When Debra Reed was named CEO of Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE) in June of 2011, it marked the first time in the company's history that its top executive was a woman. But it's actually one of many such milestones in Reed's career, one of the most notable of which occurred in 1988, when, after 10 years with the company, Reed was named as the first female officer of the company.
Reed's career with Sempra began in 1978 when she was hired as an energy systems engineer at subsidiary Southern California Gas Company, after graduating from the University of Southern California with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. She initially enrolled in college as a pre-med major, but later changed course because of encouragement from the school's dean of the engineering school.
In an article in The New York Times in 2008, Reed reflected on one of her first jobs as a consultant doing energy audits in Los Angeles, and the obstacles and misconceptions she sometimes faced as a young woman in the industry.
"During my climb up the corporate ladder, I saw some women who didn’t have enough confidence and other women who might make a fight when there didn’t need to be one," Reed said in the Times article. "When I was leading men who were my father’s age, I’d ask myself, 'How would my father react to having a 24-year-old woman giving him instructions on what to do?'"
In December, Reed also took the reins as chairman of the company's board of directors, succeeding Donald Felsinger, who retired after 40 years with Sempra.
"In her year-and-a-half as CEO, Debbie Reed has helped Sempra Energy become a top performer in our industry," Felsinger said in a statement released after Reed's election as chairman.
Under Reed's leadership, Sempra has continued its push toward a more sustainable business model, which includes increased utilization of clean energy sources and greater energy efficiency. Among some of the goals put forth in the company's most recent corporate responsibility report are a 20 percent reduction in its carbon-dioxide emissions rate by 2016, and a five-year goal of developing 1,400 megawatts of renewable energy. And in November, Sempra announced it completed the 92 megawatt first phase of a photovoltaic solar power facility, Copper Mountain Solar 2, about 40 minutes outside of Las Vegas.
"Our goal is to balance the fundamental changes in the energy industry, while integrating sustainable resources to provide our customers with safe, reliable and cost-effective energy," Reed said in a release in August.
In addition to serving as CEO and chairman of the board at Sempra, Reed serves on the boards of directors at Halliburton Co. (NYSE: HAL) and Avery Dennison Corp. (NYSE: AVY), as well as on the board of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, and the advisory councils of UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering and the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University.
In October, for the second year in a row, Reed was named to Fortune magazine's 50 Most Powerful Women in Business. She is one of only 20 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.