Anne Lutz directs EE & ops support at Alliant Energy
Her style is to focus on the objective, solve the problems, meet the deadline and stay within budget. “The team owns the project, not me,” she says.
Anne Lutz has been scaling mountains most of her adult life. That includes more than fifty high peaks, including Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mount Elbrus in Russia.
She’s also conquered some mountainous challenges in her career.
The challenges started in the 1970s when she was a woman engineering student, very much a minority in those days. The challenges only increased as she forged her way to senior leadership positions in EE and management.
Today, Lutz is director of electrical engineering and operations support for Alliant Energy (Madison, WI), responsible for engineering of substations, system protection, SCADA development, standards, maintenance planning and telecommunications. Her seventy-eight highly skilled employees work mostly in the company’s energy delivery and Genco departments. Recently her group has been providing support and design services for the many new wind farms in its service territory. In addition, Lutz is responsible for research and technology development. “It’s an exciting and challenging area,” she says.
The challenge begins
Lutz has shown grit and determination throughout her career. The challenge began with her first job, construction manager for Atlantic Richfield (Dallas, TX) starting in 1975. The job was in California, 2,000 miles from her home in the farming community of Brodhead, WI, and at a time when female engineers, and particularly female engineering managers, were very uncommon.
Some 300 people reported to Lutz through five contractors. Initially, none of them liked the idea.
“Most had never worked for a woman and did not intend to work for a woman and made that very clear to me,” Lutz recalls. “Within the first couple of weeks, one person after another stomped in to complain. I kept reminding myself to maintain perspective and see the humor in it, but it wasn’t easy.”
Refocusing her people
It was only a year since she’d received her BS in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. But her tough new work environment helped mold the participatory management style she’s now well-known for.
“Back in those days, if you complained to the boss he might say, ‘If it’s too hot, get out of the kitchen.’ I decided not to do that,” she says.
“Mainly I listened and asked questions. Of course if someone was being verbally abusive I wouldn’t put up with it and walked away. But mainly it was a question of refocusing people on what we had to accomplish so they realized it was their project, too.”
Within three to four months, many of those same people were returning to Lutz’s office with a different attitude. Now she heard, “I know I told you that you didn’t belong on the job site, but I changed my mind. You’re okay.”
More closed doors
So far so good, but the folks who worked for her weren’t the only problem she had to solve. Along the way she had other doors to open.
One of her favorites, in retrospect, was the door of the Dallas Petroleum Club. Before she headed to her assignment in California, senior leaders at Atlantic Richfield, all men of course, took her to lunch at that posh spot. But not even the VP of one of the biggest oil companies in the world could get Lutz into the main dining room that day: women were simply not permitted.
“In the end we sat in a little room where the men could take their wives if they came to lunch. It was so interesting to watch these privileged men experience what a woman professional had to put up with at the time. They were so angry!” Lutz recalls.
A few months later she was back in Dallas meeting with those same managers, and they proudly escorted her back to the club. “This time we were permitted in the main dining room. I think my company had a lot to do with that!” she says with a smile.
From 1978 to 1980 Lutz was a senior planning engineer for Michigan Wisconsin Pipeline Co. The job was in the company’s Houston, TX HQ; it was her first exposure to the business side of a company.
From 1981 to 1985 Lutz turned her attention to real estate. “Those were the glory years for the Houston real estate boom,” Lutz recalls. “My husband and I were buying properties and renting them out. By then we had one child, then a second, and it was time-consuming.”
The family moved to Colorado, and while her husband focused on real estate, Lutz went to Colorado State University for her MBA, which she completed in 1988.
Working at Alliant Energy
Armed with the MBA, Lutz moved back to Wisconsin to work for Wisconsin Power and Light, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy. She began as an industrial account manager and moved up to customer service center administrator. In 1992 she became manager of sales, then on to general manager for electric projects.
In 1999 she became director of technical project development for Latin American Alliant Energy Resources. For three years she worked as technical lead on several large projects, including construction and startup of a gas power plant, and helping a Brazilian electric utility improve its operations.
From 2002 to 2004 she returned to the U.S. as the utility’s managing director of construction services. She was responsible for all project and construction management for substations, distribution and transmission throughout the company’s four-state service territory. When the company reorganized in 2004, she applied her wide field experience as regional director for operations. In September 2008 she was promoted to her current role, director of electrical engineering and operations support.
How things work in business
Her MBA has served her well, Lutz reflects. “I went after it because I wanted to learn more about how things work in the business world,” she says. Clearly, the MBA combined with her technical and people skills makes a winning career combination.
“I enjoy the challenge of implementing plans and working with people to get processes in place and things functioning well, and I like mentoring employees,” she says. “We’ve worked hard at recruiting women engineers, and their number here at Alliant Energy is now around 15 percent.”
“When we divested the transmission side of the business a lot of engineers left, so now we have a lot of young techies under the age of thirty,” she says. “I like getting them trained and up to speed. It’s a very young workforce here, and it’s fun.”
Lutz thinks more women and minorities should consider careers in engineering.
“It pays very well,” she says. “There’s a lot of competition for the graduates out there. In the U.S. only about a third of college graduates earn a degree in science or engineering while it’s 56 percent in China and 63 percent in Japan.”
Engineering “is a great area to get into,” she says. And once there, “Don’t be afraid to aim for the stars. Most people aim too low. You should aim for what you’d like to be doing, and not be afraid to do the hard work to get there.”
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