Substation Maintenance Electrician | Middle Tennessee
The blue square with three white letters was just another logo. Jonathan McCullough passed the iconic emblem each time he went fishing on Normandy Reservoir in Manchester, Tennessee, but never gave it much thought.
Energy, environment, economic development and even “making life better for the people of the Valley” — the fundamental mission of service set forth by the TVA Act of 1933 — were all unfamiliar words and phrases. It wasn’t until he began his journey as a TVA transmission maintenance electrician in 2010 that he learned of TVA’s legacy to the region.
Today, it’s the story he shares when asked, “What’s TVA?”
“I didn’t know a soul at TVA — I just showed up at the job trailer for the apprenticeship program,” McCullough said. “That first week I learned a lot. I had no idea TVA had a hand in so many jars.”
McCullough came to TVA from the industrial manufacturing industry, where he worked to keep automotive assembly lines running — a job he held until he was offered a buy-out package during the Great Recession.
With the extra money, McCullough went back to school and began looking for other career opportunities. While working toward his degree, his father asked him if he had looked into TVA.
That same weekend, McCullough went online and found a job posting on TVA’s career page and applied. “I was lucky. The posting was only up for three days,” McCullough said. “TVA has provided a better life for my family. It’s been a great opportunity, and I’m glad to have it.”
McCullough’s appreciation for TVA centers on safety and family. He quickly talks about the difference in safety cultures between TVA and the manufacturing industry he came from.
“The mentality at TVA is different,” McCullough said. “If you haven’t been somewhere else, you just don’t know how much better it is here. At other places I’ve worked, it’s all about production and a get-it-done mentality.”
Instead of profits, McCullough and his TVA team focus on safety and efficiency.
“I’ve never seen a time at TVA when there was backlash for standing down when a job or task didn’t feel right,” he said. This emphasis on safety, he said, is what gives TVA’s workforce the ability to deliver reliable power around the clock.
“We care if the lights are on, because our power is what keeps the businesses running — it’s what makes life better for the people we serve," McCullough said.
Today, McCullough works with Continuous Improvement teams, updating transmission substation assets with newer, more efficient equipment. Lightening arrestors, relays, oil-filled breakers and capacitor banks are all a part of the job.
As load is expected to remain flat, McCullough and his team are constantly looking for ways to make TVA quicker, better and more efficient. These improvements continue to make TVA kilowatt-hours some of the most affordable in the nation.
“I’ve got a friend who doesn’t live in the TVA service area, and he is always complaining about how high his electric bill is. We’re always aggravating him about it,” McCullough said. “But seriously, there’s no comparison. When we put our bills side-by-side, the benefit is in black and white.”
Living in Manchester, McCullough bumps into people at church, the gas pump and Wal-Mart that have questions about stories they’ve read or seen in the news. Some see the logo on his shirt and confuse it with a local power company.
“Tons of people enjoy our dams and reservoirs, but very few of the people I meet outside of Chattanooga and Knoxville understand. I know because I was one of them,” McCullough said. “I see the stories about flood control and damages averted, but I’m not sure folks in this area are connecting the dots.”
McCullough is committed to changing that by doing something simple — he’s talking.
“It’s enjoyable to meet people in the community and share our story,” he said. “People don’t know we exist because we don’t let them know that we exist. It’s important that all TVA employees share our story.”
One of McCullough’s favorite places to visit is his alma mater, Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Each year, McCullough takes time to visit with new students and tell them about TVA. It’s his way of paying it forward.
“I like to swing by and tell students that we are here, and try to answer any questions that I can. I want more people in my area to have the same opportunity that I’ve been given,” McCullough said. “I’m only here because someone took time to stop and tell me.”
For McCullough, it’s all about the spirit of giving and service—and the enjoyment that comes from sharing the story behind the iconic blue-squared logo he wears above his breast pocket.
Meet more TVA employees, and learn about some of the fascinating ways they serve the Tennessee Valley through their work in energy, environmental stewardship and economic development.
They’re your friends, your family, your neighbors. Get to know them.