Spotlight on Women: Debra Reed
CEO of San Diego-based Fortune 500 company, Sempra Energy
Debra was featured in Forbes special section on Powerful Women, along with four others, in August.
How did you get your start?
I always loved math and science. I grew up in Long Beach with one sister. I was the first in my family to go to college. I was given a trustee scholarship and worked 20 hours a week all through college because my parents could not afford tuition. I graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
Did you have a role model?
My mother influenced my decision to go to school. She helped me to prepare and was always there to help me with my schoolwork.
Did you ever think you would become CEO of a Fortune 500 company?
No. I had no role models in the company. I became an officer at the age of 32 and was the first woman to reach that level. Once you have achieved and have built confidence, then it becomes easier. I never thought I was the smartest person in the room. I think my greatest skill is getting the best ideas out of people.
How did you manage being a woman in a male-dominated industry?
When I was 26, I had to lead a group of older men. My dad was a pipe fitter, and I always looked at things through his eyes. I would think about how he would view things and how I could best fit in.
How did you balance career and family?
My husband retired when our daughter went into high school, so we were able to operate as a team on the parenting side. She is now 30 and is a practicing attorney.
What have you done to help others coming up behind you?
I believe mentoring is better when done every day in real time. I try to be a good role model and set the example. If a person could do better, let him or her know at the moment and not once a month. Mentoring is constant. We have a very diverse staff. When you bring people from different backgrounds and different perspectives and you work together, you can make better decisions, and the performance shows in the results. My key role is to continue to develop future leaders.
Talk about Sempra’s giving back.
We give back in two ways: We put about $15 million into the community in areas of math, science, education, and the environment. More important are the hours our employees donate. We support employees in their organizations as well and give them the recognition they deserve for their work.
How many hours do you give per month?
During the past year, it was around 40 hours. As chair of the board of directors of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, we created an alignment between the EDC and the Chamber of Commerce. We need to ensure the military presence stays in our region and keep technology, telecommunications, and tourism strengthened.
What is next for you?
We have a great growth plan and a five-year strategic plan. You have a vision and then see it done—seeing the right thing to do, going through the challenges, and having the team deliver. My biggest thrill is to see our people reach their goals; to provide employment to a lot of people. My role is to help them see the opportunities and to bring a project to completion.
What don’t people know about you?
I feel very fortunate to be in this job and to have the wonderful team that I have. It is truly all about the people.