2018 Powered by Women
From reader nominations, DBusiness selected eight professional women who are driving growth in Michigan, the nation, and the world.
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Terri Harwood // Katie Bowman Coleman // Amy B. Robinson // Monica Martinez
Lilly Epstein Stotland // Christine Sitek // Tricia Ruby // Sara Blackmer
President and CEO • CMS Energy, Consumer Energy
Employees: 7,822 • Revenue: $6.8B
As president and CEO of Jackson- based CMS Energy and Consumers Energy, the largest energy company in Michigan, Patti Poppe readily explains she’s never been happier in her career — a state of contentment best described by one of her favorite Japanese terms, ikigai.
“It’s a philosophy that basically says you have to love what you do, you have to be good at it, you have to be able to be paid for it, and it needs to be something the world needs. If you have all four of those things, it’s like the ultimate balance,” she says.
Looking back at her earlier career path, Poppe’s life was transitional, with several promotions that came with relocations. After graduating from Purdue University with an engineering degree, she set out on what looked to be a promising future in the automobile industry.
"My first real full-time job was at GM’s Hamtramck assembly plant,” she says. “It was a great way to learn the industry — it was exciting and fast-paced. When I was in college, I always said ‘Whatever happens, I don’t want to end up in a factory,’ and then I spent the next 20 years of my life in a factory because I found out I loved it.”
With GM’s support, she earned a master’s degree in engineering at Stanford Business School in 2004. They clearly seemed to have big plans for her.
“That Stanford experience definitely was a critical time,” Poppe says. “We’d been moving around a lot in the auto industry. My husband still works at GM, and there’s a lot of relocation, particularly in manufacturing. We have twin daughters, and at the time they were in second grade, their third grade was going to be in Korea — and that was going to be their fifth school. At the same time, my mother was living in Michigan and wasn’t well.”
That’s when Poppe bumped into an old friend from GM. “He was at DTE Energy,” she says, “and he encouraged me to come in and talk to them. I told him, ‘I’m not interested, I love GM,’ and he said, ‘I think you should talk to them.’ ”
Poppe agreed to what she fully expected would be a courtesy meeting. “And they made me an offer that day,” she says. “The idea of stopping the moving and giving our kids some permanency with their friends, neighborhood, and school, and to be able to be with my mother when she wasn’t well — frankly, I really made the shift for personal reasons.”
It also turned out to be the best professional move she could possibly make. After spending six years in various operations positions at DTE, Poppe continued her career in the energy sector, moving on to CMS Energy in Jackson, where she was raised as a child, in 2011.
“Yes, you can go home again,” Poppe says. “You definitely can. There’s a Bon Jovi song, Who Says You Can’t Go Home? I think it’s my theme song. It’s kind of ironic. I grew up in Jackson because my dad worked for Consumers, and now I live next door to my sister, who’s next door to my dad, a Consumers retiree.”
Poppe says the true key to her current role is to not confine herself to the walls of the executive suite. It’s an old lesson she learned years ago from her first boss at GM.
“Good leaders walk around,” she says. “That just means you can’t write reports telling how your business is running. You have to put your eyes on the work. There’s a Japanese term for that, too, gemba. You have to go where the gemba is, where the actual work is happening.” — Tom Murray