Thomas May is stepping down as chief executive of Eversource Energy, the electricity and gas giant he helped build over a 40-year career in which he became one of Boston’s most powerful business leaders.
May, 68, oversaw the old Boston Edison and steered a series of acquisitions, culminating in the 2012 merger of NStar and Northeast Utilities. Last year, the combined company changed its name to Eversource, which now has an $18 billion market value and 3.6 million customers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.
Succeeding him as president and chief executive next month is James Judge, 60, a Dorchester native and company veteran who has been chief financial officer since 1995, Eversource said Wednesday. May will remain nonexecutive chairman for a year, after which Judge is expected to be elected chairman.
Charles Gifford, the retired Boston banker who chairs the succession planning committee on the Eversource board, called Judge “an extremely capable executive who will continue to provide strong leadership to Eversource and deliver results for our customers and shareholders.”
Judge, the son of a Boston police officer, holds both a master’s degree and bachelor of science in business administration from Babson College.
In an interview, Judge said May was “one of the best leaders in the industry,” looking out for customers’ interests and shareholders. But Judge said his goal is to continue to improve service and rates for customers.
“We got a break in terms of the weather” this winter, Judge said, adding, “We need to make sure we have the infrastructure in place regardless of weather conditions.”
May, an accountant by training, for decades has occupied an influential place in Boston’s business community, serving on corporate and civic boards. In recent years, he also has found himself at the center of controversies over multimillion-dollar pay packages, slow responses to storm outages, and New England’s high energy costs.
As head of NStar, May agreed to support Cape Wind, the offshore wind project, to win former Governor Deval Patrick’s endorsement of his $17.5 billion merger in 2012 with Northeast Utilities. Then, in 2015, he was among the business leaders who let the project die.
May was not available to comment.
Utilities are a business everyone loves to hate. And May has received his share of criticism amid blackouts and epic storms that periodically left customers in the dark or cold.
A tropical storm in 2011 left hundreds of thousands of residents without power for days, as NStar struggled to restore service and respond to downed lines, an experience repeated later that year in colder weather. The company was fined $4 million by state regulators, a penalty it later appealed and was reduced by half.
In 2012, an NStar transformer in Boston blew up; that again affected thousands, snarled traffic, and prompted building evacuations.
Amid the furor over the company’s ability to provide service, NStar was closing its merger deal with Northeast Utilities, in which May would stand to reap a large windfall. A year later, his stock and pension holdings amassed over the years were worth an estimated $80 million.
Investors did well on May’s watch, too: The merged company’s share price rose 17 percent in the first year. A $100 investment in Boston Edison in 1994 would have been worth more than nine times that in mid-2013.
In the past year, Eversource shares have risen about 13 percent, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has fallen nearly 1 percent.
The merged companies resisted disclosing May’s 2012 compensation after the merger, doing so only upon being pressured to by then-Attorney General Martha Coakley.
May had compensation of $9.7 million for 2015, up $700,000 from 2014.
Sanford Cloud, lead trustee of the Eversource board, in a statement said, “Tom May has been an extraordinary leader for more than two decades as chief executive.” He also said, “He has delivered superior results in every category — customer, financial, operations, safety, and community.”
May has been a proponent of letting chief executives also hold the chairman’s role at the same company. Last year, he faced an unsuccessful shareholder effort to unseat him as a director at Bank of America Corp., for having supported giving the bank’s chief, Brian Moynihan, both the CEO and chairman title.
May is also a director of Liberty Mutual Holding Co., a Boston-based insurer whose executive pay also has come under scrutiny.
Judge, his successor, will step into the line of fire next. Community leaders were lining up Wednesday with high hopes for the new utility boss.
“Jim Judge has been a stalwart champion for the community-based organizations and families we support,” said Michael Durkin, president of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, in a statement. “As president and CEO of Eversource we know that he will continue to do great work for the communities we serve.”
Beth Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.