Taking charge: Kim Hanemann brings lessons from standout career to top job at PSE&G

You have to dig deep to find the first time Kim Hanemann was pegged for greatness and leadership, identified as someone who had the knowledge and knowhow to be the next president of Public Service Electric & Gas, singled out as someone capable of being the first woman to hold that role in the company’s 118-year history.

Some will point to the start of the pandemic, when Hanemann was tapped to lead the enterprise-wide effort for how the company would reimagine doing work during the COVID-19 outbreak. She led a group that did a JHA, or job hazard analysis, of each role — figuring out how each task could be done safely.

It was an important role, for sure — but, by then, everyone in the company knew Hanemann was an ace in waiting.

Others will go back more than a decade earlier, after blackout caused 50 million people to lose power, when Hanemann was picked to lead a team that completed significant projects on PSE&G’s electric transmission grid — upgrading it, making it more resilient to weather events, all while planning for future growth. 

“That was an incredibly exciting, rewarding time,” she said. “It was building a startup company within the regulated utility.”

Impressive, to say the least. But not quite it.

The moment, some would argue, came at a family picnic when she was still a college student at Lehigh University. 

“An uncle asked my father, a proud union construction leader, ‘Why are you wasting your money by sending your daughter to engineering school?’” she recalled. “My father looked at him and said, ‘She can be anything she wants to be.’”

Hanemann remembers the comment to this day.

“That was a time when you didn’t send your daughters to engineering school,” she said. “But, clearly, that perspective helped me be successful in the workplace.”

Everywhere in the workplace.

“I started in field operations, gas electric distribution transmission, and got my hands dirty,” she said. “I was really learning from the people at work every day, asking them questions and understanding what they did — while not being afraid to get my hands dirty. 

“That was the hurdle. That was my acceptance testing. I think one of the keys to my success was that background, that value system — just learning from people and taking that to work every day.”

On June 30, Hanemann will assume the role as president at PSE&G. 

She recently spoke with ROI-NJ about the challenges and opportunities the job presents. Here is a look at the conversation, edited for space.

ROI-NJ: You’ve served in many roles during your more than three-decade career at PSE&G, which normally is the perfect training for the top job. But, as you reach the top, you do it at a time when the industry is in a big transition. The move toward green energy and energy efficiency appears to have more emphasis than ever before — and it comes at a time when how we use energy (think electric cars) and where we use energy (think work-from-home) is changing dramatically, too. Talk about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Standing in front of a rebar cage, from left, are Jim Garvey, Mike Kayes, Kim Hanemann, John Ribardo, Jason Kalwa and Sonia Mantzouridou Onasi.

Kim Hanemann: My role in running the utility is making sure that the utility grid is ready for any number of possibilities. Take EVs (electric vehicles), for example. As we think about the penetration of EVs over the next 10 years and where people are charging those EVs — at their homes at night — is our grid ready and prepared for doing that? What investments need to be made in our system in order to accommodate that? That’s one thing.

Here’s another: We need to do more last-mile work. In the past, we would think about where the load centers are and where the commercial areas or the big buildings were. We had much more resiliency around our systems in those areas versus at the individual residential house. But, when you look at the next decade, the investments we need to make to improve that reliability and resiliency are down at the individual home level. The home has become the office, it’s become the schoolroom and, if people have EVs, it’s their charging location for that as well.

We’ve spent a great deal of time and effort on the backbone of our system between the transmission and those load areas. Now, the focus is going to have to move more to the individual homes — building up that resiliency of our system. That absolutely will require greater replacements of aging infrastructure.

ROI: On the subject of individual homes, the utility recently received approval to install 2.3 million smart meters throughout the state — meters that will enable customers to see their use down to 15-minute intervals. Talk about the impact.

KH: This will be a game-changer for our customers in terms of the knowledge that they will have at their fingertips regarding their energy usage — and what decisions they can make on energy efficiency. And it’s really exciting for us, as well. 

A big part of my job is storm restoration. Right now, when we get down to the last day of a storm, and we’re trying to figure out where we are, we don’t know if an individual house is out or not. We have to find out either by calling a customer or driving by. With (advanced metering infrastructure), we will be able to get into those meters and understand who’s on, who’s not.

My team is planning how we can roll this out over the next four years.

ROI: We can’t talk about the future of utilities without talking about the future workforce. The emphasis on green energy and carbon emissions has brought the industry into the spotlight. Is that reflected in who wants to join your workforce?

KH: I think people who work for the utility traditionally would have said it isn’t sexy work, but it was noble work in terms of providing people with power. But, now, I think there’s an even a stronger sense of purpose. 

As I talk to new employees, especially younger-generation employees, the whole purpose of clean energy and renewables is something they are very interested in. Where we are able to share that same vision and align it with our mission, it is something that absolutely attracts them to the company. It is an exciting time and, really, a transformational time for us.

ROI: This sense of purpose and mission undoubtedly is helping you recruit from a more diverse pool, as well. As someone who entered the industry at a time when it was predominantly male and white, can you talk about the impact you see in building an increasingly diverse workforce?

KH: Back in 2008, when I was put in the lead of those large infrastructure projects, I was put in charge of hiring a great number of people, and I made sure I hired a very diverse workforce. I saw the benefit firsthand of putting people from different backgrounds — people of color, women — in different roles. I saw the richness of solutions that that diverse team came up, with the different ways they approached problems and the great culture that came out of it.

We consider it our utility culture roadmap. We’ve been working on it for a decade, and we will continue working on it. It’s making sure that, when we hire, we look to hire diverse, qualified candidates. And then, when people come in, it’s taking a look at our policies, our procedures, our onboarding processes, to ensure new hires feel they are in a good environment, one where they get the right mentoring and support.

ROI: How do you put that into practice?

KH: We actually share personal stories on my weekly ops call. We have what we call our diversity, equity and inclusion message, where we encourage employees to share their story of coming to the company or how they grew up. It’s really to enlighten the entire organization, regarding different backgrounds and different perspectives. 

There’s no silver bullet. It’s something we need to continue to work at. But, clearly, I can see the benefits of diverse teams in just how they tackle problems and the creative solutions they come up with. They look at things differently, they ask different questions, and the outcomes are better.

ROI: This all comes back to opportunity. Take us back to that moment with your dad and how your upbringing still impacts you today.

KH: I’m a Jersey girl, born and bred here and proud to say it. And I’m proud to say I grew up in a family of construction. My father was a union leader, so I grew up in that environment. It was the discussion at the dinner table. And, clearly, he was a great influence and a great supporter of mine. I grew up in an era where there weren’t a lot of women going to engineering. He knew it was what I wanted to do and he fully supported me, setting the course for my life.

Conversation Starter

Reach PSE&G at: nj.pseg.com or call 800-436-7734.