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From pizza pies to power plays: The rise of an engineering leader

Jacob Tetlow family’s engineering tradition and how ASU laid the foundation for his success

Pictured (from left to right): Jacob Tetlow, executive vice president of operations for Arizona Public Service Company and an Arizona State University mechanical engineering alumnus, with his two children and ASU alumni Courtney Tetlow and Blake Tetlow. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Jacob Tetlow, the executive vice president of operations for Arizona Public Service Company, or APS, the largest electric company across the state, had a humble beginning.

“I delivered pizza for about seven years in Mesa while in high school and throughout college,” says Jacob, who studied mechanical engineering at Arizona State University. 

In 1995, after graduating from what was then College of Engineering and Applied Sciences — now the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, part of Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU — Jacob began the hunt for new opportunities.

“When I was getting ready to graduate from ASU, I ran down to career services and said, ‘sign me up for every interview you got,’” Jacob says. 

He ultimately received a job offer at a paper mill in Show Low, Arizona, and was promoted to an entry level leadership position after 10 months in the role. Six years later, and with the increasing use of email, Jacob decided to move on from the paper industry.

“I drove to the nearby coal-fired power plants and handed in my paper resume,” Jacob says. “Somehow that resume landed me a job with the APS Four Corners Power Plant in Farmington, New Mexico.” 

Twenty-three years later, Jacob leads a team of more than 3,000 high-performing individuals delivering safe, reliable and clean energy to 1.4 million people. 

His journey was marked by numerous challenges; he had to continuously reinvent himself and seize opportunities as they arose. After only a year as a boiler inspector, Jacob was promoted to engineer III, then to his first managerial role at APS as a planning manager. In 2009, about 14 years after graduating from ASU, he became the director of gas and oil generation, responsible for operations of six gas and oil-fired power plants. 

Just three years later, Jacob went through, as he described it, the hardest career shift he has ever made. 

“In 2012, I became the director of distribution,” Jacob says. “I literally knew nothing about how the organization worked, and yet about 550 people reported to me.”

After trial and error, Jacob learned and excelled, leading to his promotion to senior director, running all transmission and distribution operations at APS, and eventually to his current role as executive vice president of operations.

“You have to work hard,” Jacob says. ”The harder you work, the luckier you get.” 

Jacob’s dedication was evident as a student at ASU. Despite being a local, he signed up to live on campus because he wanted to get the full college experience. 

“I played racquetball three days a week, enjoyed my classes — especially physics — and had a roommate who became a lifelong friend,” Jacob says. “I just really think ASU offers a great college experience.”

Jacob acquired critical problem-solving skills that set a foundation for his success.

“ASU helped build my confidence by encouraging me to solve difficult technical problems,” he says.

Equipped with the strong foundation in mechanical engineering gained from his time at ASU, Jacob excelled at the technical aspects of his work. However, he soon began to rely on a skillset he found to be of even greater significance as he advanced through various leadership roles.

“Transmission and distribution is quite simple,” Jacob says. “The trick wasn’t to become a subject matter expert and be the smartest guy in the room. It was to build relationships with people and get them to want to be part of a winning team.” 

A familial pursuit of engineering

Engineering is a tradition in Jacob’s family; his father and four brothers are mechanical engineers, and one of his children decided to pursue a career in electrical engineering. 

His family is also filled with ASU alumni. Similar to Jacob, his brother Alex Tetlow, who also graduated from the Fulton Schools, has had a successful career as an engineering leader. Alex is currently the vice president of sales at Rotating Machinery Services, or RMS, in Texas, and he finds his engineering background to be the backbone of his success. 

Alex Tetlow

Alex Tetlow, the vice president of sales at Rotating Machinery Services and ASU mechanical engineering alumnus. Photo courtesy of Alex Tetlow

“Engineering gives you a solid understanding of design systems, making it easier to sell the products,” he says. “As I transitioned into executive management, I realized that the vast majority of the sales team’s leadership were engineers.”

As Alex’s older brother, Jacob has had a great influence on his life, inspiring him to pursue a career in engineering.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without his guidance and support,” says Alex, reflecting on his relationship with Jacob. 

Two of Jacob’s children also studied at ASU and are finding success in their respective careers. 

Jacob’s son, Blake Tetlow, an assistant electrical engineer at Burns & McDonnell, finds his experience in AutoCAD, a 2D and 3D computer-aided design software, and Excel — which he learned at ASU — to be the most useful in his role. As advice to current students and recent graduates, he urges them to get out and connect with people.

“If you can get a reference from someone, that goes a long way,” he says.

Similarly, his sister, Courtney Tetlow, a registered nurse resident at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, thinks that taking electives gave her an interdisciplinary background, which is crucial to her job.

“ASU equipped me with critical thinking and problem-solving skills that have been central to how I approach many on-the-job situations,” she says.

The future of energy

Jacob sits on the board of various engineering organizations and companies, including the Electric Power Research Institute’s Research Advisory Committee and the Board of Directors for the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees for The Nature Conservancy Arizona chapter.

In March 2024, he delivered a guest lecture as part of the MAE 400 Engineering Profession course, which explores the impact of mechanical and aerospace engineering on society and the environment, as well as engineering ethics and business practices. In his lecture, Jacob discussed the future of energy and shared valuable life lessons with students.

“Jacob’s presentation provided students an excellent perspective about the evolution of the power industry towards a more efficient and carbon-free clean energy production,” says Luis Bocanegra, a professor of practice in the Fulton Schools.

He reminded students to seek out opportunities to make a positive impact in society.

“Jacob explained that as society calls for the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy, it is up to engineers to develop reliable storage systems capable of meeting the world’s energy needs,” says Max Westby, an undergraduate mechanical engineering student who took the course during the spring 2024 semester.  

To Jacob, decarbonization of the electric grid and artificial intelligence present great opportunities for future engineers to innovate and solve major problems in energy. 

“There’s no doubt we need engineers of every discipline,” Jacob says. “They’re the ones who are going to make our country competitive in the future, and we need to find ways to encourage more young people to pursue engineering. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity out there for people who want to make a difference.”

About The Author

Roger Ndayisaba

Roger Ndayisaba is a communications specialist embedded in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy. Roger earned a bachelor's degree of arts in communications from Southern New Hampshire University. Before joining the Fulton Schools, Roger was on the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) communications team, implementing marketing strategies to raise its brand awareness.

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