Among the safari and SCUBA-diving photos hanging in Cheryl Campbell’s Denver office is a memento of one of her proudest professional moments: testifying before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials. In 2016, Campbell was invited to represent Xcel Energy and the American Gas Association to share her expertise in the natural gas industry. “If you would have told me when I graduated that I would be testifying before congress one day, I’d have said ‘no way’. I’m very proud of what I accomplished with Xcel Energy, but testifying before congress is pretty hard to top.” Campbell laughs.
Though she’s Xcel Energy’s first woman senior vice president of Gas, Campbell doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer. “I try to look at it like, ‘I need to always learn more and do a great job for my people – my team deserves a great leader,’” she says. “I don’t consider that being a trailblazer; I think everyone in the company should try to approach their work that way.”
She didn’t anticipate working in the energy industry. Graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in Chemical Engineering, she found herself facing a challenging job market, and accepted a position with Colorado Interstate Gas Company (CIG); the first offer she received in her field. It turned out to be a good job with a good company, and the more she learned, the more interesting she found the energy industry and the career opportunities it held. So when she left CIG, she turned to Xcel Energy for her next opportunity. She worked her way through the leadership ranks before moving into her current role in 2011.
Campbell extols the importance of building strong relationships from day one. “I was very fortunate to have several incredible mentors when I started my career. They taught me about leadership, how to treat customers, and how to get results.” This relationship focus has been crucial to helping her become a successful woman in a male-dominated field. “I have intentionally worked hard at communication and building relationships with a variety of people. They have helped me, and I have been able to help them, too.”
She has noticed a lot of changes in the energy industry during her career. “It’s very different from when I started. It used to be that I would go to a meeting, and it was me and ten men. Now I go to meetings here where it’s 80-90 percent women in the room. It is a really positive change for the industry and for Xcel Energy.”
Campbell’s best career advice? “Raise your hand. Do not be afraid to volunteer to try something outside your comfort zone. It was the single biggest thing that I consistently did that helped me in my career.” She’s seen many people that let the unknown hold them back, but says, “if you have good building blocks, are curious, and have learning agility, you can figure things out – and it is worth putting yourself out there. And as a leader, I always want to support my employees in taking on new challenges.”
As for Xcel Energy’s future, Campbell wants to see us continue to be very successful, but thinks that it will take work to meet the challenges that lie before us. “We need to become more customer-focused, strengthen our commitment to safety, and continue to shape the company in a way that helps us attract and retain employees who position us for future success.”
Whether Campbell views herself as a trailblazer or not, there is no denying that she’s made history here at Xcel Energy.