The annual IEEE election process begins in August—be sure to check your mailbox then for your ballot. To help you choose the 2017 IEEE president-elect, we interviewed the two candidates: IEEE Life Senior Member Jim Jefferies and IEEE Fellow Wanda Reder. In addition to speaking about increasing the visibility of IEEE and supporting members who work in industry, they lay out their strategic plans for the organization.
Jefferies is a retired AT&T and Lucent Technologies executive who in 33 years rose from manufacturing engineer to vice president. He was responsible for teams that transferred glass technology from Bell Telephone Laboratories and developed fiber-optic cables at AT&T. He also served as logistics vice president, responsible for international distribution, quality assurance, and export planning.
After retiring in 2000, he teamed with fellow Stanford graduates and served as chief operating officer of USBuild, a company that developed supply-chain solutions for homebuilders.
Jefferies has been an IEEE volunteer for years. As 2015 IEEE-USA president, he helped the organization expand its focus on young professionals, public policy, and visibility.
On the IEEE-USA board of directors from 2009 to 2015, he served as vice president of government relations and of professional activities. He has provided valuable expertise to the IEEE Audit and Employee Benefits committees, and is currently chair of the IEEE-USA Entrepreneurship and Innovation Policy Committee. He served as 2012–2013 director of Region 5 and was 2008 chair of the IEEE Denver Section. He is a registered professional engineer and a member of IEEE–Eta Kappa Nu, the organization’s honor society.
Reder is the chief strategy officer at S&C Electric Co., a provider of switching, protection, and control systems for electric power, headquartered in Chicago.
Prior to S&C, she served as vice president at Exelon, overseeing asset management, engineering, and standards for electric utility operations in Philadelphia and Chicago.
Throughout her 29-year career, Reder has led efforts in the development and deployment of smart-grid technologies. She also serves on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Electricity Advisory Committee, chairing the smart grid subcommittee. In February, she was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for her leadership in electric power delivery and workforce development.
She was a member of the IEEE Board of Directors in 2014 and 2015, serving as director of Division VII. She also led the IEEE Ad Hoc Committee on Industry Engagement and served on the IEEE Public Visibility Committee and the IEEE Ad Hoc Committee on Holistic IT Development. She now serves on the IEEE Foundation board and leads its Audit Committee.
Reder was the first female president of the IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES), in 2008 and 2009, and has served on its governing board since 2002. As president, she initiated strategies to rebrand the society, effectively attracting a more diversified membership worldwide and improving overall financial results.
She helped launch the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative in 2011, a program in partnership with the IEEE Foundation that encourages electrical engineering undergrads to pursue careers in power engineering.
In 2010 she helped launch the IEEE Smart Grid initiative and was involved in the global development of several other smart-grid resources including the IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid and the Innovative Smart Grid Technologies conference series.
She was elevated to IEEE Fellow in 2012 “for leadership in power engineering implementation and workforce development.” She also received the 2014 IEEE Richard M. Emberson Award “for leadership in the IEEE Smart Grid program and in the continued growth of the PES, including the creation of its scholarship fund.”
If elected, what would be your top two priorities?
JEFFERIES IEEE has organizational breadth, a powerful brand, an enviable mission, and a clear direction in its strategic plan. Starting from this strong base, my priority would be to assure IEEE is prepared for the future.
Membership organizations like IEEE must adapt to change in order to stay relevant. Our strategic plan is only as good as its implementation. That means setting priorities, improving accountability, and creating a collaborative environment with a commitment to innovation. The result will be more engaged members who will lead the way in developing emerging technologies, and become a growing voice for technical professionals worldwide.
My second priority will be to renew IEEE’s focus on the value of membership. I will respect all points of view and take care to honestly represent the voice of all our members. We are a professional membership organization with a broad scientific and humanitarian purpose whose members create much of the value of IEEE. Our membership includes those studying, teaching, practicing, inventing, and advocating for the advancement of technology.
We need to develop membership value propositions and be open to alternative membership models tailored to differing needs. We should ask: Why did you join, and why would you stay a member?
REDER Making IEEE the leader in new technology development and fostering innovation is a key priority. Achieving this requires participation in the convergence of technical disciplines and collaborating globally using contemporary tools to access, search, and analyze information.
Another priority is bolstering competency-based education [a personalized learning approach] to help members advance through their careers. As engineering careers require us to become increasingly collaborative, multidisciplinary, entrepreneurial, and global, IEEE can be essential to members’ development and professional success.
What skills would make you a strong leader for IEEE?
REDER Leadership, technical vision, and strategic planning are some important skills of mine. These skills, plus my broad range of IEEE and executive industry experience and a proven record of execution, will enable me to successfully fulfill the responsibilities of IEEE president-elect.
My experience includes taking a leadership role from 2010 to 2014 in launching the IEEE Smart Grid initiative, which now has more than 90,000 followers through social media and involves 14 groups within IEEE. It’s a success story because we were able to collaborate, build a trusted voice, form partnerships with industry, adopt social media best practices, and establish a model for other multidisciplinary initiatives to follow.
As president of the IEEE Power & Energy Society in 2008 and 2009, I rebranded the society to increase global membership and diversity by changing its name and creating a new website. With its leadership, I developed a line of new products, services, and marketing materials that increased membership and diversity. Since then, PES membership has consistently grown, making it IEEE’s second largest technical society.
The IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative was launched under my direction and has attracted US $6.5 million in philanthropic contributions, awarding more than 900 scholarships and nearly doubling the pipeline of power engineering graduates. Enthusiasm of young professionals in the society continues to build.
Serving as a director on the IEEE board, the IEEE Foundation board, and the IEEE Technical Activities board has provided me with a sound operational knowledge of the organization. I have gained an in-depth understanding of global membership needs by giving keynote addresses, tutorials, and training in all IEEE regions.
I also have industry experience as chief strategy officer at S&C Electric Co. I am responsible for leading strategic planning, acquisitions, and mergers and coordinating the company’s future direction with our board of directors. These skills, coupled with my experience launching, managing, and directing engineering organizations, have established a great foundation for becoming IEEE president.
JEFFERIES I have a management science degree from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, which I earned midcareer as a Sloan Fellow studying with business leaders from around the globe. I have worked and volunteered as an engineering manager, director, and corporate vice president at AT&T and Lucent Technologies, all of which required in-depth technical and business know-how. Later in my career, I teamed up with fellow business school graduates at USBuild.
My perspectives on leadership and organizational development formed by this experience give me confidence and insight and the ability to provide well-measured responses. I have a creative approach to management that challenges people to think harder but also inspires them to enjoy and celebrate the process and their successes.
I have served multiple terms on the IEEE board and effectively represented IEEE as a public policy spokesperson. I am a respected leader who listens well, communicates articulately, and supports the innovations of those around me.
As president, what would you do to increase the public visibility of IEEE?
JEFFERIES IEEE has a powerful brand. When I will try to meet with industry or government leaders, our name alone will open doors. But many of those who know our name may not know everything we do.
Therefore, we must build on our public visibility campaigns to describe how we help in advancing technology for humanity. We have powerful stories that can be shared in many public forums to better represent what we stand for. I would drive the organization to take that next step in delivering these stories, especially to outside organizations that share our interests.
REDER I plan to create a strategic focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) government initiatives in all global regions and emphasize the important role of IEEE in STEM. This includes through collaboration with the IEEE Foundation promoting and publicizing more IEEE technology competitions and scholarships for students and young professionals.
I’d also convey the importance of IEEE to the advancement of technology and innovation through stories that highlight its benefits to humanity, and provide greater support to sections and chapters to increase public awareness of IEEE’s role in each region.
What products and services can IEEE offer to help its members working in industry?
REDER As a senior executive in industry and active in my career, I relate with executives and am uniquely qualified to engage them. Such engagement is important to establish a meaningful basis for providing what they value. Having chaired the IEEE Ad Hoc Committee on Industry Engagement in 2014, my initial focus will apply recent findings of that committee to position IEEE as a partner with industry in developing its employees’ careers, and collecting and disseminating examples for others to emulate best practices of IEEE serving industry. This would be aided with online tools to more readily access, share, and distribute information.
The focus will be on moving from theory to practice throughout IEEE. An example is creating guides and webinars aimed at applied technology, increased productivity, life-cycle extension, and safety. This would include search tools that scan all of IEEE’s assets to form custom information packages that address individual interests.
JEFFERIES The answer is important because we have lost valuable links to industry. Industry leaders visited last year by outreach teams from the IEEE board asked for new or unique industry and technology trend information. IEEE members in industry expressed a need for practical education and career support that could stand in for what their employers today are less likely to offer.
Other identified opportunities involve new publications specific to those in industry and hosting workshops that appeal to engineers working in industry. Classes on emerging technology can be taught on job sites to reinforce our commitment to working with industry. In my case, certain IEEE publications and networking opportunities, such as study groups for professional licensure, helped solidify my own commitment to IEEE membership.
What was your most memorable IEEE event, and why?
JEFFERIES I have attended many IEEE events and always found them to exceed expectations for content and quality. Events are a major IEEE strength, whether a symposium or conference for technical leaders or the Sections Congress for regional leaders. An annual event that never ceases to amaze me is the IEEE Honors Ceremony. The achievements pioneered by the award recipients highlight the lasting contributions made by our incredible community of technology leaders. They demonstrate to me the best in IEEE.
REDER Receiving the IEEE Richard M. Emberson Award in Amsterdam at the IEEE Honors Ceremony in 2014 was memorable, especially knowing that my accomplishments, attributable to collaboration and teamwork, were recognized. Recognizing the work of volunteers is very important.
Another memorable event was in 2009 when I was copresenting an overview of women in engineering, sharing my personal experiences, at an all-female student seminar in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. I was humbled to be admired by attendees, who had met few professional female role models. The demonstration of their strength and determination to follow their dreams and pursue engineering careers, certainly a nontraditional path for women there, left a lasting impression.
What is the best career advice you ever received?
REDER Be true to yourself, work hard, follow your passion, and know that it’s your unique attributes that set you apart from others. Also, who you know usually has a bigger impact on your next career opportunity than what you know. It has been true for me!
JEFFERIES Keep focused on doing your assignment well, but also express what your long-term perspectives are, and be willing to take on additional responsibility. Any career path depends on many unpredictable events and changes. Of the many promotions I received, all had some element of surprise. Career paths in today’s job market, with its likelihood of multiple employers (one of which might be yourself), require an understanding of where your skills fit, a look over the fence at opportunities, and a constant check of the landscape.
What must IEEE do to stay relevant for the next generation of engineers?
JEFFERIES It is interesting that there are more millennials than the baby boomers they will replace. They have a different perspective regarding the value of membership and how they want to participate in a membership organization. IEEE must engage them on new terms and give them freedom to take on roles and responsibilities that matter to them. Given the right support, they provide energy and new perspectives, and there is a place for them in IEEE’s top leadership.
Overall, maintaining relevance with the next generation will require listening to their needs and connecting with them in whatever method of communication has their attention.
REDER Incorporating the perspective of young professionals by inviting them to participate actively throughout IEEE is critically important. I will provide leadership to better engage them and focus on becoming more nimble in providing products and services that meet rapidly evolving expectations. This is an important matter that I take very seriously, and I can point to a record of success as a proponent of investing in young engineers for our future. An example of this is my creation of the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative.