“I had gone through a trial by fire and that helped me get my next job.” Many successful people have that kind of story. A major event imprints a leadership lesson. That is the story of Angela Hare, Vice President of Information Technology, Customer Service, and Metering at Central Electric Membership in Sanford, NC. (Website, right)
ECC features Angela as a part of its look at women leaders in the Carolina energy industry.
Central Electric is a not-for-profit electric cooperative that serves more than 23,000 homes and businesses in five North Carolina counties, including Chatham, Harnett, Lee, Moore, and Randolph counties.
The event that tested Angela was Hurricane Fran in 1996. The storm made landfall near Cape Fear on September 6 and barreled inland as a huge rainmaker, 16-inches in the middle of North Carolina.
Angela was at the coop then as a drive-through cashier. On routine days she took cash or check payments at the drive-in window of the coop, then posted the payments. “The system was totally manual,” said Angela.
In the remnants of the hurricane, “It was all hands-on-deck to take calls and track outages. We had paper taped along the walls to track everyone. It was chaos.”
Lots different now, partly because of Fran. The electric coop began to build its automation system after that to tap new technology and track of outages. Automated meters have been advanced in a big way just in the last few years.
Angela’s classes at the technical college were in IT. She created the IT Department at CEMC when she came onboard in 1999. Angela managed the choosing, buying, and rollout of the automated meters for the coop.
Success stories about the automated metering came in. “Hare recalls one member whose power went out while she was on vacation; Central Electric was able to quickly determine the outage and repair it before she returned. The member ended up writing a letter to the company about what this service meant to her, including not having to come home to a freezer full of spoiled food.” (Source)
She also recalls a story of a tobacco farmer with a barn full of curing leaves. An electric problem in the meter base in the barn alerted the coop to a problem. A barn of tobacco leaves, and maybe a year’s revenue for the farmer, were saved.
Angela says the enjoyable challenge of the new metering has been going from a mechanical response to digital response. Right up her alley.
Angela takes to heart lessons from Sherri Baldwin, who taught an emerging leader group. That advice is to, “Remove the clutter and focus on what matters,” said Sherri. “In other words, don’t take on more busywork, rather, take on additional responsibilities that will position you for the next position in the organization.” (Sherri Baldwin, LeadAdvantage, has extensive experience in energy and leadership training.)
It’s with that background that we asked Angela the common questions we posed to other women in the Carolina energy industry.
Question: When it comes to moving ahead successfully in a company, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self based on what you know now?
Answer: Patience. Patience. I came into the industry when I was 18, worked during community college IT classes. At that age, the youth, the aggressiveness! Patience would have gotten me farther.
Question: How do women find and best use mentors?
Answer: I have had several mentors, depends on the season of life you are going through. Mentors helped teach me company culture and skills. I think the key is that there are mentors out there, and it does not need to be a formal company mentoring system.
I have a mentor at another coop, in eastern NC, and I am not sure he knows he is a mentor. He gives me solid advice. We worked together elsewhere and kept in contact.
There is one woman who was at the customer service job here. She worked here her entire career – high school through retirement. She was a source for me to watch and learn.
Look for mentors in unlikely places. One mentor of mine, a top executive here, left to a larger coop in Alabama. He and I were both board members for Youth Advisory Committee in Sanford. He helped me get hired here at Central Electric. I don’t think he realized he was a mentor at the time, or the impact he had way back then.
Look to industry programs, too. In 2020 I participated in NRECA’s [National Rural Electric Cooperatives] first mentoring program. I was paired with a young lady out of South Carolina. One of her goals was meeting people outside of her Coop and creating a network. The one thing that I have enjoyed over the years is building my network of Coop people. Since we could not doing anything in person for 2020, I was able to host Webex meetings where she was able to meet and get to know others in our industry. It felt good to share that with her!
Question: Is the utility industry ready for more women leaders; how can women in the workplace now help improve the environment for women?
Answer: It is a male dominated industry. One way several of us have tried to help is a program called, Women Lighting the Way. Just 15-20 IT NC coop women started it to build a network and learn. Our most recent meeting was virtual, led by our emerging leader coach Sherri Baldwin. Since it was virtual, we had almost 40 ladies on the line.
From my experiences I have learned to be inclusive of each other. Screen people in, not out.
On leadership I have learned to speak up in meetings, which can be a challenge for some women. I feel there are times when women will not speak up, depending on who is at a meeting. I have been in meetings when I wished other women might say more. They have something to say. I know they have good ideas.
Question: Ever been afraid of a job or project? What did you do?
Not really afraid, because I like challenges. I do like to get out of my comfort zone. For instance, I knew the IT business, but metering was foreign to me. I got to know people who knew that information. I like accomplishing something new.
About 5 years ago I was asked to manage our Customer Service department, along with my other duties. Since doing that it has taken me away from the real technical work each day but it has given me an opportunity to stretch myself a little more. I love taking on new challenges! Along with my CS team we were able to transform our CS area into a digital platform – just in time for COVID and our new work from home schedule.
My advice, and I have seen this when people show fear, they freeze or panic. Instead, pause, breath-in, then search for information. There are lots of resources around. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.