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Risky Business: The Safe Choice Isn’t Always the Right One

Stephanie RaymondBy Stephanie Raymond, Vice President, Transmission and Substations, PPL Electric Utilities

Take risks.

That was the career advice my dad gave me, time and again. And throughout my professional life, I’ve taken his advice, leaving my comfort zone for a new job, usually in a new place, with new things to learn and new challenges. In fact, taking risks is the key to who I am—and where I am—today.

Starting out

I was born and raised in California, and I was the only child in my family to go to college. Don’t get me wrong: My siblings are very successful—one is a battalion fire chief, one is a police officer and one is on the state board of dentistry. It was through self-will that I felt a college degree was in my future, namely a bachelor’s in business administration–finance/strategic management.

My first job after college was at a bank. It was there that a customer who owned a local telecommunications company approached me and asked, “Would you like to work for me?”

So what do you do as a young person? You call your parents.

Mom, always the conservative, advised, “Don’t leave the bank—it’s secure there.” Dad, the risk-taker, said, “You’ll move seven times and have several careers in your life. Go. Go to work for All Star Telecomm.”

It was my first big risk. And it was the best decision I made.

All Star Telecomm was a very small company, but it was growing quickly. I had the opportunity to start as a general manager and do everything from writing HR manuals to managing their fleet of trucks. Because of their growth, the company was eventually acquired by a larger holding company—International Fibercom, Inc.

Moving out of State

During that time I decided to go to law school at night. It was a “Y” in the road. While still in my 20s, I wanted to be smarter.

It was then that I got a call from the chief operating officer of International Fibercom asking, “Do you want to work for me?” So I did what I usually did. I called my parents. Mom said not to take the offer because it meant moving to Phoenix. Dad said, “Move number two. You’ve got to go.”

So I went.

I took a leave of absence at law school, packed up my car, drove through the desert and showed up at Phoenix.

I cried, thinking, “What am I doing here?” It was another risk. A big one. But again, it paid off.

In Phoenix, I learned a lot about myself personally, being on my own for the first time, and I gained a real appreciation and understanding of the communications business. I was there for two years, when the company went bankrupt; its assets acquired by General Fiber Communications.

On the Road Again

I packed up my stuff and headed back to Sacramento.

There, General Fiber Communications offered me a position as their vice president for outside plant construction for the western region. At this job I learned how to manage multiple aspects of construction, project management, contracts and field operations.

I petitioned to get back into law school. One night as I was driving to school I came to another “Y” in the road. If I went straight, I would go to law school. Hook a left and I would go to a golf lesson.

I remember thinking: I’m getting the opportunities I want based on hard work. How does a law degree fit into my road map? At the time it didn’t. So, I took a left and went to the golf lesson.  Not getting my law degree? Some would call that a risk. And some would say it’s a blessing! We’ll never know.

Laying Down My Roots

A couple years later, General Fiber Communications promoted me to chief operating officer in its Philadelphia office. This was another major decision as I would have to move across the country again. I was with the company a couple of years before I went to work for Comcast Cable Communications and later for CableNet Services, Inc., where I drove the company to best-in-class performance in my first year in management.

Through a friend, I heard of opportunities at PPL Electric Utilities, the Pennsylvania regulated utility arm of PPL Corporation. Here was a new kind of risk. I knew the communications business, and not much about electric utilities. I joined the company as director of project and contract management. The utility business is fast paced these days. It’s not your father’s or your grandfather’s electric delivery business. So I learned fast.

Today, I am vice president of transmission and substations for PPL Electric Utilities. I lead an organization of 300 people that has embarked on the largest-scale infrastructure investment in 50 years. We’ll invest more than $2.8 billion in new transmission lines in the next five years, and we’re also working on exciting new projects enabled by changes in federal regulations for the transmission business.  

My Secret to Taking Leaps

By now, I am hardwired to take risks, but initially I would make a contract with myself that bound those risks within one year. If I didn’t like a new job or place, I figured I would make a change after a year. This gave me comfort. It gave me a structure under which I could take the risks necessary to advance my career.

I’ve been on the East Coast for 13 years and my work experiences have taught me a lot about self-confidence and leadership in the utility business, which has traditionally been a man’s world. My risk-taking nature is now bounded by my 8-year-old son and husband. I have a different sense of boundary.

My advice for young people? It mirrors the advice my Dad gave me all those years ago. Have a flexible attitude. Don’t get married to one location or one job. Move yourself around a bit. And don’t be afraid to take some risks.

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