Anne Pramaggiore: ComEd’s CEO Amplifies Diversity and Change
By: Mary L. Datcher–Senior Staff Writer
Anne Pramaggiore is a name that is often dropped in the same sentence when discussing some of the top corporate executives in the energy and utilities field. Since 2012, Pramaggiore is the first female CEO of ComEd — the largest electric utility company in the region. ComEd, under the parent company, Exelon Corp., is a leader in the electric and utilities industry.
Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, she attended Miami University, graduating with a major in Communications and Theater. Her fascination with politics began when practically every American was tuned into the Watergate scandal —leading to President Nixon’s resignation.
She says, “There was all of these books created and I was always fascinated by all of this. Getting an entrée into the political landscape and seeing our country in crisis. Living through that was really interesting to me, so I was very interested in government, leaders and change.”
After working six years as a buyer for a major department retailer, she and her soon-to-be husband, Michael Harrington relocated to Chicago, where she attended DePaul University, eventually receiving her law degree.
Upon joining ComEd in 1998, as a young attorney, she had 10 years’ experience at McDermott Will & Emery practicing in anti-trust law.
The climb up the company’s corporate ladder for Pramaggiore was at the ground level of the Illinois Consumer Choice Law in 1997, when Illinois passed legislation making it a level playing field for various utilities to get a piece of the pie.
“They were looking for lawyers who understood competition law. Here, they were redesigning this massive industry and I thought what great opportunity to jump in and be on the ground floor of that. I had spent 10 years dealing with how business behaves and how markets should be designed and how you ensure the consumer value is delivered. I was really excited to come into ComEd,” Pramaggiore said.
Mentored by then CEO Frank Clark Jr. and John Rowe, chief executive at Exelon Corp., Pramaggiore moved throughout the company learning everything from deregulation laws and policy, to operations.
But, what sets the 116-year-old company apart from the rest is its belief in company diversification and community investment.
“I was the COO for three years. I do not have an engineering background. He put me in that role. To get me exposure on how the system runs, how our engineers think, what the design of the system is — what its needs are and how you run that part of the organization.”
Understanding the importance of how each department functions and the people who are on the ground touching consumers directly was more than cutting a lightbulb switch on in the room. She believed ”powering lives” had to connect in people’s everyday habits and investing in their development.
“The story that gets told is about the technological change, but the real underlining story is about social change that is brought about by the technological change. We feel as an infrastructure company, we can be central to social and community change,” Pramaggiore said.
“Bronzeville is a great example of that. We went in and we put some electrical infrastructure there — a microgrid, as well as some clean energy.”
She says with receiving a grant by the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) for $1.2 million, their partnership with ITT and other technology companies — they continue to experiment and learn. The company has a living laboratory for kids to learn more about clean energy.
From working with organizations such as the Chicago Urban League, ASPIRE and others has led to CONSTRUCT. The 11-week program helps participants develop the core competencies required for entry-level positions in the industry, and identify businesses that can provide employment and opportunities to neighborhoods that the utility company serves.
“How can we attract businesses when we passed the Smart Grid bill in 2011? Part of the goal was we did all of this work — we modernize the grid — how are we going to smarten it up? What can we do to attract jobs and business? So, GE brought in an assembly operation for their smart meters and quite a few jobs associated with that.” She said in addition, ComEd has the largest smart thermostat program in the country.
Investing in Youth
The company has invested its resources with youth programs promoting STEM, including Icebox Derby, an educational program geared toward girls learning about solar energy through building solar-powered cars out of refrigerators. For Black History and Hispanic Heritage Month, the Solar Spotlight program teaches students how to build solar panels led by ComEd’s volunteers.
“I think what happens so much with STEM, getting into math and science, students sit in a classroom and dealing with it conceptually, but you don’t get to apply it. So, it doesn’t get exciting for kids and they do get fearful of it.”
Currently, the company is working with Springfield on pending legislation.
Pramaggiore says, “The trajectory of the clean economy, technology is going to allow us to have a much cleaner energy system. A much more technical, digital world with less impact on the environment and their tremendous opportunity especially in Chicago. We have some great foundations with some of the entrepreneurial organizations we’ve developed here.”
As a CEO in a very male-dominated industry, Pramaggoire is admired and respected by many of her peers as she continues to recognize great talent at ComEd.
“I mentor people whether they are women or anybody I can — particularly when I see people who ‘got it’. They are enthusiastic and optimistic and mission-driven. Ultimately, what leadership is about is getting what people are about.”
She says this is how she was guided throughout her time at ComEd.
“Your influence skills, your relationship skills, do people like to work with you? Do you have a way to bring people together to help teams move forward and solve problems? Those are the skills and these are the talents that can be accessible to anybody. It’s just understanding what they are and that you need them.”
With so much going on at the helm of one of the major corporations in North America, she feels it’s important to get a chance to focus on your well-being. An avid horse rider, Pramaggoire enjoys the freedom and focus of what riding personifies and admits it’s her time to unwind with friends who are deep-rooted in the sport.
“The job is a big job and it takes a lot of time and focus.They are girlfriends that have no connections to what I do in my job everyday so I appreciate getting out with them and talking about a new horse or shows. That’s what’s great about it, it takes you completely out of other issues.”