This is my final episode hosting Consumers Energy's Me You Us Podcast. Listen in as I talk with Angela Thompkins about the podcast, life and my next chapter.
Bill Krieger: The views and opinions of the guests of the "Me You Us" podcast do not represent the views and opinions of Consumers Energy.
Bill: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Me You Us, a well‑being podcast. Today is Monday, May 29, Memorial Day 2023, and this is a special edition of the Me You Us podcast.
You see, this will be my final episode as the host of Me You Us. I chose today to have this edition of the podcast because Memorial Day is important to me as a veteran. Also, on this day in 2010, I actually retired from the military.
I do want to turn the mic over to a good friend of mine, Angela Thompkins. She is Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Consumers Energy. She is my supervisor, but she is my friend and my mentor. Angela, take it away.
Angela Thompkins: Bill Krieger, it is an honor and a pleasure to be with you on what you just said, your last episode of the podcast. Why is that? Tell everyone why this will be your last episode.
Bill: You may or may not have heard, but as of June 30th, I'll be retiring from Consumers Energy after 29 amazing years. I missed 30 years by just a month.
Angela: Oh, wow.
Bill: But yes, I have decided to retire and maybe start the third chapter of my life.
Angela: Today, we're going to turn the microphone around, and I am going to interview you. You've done such a great job allowing people to share their stories and their hurts. Today, we want to turn the microphone around and get to know Bill Krieger.
You often start off with asking your guests to just tell a little bit about themselves. How about you share a little bit about Bill Krieger? Who you are, how long you've been with the company. Then maybe to get you relaxed a little bit to talk about yourself, we'll do some rapid‑fire questions first.
Let's go with just a couple. I know you just returned from some vacation. When you travel, are you more of a beach person and looking for some relaxation or are you about adventure?
Bill: I'm the dark person who travels the world and goes to museums.
Angela: Ah, OK, I love that. Tell us about your favorite food. What might that be?
Bill: My favorite food? Wow, I love food. That's a tough question. I would say almost anything Greek. I love Greek food, but my absolute favorite, we were fortunate enough to travel to Greece a few years ago. I went to this restaurant that was right on the edge of the water, so you'd look down and see possibly the fish that you were about to eat.
They brought the fish out and it was still on the bone. It was a whole fish. Unless you've tasted a fish like that, you've not tasted fish. I know there's probably a lot of people out there going, "Oh, I can't stand fish," but it was amazing. I'd just say that is my favorite food.
Angela: I know you love cars, but I'm curious to know, vintaged or new?
Bill: Yes, and yes, please.
Angela: Yes in both. [laughs]
Bill: Yes. I love vintage cars, but there's a lot of great stuff out there that's new, so it's both.
Angela: It's a little of both. I hear you have a vintage car.
Bill: I do.
Angela: Tell us about it.
Bill: The wife and I have a 1977 Chevy Corvette. We bought it a few years ago back before COVID hit. Every year, we fix it up a little bit. A funny story about that is that I was looking for a Ford Mustang because when I was in high school, I had a Mustang GT. I was Mr. Cool. I thought, "I'm middle‑aged. I can be Mr. Cool again."
I was telling her, "I think I want to get a Mustang and just fix it up. It's going to be fun." She said, "I've always liked Corvettes." That, I thought, was the green light to go buy one. A few days later...
Bill: ...I went on, bought a Corvette, and brought it home. Honestly, that probably wasn't the green light but she has embraced the Corvette since we bought it.
Angela: That is too funny. Awesome. Tell us, Bill, a little bit about your time here at Consumers Energy. How did you pick Consumers Energy? Or maybe we'll talk a little bit about this later on in the conversation, we both believe in nothing happens by accident. Maybe how did Consumers Energy pick you? How did your career start here?
Bill: I had served in the Navy for 10 years, and decided I was done being in the Navy and got out, and I was going to be an insurance salesman. [laughs] While the insurance industry is an amazing place to work, it was not an amazing place for Bill Krieger, which he learned very quickly.
Then I went to work for a technical school recruiting folks. That just didn't work out for me either. I fit that mold of the person who gets out of the military and just can't find that job that works for them.
While I was looking for a job, a good friend of mine, Paul Thomas, who retired a few years ago, said, "Hey, they're looking for someone to work in dispatch," and I had a background in computers.
I applied for the job, and I don't know, probably went through three or four different interviews, went to lunch with the supervisor. Probably about six weeks after all of that, I came to work here as a dispatcher for the electric lines department. Never worked harder in my life, but had such a great time of doing that.
Angela: You worked harder than you ever had and yet you stay?
Bill: Yes, this is an amazing place to work. The work is hard, I'm not going to mince words, it can be a very difficult place to work, but the rewards here are amazing. I'm not just talking about the monetary rewards. It's the people that work here. It's the feeling of family. That's the reward for being here. I am not a fan of the University of Michigan. I'm just going to put that out there I am.
Angela: Hey, hey, hey. [laughs]
Bill: I'm a Sparty, "Go Green..."
Angela: "Go Blue" now.
Bill: ...but they do have a sign that says, "Those Who Stay Will Be Champions." I think about that every day when I walk through the doors here at Consumers Energy. The people who come here and who stay, and there's a lot of them, they will be champions in one way or another.
Angela: That's very profound. Again, no accident, right?
Bill: No, not at all.
Angela: There are accidents, no coincidences. You've had a long career with Consumers Energy. You have mentored many people along the way. I am one of those people who have had the pleasure of learning from you throughout your time here, but tell me about a couple of people who have been instrumental in your career and just your development as a human being that you've met along the way.
Bill: There's two people that come to mind right away. One is Charles Montgomery. I worked for him on a project and he went off to do bigger and better things. I said, "Charles, if ever there's a spot on your team, I would love to come work for you."
He promised me that if there was ever a spot on his team, and I'll be darned, a few months later, I went to work for Charles. It was an amazing experience to work for him. Every day, I would talk to him on the phone. I was commuting from Holt, Michigan, to Livonia for several years, so it's no short drive. We would talk on the phone.
Inevitably, he would call me or I would call him and I would ask him how he was doing, and he would always say, "I am blessed beyond what I deserve." I always thought that was just incredible. He's an incredibly humble person. I learned some great lessons from him.
Chrishell Bird is another person who I learned more lessons from her than I can even count. I remember that she's never been afraid to have a hard conversation. That helped me because sometimes I like to candy‑coat things and she does not.
I remember one time we were going over my PFD and she was talking and I started talking and she said, "Hold on a second." She goes, "You have a tendency to talk over people. Maybe you should wait seven seconds before you say something when someone's done talking."
I have taken that every place I've worked since and I think I brought that to our team as well. We kind of even jokingly say, "I waited my seven seconds. Now it's time." That's just one small lesson that Chris taught me. I could fill a book with the things she has taught me over my career and even after I stopped working for her.
The interesting thing is I remember when she was an intern here and I was working as a CES, or a customer energy specialist, so our relationship goes way, way, way back. If I could say thank you to people, I would definitely say thank you to her for the life lessons that I will take with me even after I leave Consumers Energy.
Angela: That is amazing. One thing about you that I just adore is the humility and vulnerability that you bring with you. Where does that come from? Because that is not easy. You just said I want to give people their flowers and thank them now. There's power and strength in vulnerability that people often misunderstand. Where does that come from?
Bill: That's a tough question to answer. It comes from a couple of places. One, when I deployed in the army as a company commander, I got up in front of the families and friends and loved ones of 200 soldiers and I promised them that I would bring their loved ones home. I promised them that.
Didn't realize how hard it would be to keep that promise because I was the commander. I would just make things happen, but that's not how life works. I learned from that experience that the only way you get things done is by relying on other people. There's no magic to the person that sits on the leader chair. It's all the magic around them that makes things happen.
The other thing is, I don't think it's any secret that I've lost a lot of friends along the way. I've learned that sometimes people don't get their moment to know what they've done for people. I want to make sure that I give them that as we're going along so that they know how they've impacted my life.
I call it the "it's a wonderful life" moment because that guy didn't know until he jumped off a bridge what an impact it had with people all during his life. I want to give people their "it's a wonderful life" moment as soon as I realize what they've done for me.
Angela: You do that, and that is one of the things that makes you so special. One of the things that we all love and respect and appreciate about you. I'm going to give you your flowers and your love and just say I personally thank you, I appreciate you, your friendship, your mentorship.
Even I think you also learned from Chrishell Bird how to have difficult conversations because we too have had some of those. I have been challenged and you have helped bring out the best in me in many situations. I just try not to get choked up myself but just want to say I think you and I appreciate you.
This podcast started out as a well‑being podcast. Why wellbeing? How did this start? What was behind it all? As your final episode, let's go back to the beginning.
Bill: Those were exciting times. I do want to pause for just a second and say that as Angela is sitting across the table from me, I actually have tears running down my eyes because this is very hard. This is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. She is holding it together on the other side of this table like nobody's business and I really, really appreciate that.
Let's go back, and then that really speaks to where this came from. If you think back to when I joined this team in January of 2020, it was to be the Veterans Affairs person to take care of the veterans that came to Consumers, and so I started digging because I wanted to address this veteran suicide, where we're losing 22 veterans a day to suicide.
As I started digging into this, what I found out was that as a company, we had actually lost several of our family members who were not veterans to suicide. I thought, "Yes, this is a veteran problem, but it's a people challenge." I made some phone calls. After having been here for so long, I made a couple of friends, believe it or not.
I called some friends from the union, and I called some friends from compliance, and I called some friends from all different areas of the company and we put together this well‑being committee to take a look at, how can we deliver resources to people. We have great resources here but for some reason, people just don't know that they're there.
We came up with this amazing plan. We were going to travel to all of our, I think, 38 service centers at the time, and we're going to deliver this message of wellbeing and we're going to talk about resources, and then COVID hit right and no one was going anywhere. The entire world shut down.
One day I'm driving to work and the next day I'm sitting in my house because we can't go anywhere. I thought, "This message still needs to get out." I talked to the well‑being team and we were trying to figure out what to do and somebody whispered in my ear, "Why don't you do a podcast or a YouTube video or something like that."
I went to you, Angela, and said, "Hey, let's do a podcast," and you said, "Go ahead, but you're kind of on your own because no one here knows how to do that." I don't know, 200 or 300 YouTube videos later and a whole bunch of different iterations and we finally kicked off our podcast. That first month, five whole people listened to it.
Angela: Five? What? Wait, let's stop. The first month, five whole people listened. Can you please share the current stats of the podcast?
Bill: We are getting right around 3,000 listeners a month.
Bill: February was 12,000.
Bill: A testament to the voices that are being heard on this podcast. It's the amazing guests that have made that happen, but yes, 3,000 a month.
Angela: Aren't you in several different countries downloads?
Bill: Yes, we are. We are in a lot of countries. We're in hundreds of cities across the world. We still have that one listener in France and I want to track that person down because I want to know who they are.
Angela: That is amazing. You mentioned you had a plan. We all know what happens when you have a plan, right? Something else happens and it's usually not what you plan for. You and I have had a lot of private conversations just around the power of our own thoughts and how our thoughts can manifest action.
Think the podcast was another way to reach people on another way to have a conversation, but the success of the podcast, the listeners, the guests, and their stories have been important, but you have the ability to bring out something in people. Tell us where that comes from. I don't know if many people know your background as a storyteller.
When we initially talked about the podcast, we talked about not only the conversation being an opportunity and platform to heal the listener, but it also provided an opportunity for the guest to heal themselves through telling their testimony or speaking of their trauma.
I think the way that you're able to ask questions, create a safe space for people to be vulnerable, you have a gift in that you are a storyteller. Talk to us a little bit more about that part of Bill Krieger.
Bill: I never thought of myself as a storyteller my whole life. When I returned, so 2007 when I returned from Iraq, I was a mess. I would listen to podcasts all the time when I was mowing my lawn when I was working in the house. Podcasts soothe me.
I remember listening to a podcast called "The Moth Radio Hour." It was on NPR, and their guest was Piper Kerman, who if you don't know who she is, she wrote, "Orange is the New Black."
I listened to her story and I thought, "My gosh, this person is amazing." I just couldn't get over how she had overcome so many things in her life, and so I subscribe to the podcast. It was a really cool podcast.
I'm listening to it and I hear, "The Moth will be in Ann Arbor." They do, I think it was the second Tuesday of every month, they were going to be in Ann Arbor. I thought, "That's not too far of a drive."
In November, I think it must have been 2008, 2009, I started driving once a month to Ann Arbor to The Moth Story Hour. Essentially, what you do is you go in, there's a theme for the night, you get to tell a five‑minute story.
It has to be true, it has to be about, it has to have a beginning, middle, and end, all of those things, and then you put your name in the hat. They draw 10 names out during the night and those 10 people get to tell their stories.
I think for the first three or four months, I did not get to get on stage. It was very disappointing, but I got to hear some amazing stories by some amazing storytellers.
If you have not been to a story slam, it is the most eclectic, diverse group of people you're ever going to see. You have people who you might describe as hippies, you have business people, and everything in between.
It's just this amazing group of people who support each other on stage. I think it was in the middle of winter, I finally got my name called, I got up there, and I told my story. It was like this weight was lifting off for me. I got to tell my story, the people were so supportive afterwards.
People would come up to me and say, "Something similar happened to me and I thought I was the only person it's ever happened to." I actually won the story slam that night. When you do that, you get to go to this regional storytelling event, which I did. It was at The Ark in Ann Arbor. I told another story there, and I won that.
Back in the day, when you won this regional event, you got to go to what they call the Moth Ball at the end of the year. The Moth Story Hour has their annual deal in New York.
NPR put me on a plane, shipped me off to New York, and I got to go to this Moth Ball where there were just hundreds and hundreds of people who love stories, who produce stories, who do all this kind of stuff. The keynote speaker was none other than Piper Kerman.
Angela: No way.
Bill: Kid you not. I told the producer there, I said, "Look, I need to talk to her. I will wait as long as it takes." She's very popular, so I waited a long time. I went up, I talked to her, I got my picture taken with her. Probably the 40, 45 minutes that her and I talked, you know what we talked about? Me. She asked me questions about me.
Bill: I wanted to know about her but she asked me questions about me. She was so humble and just so attentive, and it was just this amazing conversation that I had, and it had come full circle. I was smitten with storytelling afterwards. It was just something I had to do. I continued with The Moth for a while. In fact, I proposed to my wife at a Moth storytelling event.
Angela: There are no accidents, there are no coincidences.
Bill: There are there are none. Since then, I've done some storytelling with "USA Today," and that translated into what we're doing here today.
Angela: Wow. I've always said, I'm going to manifest this for you, I've always said that you will have your own talk show one day. You're retiring after, we're going to call it 30 years, one month shy, of being with the company, what is next for Bill Krieger?
Bill: There's a couple of things going on. One of them is that I do have a nonprofit that records veterans' stories. We sit down with veterans, myself, and other veterans, and we just listen to veterans' stories.
We don't just capture their time in the military. We talk about their entire lives from the time that they can remember all the way through what they're doing today. We grab those stories, we give the veteran a copy of it, they get a nice display box with their branch of military service on top and a nice memory card.
Then we take a copy of that story, and we're building an archive that will be the searchable database so that people in the future can not only understand and hear about history, they can hear about history in the words, in the voices of the people that actually lived that history.
Because you often hear that the winner gets to write the history books. In this case, we're going to write the history book with the voices of all those people who live that history.
Maybe some of those stories are going to be a little bit different. Maybe some of them are going to be conflicting, but they're going to be the stories from the people who live that history. That's one part of what I'm doing and I'm very excited about having that take off and providing that in perpetuity to generations to come.
Angela: Wow. That's one thing. Are you up to anything else?
Bill: I might be. Retirement doesn't mean the end. If you think about it, I already retired from the military back in 2010. Now I'm retiring from Consumers Energy. I have the opportunity to go work for the VFW National Home and working with their veterans and their families. In September, I'll be starting there.
I am so excited. I've had this relationship with them through my work here, honestly. It's an amazing group of people that work there that just give their whole heart to the folks that are at the National Home, as well as just veterans in general, and it's really a passion of mine. This all just comes together.
When you say nothing happens without a reason, everything happens for a reason. This all happened at the same time. This opportunity, this ability to retire, all of these things came together all in one spot. There just are no coincidences.
Angela: No coincidences. Your journey, your footsteps, everything is ordered. You said it's something that you're passionate about. Not many of us have the great fortune to, it's not work when you're doing something that you're passionate about.
I love that for you. I love how you've been able to, over the years, channel your passion, not only into something meaningful and purposeful for you but also allowing that to benefit other people.
Again, giving you your flowers while you're here that it's something you're passionate about, but it's not just a passion that satisfies something for you. That so many people have benefited from your work and they will continue to benefit from the legacy that you'll build when you move to this next chapter.
My friend, I am so happy for you in this next chapter. I would love to be a guest on your talk show when that happens. Just wish you nothing but the absolute best in this, like you say, retirement is not the end. It's the next chapter, and so I wish you nothing but the best in this next chapter. Continue joy and happiness in everything you do.
Bill: Thank you for that. I've made this promise, so I'm going to make this promise on the air that you will be my first guest.
Angela: I receive it.
Bill: You will be my first guest. I'm looking forward. I don't know how that's going to happen, but you know what, that's not my business.
Angela: None of your business.
Bill: That's right.
Angela: Mind your business.
Bill: Thank you so much for taking time out today to interview me. It's just been such a pleasure working with you and working for you. I just want to say one more thing before we go and that is many, many, many years ago when you and I met, I always said I want to work with you.
I remember having coffee and it was one of those cases where we were both saying we would love to work together but we don't know how it's going to happen.
Angela: We sure did.
Bill: That was none of our business...
Angela: It was none of our business.
Bill: ...because it all came together and it did happen. The days that I have been able to work and live my passion and enjoy being here far outweigh the days where I dreaded coming in to work. I can't even name a day where that has happened.
I am so happy that this is my final stop at Consumers Energy. Getting the ability to work with you, to work with the DEI team. It's just been an amazing ride and looking forward to having you on the talk show.
Angela: Thank you, my brother, Bill. It's been a pleasure. This is goodbye for now. We will see you on your talk show. Do you have a name for it?
Bill: I don't. It's just going to come together...
Angela: It's just going to happen, all right.
Bill: ...like everything else, right?
Angela: We will look forward to hearing from you again.
Bill: Thank you to the audience for listening in today. The Me You Us podcast is proudly sponsored by Consumers Energy, leaving Michigan better than we found it. Remember, you can find the Me You Us podcast on all major podcasting platforms. Be sure to go out, find us, and subscribe.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. That's 988. If you're a veteran or you know a veteran who is in crisis, you can call 988 and press 1 for the Veterans Crisis Line.
Remember to tune in every Wednesday as we talk about the things that impact your personal well‑being.