By Taroue Brooks
Last month, Sherina Maye Edwards became the first Black, woman president and chief executive officer of one of the U.S.’s largest women-owned utility specialty companies, INTREN. An attorney by trade, there have been many prestigious moments in Edwards’ career that led her to swap her ESQ title for that of CEO. Edwards, however, says that in the words of the U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, she may be “the first” but she will not be the last. Following is an exclusive Heart & Soul interview with Edwards in which she shares her professional journey up to this point and highlights some of the personal moments that made this milestone special.
Q: How does it feel to be the first Black woman in your current role at INTREN?
A: I feel proud. Not of myself, per se. But of this opportunity to showcase Black women in a way that we are not always seen. I love Black women. You can see that in everything I do, from the schools I attended to the organizations I join. I want others to see us and our unique experiences and perspectives. Not only do I want them to see us, I want them to value us. I am dressed down in work boots and hard hats so I can be engaged when I’m in the field. I’m in my heels and pearls at INTREN staff and board meetings. It’s not just about visualizing us in these spaces, but that part definitely makes an impact. I am confident that my leadership style, strategic approach, and innovative vision will make equally significant impacts.
Q: How has the pandemic impacted your career?
A: It reminded me that challenges make or break leaders. I hit the ground running in 2020, before we even knew a pandemic was on the horizon. Changes had occurred and after serving on the INTREN Board of Directors for three years I was asked to help weather these changes as interim CEO. I jumped right in, integrating myself with our employees and customers and focusing on our organizational and growth strategies. Specifically, I targeted our operational efficiency, cost reductions, and safety excellence. During this time, we saw an increase in revenue and profits, and ultimately we set a new record for financial results in 2020. It was absolutely thrilling to be a part of the infrastructure that powers American lives, especially during such a challenging year.
Q: So, when and how was the transition from interim CEO to CEO to now CEO and president?
A: In January, I was officially named CEO. My responsibilities include strategic direction, human resources, marketing, operations and financial performance of INTREN, which is a $550 million utility contractor with over 2,000 employees and 14 regional offices throughout the U.S. Under that strategic direction umbrella, just four months after becoming CEO, my first major order of business was INTREN’s acquisition by MasTec. MasTec provides utility customers with engineering, building, installation, maintenance and upgrading services for infrastructures throughout the U.S. The acquisition was announced in May, and I was promoted to president and CEO. I look forward to the growth opportunities for our professionals under the ownership of MasTec, as they share our values of quality, safety, innovation and inclusion.
Q: What do you believe led you to this moment in your career?
A: I believe there are many things that led to this moment, since as early as my young adulthood. Prior to INTREN, I was an energy and utilities regulatory partner at Quarles & Brady LLP. I also served on the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) as the youngest commissioner appointed in the state of Illinois. In 2016, I was appointed by President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx as Co-Chair of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Voluntary Information-Sharing System Working Group. Additionally, I helped create the Women’s Energy Summit, Women’s Energy Network of Chicago, Illinois Utilities Business Diversity Council, and ICC Office of Diversity and Community Affairs. Outside of my professional work, I am active on the board of directors of Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago & Northwest Indiana, National Alumnae Association of Spelman College, Howard University Alumni Association, and The Links Incorporated. I am also a wife and a mother. Within myself, one of the consistent things that got me here is leadership. Presence has never been enough for me. I want to engage people and facilitate impact. Outside of myself, a consistent contributor to my growth and success has been balance. I seek out relationships. I value support. My husband, my three-year-old daughter, extended family, and friends provide that for me.
Q: What is next for you? Professionally and personally?
A: At INTREN, I’m focused on our company culture and our customer experience. There is always room for improvement. And, I think those two areas need special attention from all businesses after the shifts we experienced and are still experiencing during the pandemic. At home, I’m focused on time. I learned so much about how time can be maximized during the pandemic. From fitness to travel, I’m focused on being present with myself, my daughter during this important developmental age, and my husband.