacles? How did you handle them?

Banks: One of my biggest hurdles was the transition from Engineering to Operations. I was at a turning point in my career and was not sure that I was the right fit for such a role. But I took the advice of my senior leadership and took the plunge into license class and found that it was a perfect fit and a great booster to my career.

Davis: Daily, but that’s part of the journey toward constant growth. I have to make a conscious decision to resist the urge to immediately take action to remove the obstacle opposed to taking the necessary time to understand why or how the obstacle surfaced in the first place. Understanding the basis usually supports more informed and sustainable actions to navigate around the obstacles.   

What advice do you have for others who want to follow in your footsteps?

Banks: Take ownership of your personal development. Use every experience and challenge as an opportunity to add knowledge and skills to your toolbox. It’s amazing how often little things from your past that you never thought you would use become just the right tool to address situations later in your career.

Davis: Become comfortable being uncomfortable. Don’t fear failure, use it as fuel. Find that unique skill set that’s unpopular but adds value or a specialized area of the organization that’s viewed as high career risk, low reward and own it.