Power generation companies have historically been led by male boards and CEOs. But executive leadership across this sector is evolving. The disruption of this once-standard leadership structure can result in several long-term benefits for companies; watch for more utilities and other power companies to cultivate leaders who look more like 21st-century America.
This change is most evident in solar power companies, as about half of their new hires in 2016 were women. Over 25 percent of electric utility companies in America are currently led by women, several of whom have demonstrated their ability to build a competitive advantage by providing clean power to their customers.
We’ll profile a few women executives who demonstrate this industry’s current transformation.
Lynn Good has served as Duke Energy Corporation’s CEO since 2013. She has focused on leading the company into exploring smarter and cleaner energy sources with a ten-year plan announced in 2017. This plan aims to expand the company’s natural gas infrastructure, improve its energy grid and source from cleaner energy supplies. Duke Energy expects the plan will improve its goodwill and increase customer value by fulfilling demands for sustainable energy. By 2030 the company plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent. Under Ms. Good’s leadership, the company has retained its spot on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the past 13 consecutive years.
El Paso Electric Company’s Mary Kipp was recently elected as CEO of the company in 2015. She is the first female CEO to lead the company throughout its 114-year history. Ms. Kipp also has a history as a senior enforcement attorney prosecuting against violations of federal energy laws. Her past foreshadows her future in leading the company to comply with energy laws and develop new sources of renewable energy.
In New Mexico, Pat Vincent-Collawn is leading PNM Resources’ drive to embrace diversity in its workforce. She served as the chairman of Edison Electric Institute until 2018 and introduced the first diversity and inclusion summit that the association has ever hosted. This was long overdue for EEI – the group was conceived in 1933, but this diversity summit was not hosted until 2017. As EEI represents all investor-owned electric companies in the U.S., actions like Ms. Collawn’s attract minorities who may have felt isolated by the conventional white male leadership. Boasting a diverse workforce is a vital strength for organizations looking for fresh mindsets ready to explore alternative sources of energy. Ms. Collawn also served as chairman of the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an organization that provides sustainability and carbon emissions research. Her experiences with EEI and EPRI point to a future of cleaner energy at PNM Resources.
Lynn Jurich cofounded Sunrun Inc. and has since led the company as CEO as it became the largest residential solar energy provider in America. Sunrun has an overarching mission of completely powering the planet from energy harvested from the sun. Ms. Jurich developed the company’s power purchase agreement (PPA) business model that provides customers with solar energy from panels owned and maintained by Sunrun. This strategy alleviates the burden of installation and maintenance for customers while allowing them to reap the benefits of endless clean energy. Sunrun recently expanded into seven new states and provided around the clock solar energy to first responders in Puerto Rico.
Look to the Aloha State for another example of how some of these trailblazing utility CEOs have turned to renewables for future growth. Connie Lau, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric, has been on board with her state’s ambition to run 100 percent on renewables by 2045. “There is a misconception that utilities do not welcome renewable energy. I think that couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said in an interview with General Electric in 2016. “If you look at the statistics for the industry in total, the utilities are some of the companies that are adopting and integrating renewable energy at a record clip.”
The growing number of women leading power companies embodies the gender equality movement of recent years. Women’s attraction to leadership roles in power companies correlate with shifting interests toward developing and deploying more clean energy. This change in leadership is certainly compelling to millennials, who have made it clear they want to work for organizations that make a difference – as it is certainly an appealing idea to work for a clean energy company that can lead to reducing environmental harm. The power of female executives to lead companies toward innovative technology and diversified workforces foreshadows promising futures at once-stodgy power companies.
Image credit: U.S. Department of Energy/Flickr
Jenna Ammann is a student finishing her senior year studying Corporate Finance and Hospitality at UMass Amherst. She has a focus on investigating environmentally and financially sustainable food service business models. Jenna is from Westport, Massachusetts.