Every industry pulls success stories and learning opportunities from one another. As someone who worked in the banking and financial industry for 17 years, Anna Smith knows this all too well.
Smith, Key Account Manager for Arizona Public Service (APS), says there are many differences she’s noticed from her time in the banking industry. “I’ve seen more collaboration in the utility industry than I had ever seen,” she says. “Utilities are willing to share information and best practices for the greater good. When we go to utility conferences, we get to go in breakout sessions and hear thoughts, ideas and challenges from other utilities. That would never happen in the banking industry.”
However, as with most industries, she’s seen similarities as well. “Both industries are very in-tune with upcoming changes and leveraging technology. The utility industry is on the cutting edge of solar storage, green energy, electric vehicles and more,” Smith says. “Both industries are very in-tune to what’s coming, which is how you remain competitive. You don’t want to be behind the eight ball.”
While most U.S. energy utilities don’t serve customers in another country, Smith’s role has extended beyond the border to assist not only her Arizona-based customers but four business customers in Mexico as well. Originally brought into the project as a translator, Smith soon took over key account management for the customers. Through a presidential permit originally signed by President Bill Clinton, APS is allowed to serve electricity to Mexico as a U.S. entity.
“I went from being a translator to taking care of them fully, 100%. There’s been a lot of learning,” Smith says. “All of their equipment is south of the border, there are Homeland Security issues…it’s a highly unique situation. Nothing about the relationship with those customers is similar to my other customers except for wanting them to feel the same white-glove treatment that all of our other customers receive.”
Smith’s primary communication method with these customers is through email, as she works to both translate and share information and resources with them. “These customers are different because I can’t just pay them a visit,” she says. “You can’t just go there and fix their equipment if something happens. It’s fun, but has been a learning experience.”
Additionally, Smith serves as the president of an employee network group, the Hispanic Organic Leadership Advancement (HOLA). After the group was formed, the APS Promise was launched — an internal initiative that works to bring employees together and anchor them in the values of APS. As a committee, HOLA puts together events and professional development opportunities at least once a month for members. Currently, HOLA encompasses nearly 400 out of 6,000 employees.
“Our leadership is encouraged to look at their employees, see who is living our promise daily and being ambassadors for our company and the community,” Smith says. “I’m really proud of this initiative. APS doesn’t just say they’re inclusive or a great place to work, they make it happen. At APS, you can feel confident being who you are. You can feel confident to be accepted.”
Outside of work, Smith enjoys spending time with her family, including her husband and nine- and 14-year-old daughters. They love to travel together and most recently visited Utah, Texas and California. Her oldest daughter plays on a volleyball travel team, which keeps the family on the move.
Questline Digital connected with Smith to get her thoughts on changes in the utility industry and the evolution of energy.
How did you get started in the energy utility industry?
I worked in banking and finance for most of my career and the instability of the industry finally got to me. I grew tired of wondering if I was going to have a job next year or the year after that. The stability provided by working for a utility was what attracted me to the industry at first, as well as the many opportunities for a young professional. I also felt that utilities are “recession-proof” and there are not many industries that are like that. After 17 years in banking, I began my career in the energy utility industry and never looked back!
What has changed the most about your job working in the utility industry over the course of your career?
The shift to green energy. Years ago, there were not as many environmental concerns, such as the number of harmful gases emitted into the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants. The increased focus on generating power from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, has been great and having a plan in place to get us to carbon-free by 2050 demonstrates APS’s commitment to get there.
What excites you the most about the energy utility space?
All the technology that allows energy efficiency to be improved in the things we use and do every day, as well as all the exciting renewable energy projects that can be found across the world that shows why renewables are the future of energy. It is awesome to work in an industry where we get to be a part of amazing work that is making an impact not just locally, but on a global scale.
What campaign or initiative are you most proud of?
The introduction of the APS Promise. The APS Promise anchors all of us toward improving our processes by searching for new ways of doing things, respectfully challenging one another, and including different perspectives in our decision-making. It also reminds us to ensure we are doing activities safely and for the betterment of our community.
What’s a marketing campaign you wish you’d thought of (inside or outside the energy industry)?
The creation of a department specifically focused on diversity and inclusion. The introduction of this department has transformed our workplace and has encouraged collaboration and teamwork across the organization.
What is the hardest part of working in the energy industry today?
Keeping up with the explosive growth taking place in Arizona. Providing energy to Arizona residents as well as attracting new businesses now and into the future is no easy task. APS focuses on safety, reliability and resiliency to drive new investment in power-generating capacity in the coming years to support this growth.
Finish this sentence: If I weren’t working in the utility industry, I would be…
Making a difference in the lives of people — most likely working in the non-profit sector. Through Employee Networking Groups, APS offers many opportunities to volunteer and get involved in causes that are important to their employees. Since working here, I have been exposed to many wonderful organizations and have enjoyed volunteering and contributing to the great work they do in the communities we serve. I am a Big Sister with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Arizona, and I would have never been involved in this if I wasn’t made aware of it through APS.
How do you anticipate the world of energy evolving in the coming years?
I am looking forward to seeing how new technologies will be leveraged to drive market transformations and serve our customers in ways we never dreamed were possible. There is an enormous amount of innovation and investment in the clean energy space, and it is reassuring to see the positive signals from not only our government, but governments around the world making significant commitments to sustainability and a green agenda.
What advice would you give to those entering the utility space?
I have learned a lot from many leaders over the years, but one thing really resonated with me: “Get comfortable with the uncomfortable,” in other words keep challenging yourself. We work in a complicated industry with endless change. It can be stressful at times, but do not be afraid of it and make a commitment to continually challenge yourself.