Mary Powell, 54, is the CEO
of Green Mountain Power, a role
she never envisioned for herself as a
young, outdoorsy New York transplant.
Today she’s one of the most influential
Vermont voices in energy, leadership
and workplace issues.
By Sky Barsch
Photographed by Gary Hall
VL: You left a corporate gig in Man-
hattan to move to Vermont. Why here?
MP: My dad’s grandfather purchased
a piece of land on the lake in Colchester,
I think in 1910. I usually spent at least
half of my summer here. My parents
and then my sister and her family moved
here, and my husband, Mark, and I had
the opportunity to transition up here. It’s
an amazing quality of life.
VL: You’ve worked in business, bank-
ing and utilities. What would you tell
your younger self who thought these
fields were “stuffy?”
MP: I would still say, “Don’t work for
stuffy, bureaucratic organizations.” [But] I
think being willing to try different things
is really important. I would say a huge part
of why things have worked for me is that
I was always willing to bring my authentic self to wherever I went. I hear people
when they’re going for interviews, they’ll
research exactly what the company looks
for and they’ll morph themselves into that.
I always encourage people: No, just be
your authentic self. Don’t try to conform.
VL: Now that some time has passed
since sharing that you had a double
mastectomy due to cancer risks, how
do you feel about going public?
MP: I feel like it was probably one of
the better decisions I’ve made. And like
most decisions that in the long run are
really good decisions, it took courage
and there’s discomfort. My heart has
been overflowing with the power of the
impact I have had on others by deciding
to be so personal. And what has helped
me is to have a good dose of humility
about it; not everybody in the world
cares about my boobs. But there definite-
ly is a feeling that a lot of them do.
VL: Do you ever get tired of people
mentioning “female” and “CEO” in
the same breath?
MP: Yeah. But I’ve also grown to honor
that at the same time. I honestly don’t feel
like there’s been much of a shift in the
30-plus years that I’ve been engaged professionally or at policy levels. I believe Vermont would be a much stronger state if we
had more diversity in the context of those
who drive ultimate decisions.
VL: Will Vermont ever be a
100 percent-renewable-energy state?
MP: Could we be 100% on the electric
side? I think that’s absolutely achievable. It’s probably going to take a couple
decades to fully realize, but we see a
transformation with renewable distributed generation — largely solar — but
other technologies are coming along.
Storms are a big issue in this state.
When big storm systems come in, no
amount of tree wire, storm hardening or vegetation management is going to stop all
of that tumbling down. If
you think about it, if you
distribute close to the source
of where you’re using energy,
that’s obviously more resilient
than having to have it travel
25 miles to get to you.
VL: Where do you think
opportunity is for
MP: Coming up
with an approach
that is around innovation, collaboration
and investment. There are things we could
do to make Vermont more affordable,
and that should be part of our economic
strategy. But I see this incredible Vermont
niche growing around innovation. The
future is around our ability to incubate
ideas and get them to market quickly.
VL: Do you think there is a healthy
pool of candidates to be the next
leaders of Vermont?
MP: I was just chatting with somebody
about the “gray ceiling” that we have
because we’re an older state. There is
amazing talent out there, and the unfortunate part is that we don’t know where
it is because we haven’t done enough to
foster it. By the time I was 26, 27, I was
a key member of a leadership team running a $3.5 billion fund in New York City.
What’s remarkable about that isn’t, “look
at me, I was so young doing something,”
it’s that a lot of people were. I think we’ve
lost sight of a key part of how we develop
the next generation, which is to take raw,
talented folks and give them opportunity
to lead bold, ambitious projects.
VL: What would you say to someone
thinking about moving to Vermont but
is scared of a drastic change?
MP: I have recommended
Vermont to anybody and
everybody. When you
work in these big complex
organizations or big com-
plex cities, it is so much
harder to make a difference.
In Vermont, if you have a
spirit of collaboration or inno-
vation, I feel like there is no
end to what you
can do. A