Tributes have been paid to the chief executive of Western Power Distribution (WPD), Robert Symons, who has died following a battle with cancer.

Symons, who took charge of the company in March 2000, has been described as “instrumental” in achieving improvements in network performance. He died on Wednesday (7 November) aged 65.

Bill Spence, chairman, president and chief executive of PPL, the parent company of WPD, described Symons as a “force of nature”.

He said:“Our industry has lost a tireless champion of the critical role that network operators play in serving customers and in shaping the UK’s energy future.

“Robert was a force of nature driven to deliver for our customers and never satisfied with the status quo, always challenging the business to reach higher for those it served.

“Those of us who knew Robert well lost a friend and mentor whose passion for success will not be forgotten soon.”

Chartered engineer Symons joined the industry in 1971 as a student engineer with the former South Western Electricity Board.

Phil Swift, WPD’s operations director will succeed Symons as chief executive. He said his predecessor would be greatly missed.

Swift added: “Our thoughts are with Robert’s wife and his children and grandchildren at this very sad time.”

Symons, who was also the current chairman of the Energy Networks Association (ENA), made “great achievements” during his tenure with WPD and the ENA.

David Smith, chief executive of the ENA, said: “I was lucky enough to have known Robert for many years, and ENA has been privileged to have him as our chairman.

“I will always be grateful for his support and counsel and will remember his great achievements across his career at both WPD and the ENA.”

Writing a CEO view for Utility Week in July, Symons was keen to stress his innovative credentials and wrote about what WPD was doing to harness the power of electric vehicles.

He said: “At WPD we’ve proved that we can turn a trial into a business-as-usual activity within a year with our Flexible Power initiative, encouraging half-hourly metered businesses to reduce their electrical consumption or increase their on-site generation. In this way we can manage network constraint, avoiding costly reinforcement as the standard response.

“We’re also assessing the impact of the electric vehicles that will be hitting our roads in the next few years – each likely to be consuming as much power annually as the average domestic property.”

Symons’ other achievements included leading WPD, which currently serves 7.9 million customers across the South West, South Wales and the Midlands, through a regulatory price review process that resulted in it being the only electricity or gas distribution company to have its business plan fast-tracked by Ofgem.