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How One Alumna Continues to Strengthen the UH Community Through the Energy Advisory Board

06/16/2017 | By Claire Andersen

President of Electricity de France (EDF) Energy Services, Mary Anne Brelinsky is one of the 21 industry leaders who make up the UH Energy Advisory Board. A member for the past two years, Brelinsky is part of the effort to lend strategic guidance to the energy initiatives at the University of Houston, helping to develop resources and strengthening the university’s reputation in Houston and beyond.

Brelinsky received her bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1996, after which she began working in a chemical plant for Exxon in Baytown. With strong encouragement from her grandmother, whom she says has been her lifelong hero and inspiration, Brelinsky enrolled at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in pursuit of her MBA while continuing to work full time. 

After three years of balancing school and her work at Exxon, Brelinsky joined a large energy company, where she largely focused on electricity. Since then, Brelinsky has worked at other energy-related companies and has been with EDF since 2008. 

UH Energy: What does it mean to be a member of the Energy Advisory Board? It’s different for everyone, so how would you define it for yourself?

Mary Anne Brelinsky: When you look at the roles in industry held by members of the board, I was honored when I was asked to be a part of it.

I find that in the meetings, I tend to talk more about renewables and technology. We’ve got a lot of folks on the board that are oil and gas, offshore drilling, geology, those disciplines. So I think my role on the board is to offer a little bit different perspective from a traditional oil and gas perspective; it’s more of an integrated, technology, customer-focues view. 

I'm also very interested in is how we can make sure that students from UH are prepared for the workforce. Making sure that students can come in on Day One and start adding value in a company.

UHE: As a UH alumna and an industry leader, how do you view the university’s relationship with the industry? 

MAB: I think it is a strong relationship, but we are striving to do more to foster it. The beautiful thing about being in the energy university in the energy capitol of the world is that there is a lot of direct access for the students to the industry. 

We hire UH interns and several members of my team are UH grads. I love bringing in UH folks because the curriculum and the collaboration that UH teaches encourages teams to work together and to problem solve. It forces you to take a team of people and figure out who is good at what, allocate those tasks and then come back and work together and brainstorm. Not all universities foster that collaboration and it seems to be a part of the fabric at UH. 

UHE: Do you believe you have faced bigger challenges in your career because you’re a woman in this industry?

MAB: Well, I would say that it doesn’t help (she laughs). 

As far as my personal experience being a female in the energy industry, I have found ways to leverage it and use it to my advantage. People remember my name, they remember my face. I think as a woman leading a customer-facing organization, I tend to be more approachable. Energy, more than almost any other industry, is a relationship-based market. 

For example, early on in my career at Exxon I learned how to play golf. I found that a group of the male engineers would go over to Evergreen Golf Course in Baytown. Over golf they would talk about how they’re going to run the unit and what the maintenance schedule is going to look like. You have to be a part of that conversation. So my approach has been a little different than some of my female colleagues in that I wanted to make sure that I was on the course and part of the discussion. 

So learning to play golf was certainly a big help, you know. If you’re spending five hours on a golf course with a customer, you really get to know what they’re worried about, what their issues are and how your company can help solve those problems.

UHE: How has that translated to your management style?

MAB:I appreciate a diverse team and surround myself with people who thinkoutside the box. I am an engineer and creative problem-solver at heart. I believe it is important to foster a culture that encourages all employees to follow that lead.

 I have found that the energy industry is a dynamic, energetic industry to work in. No two days are the same. We have very little storage capacity with electricity, so you have to be creative in how you manage assetswhen the wind stops blowing or when the sun’s not shining. 

UHE: What advice would you give yourself as a college student?

MAB: I wish I had paid attention more to my finance and accounting classes. Which sounds trivial, but you focus on the things you love, right? I’m an engineer and get really excited about building things and numbersand spreadsheets. For someone still in school who is looking at potential employers and companies they want to work at, part of the research should be to look at the 10K and the 10Q and see if it’s a healthy company. You need to understand the strategy, finances and the heart of what drives the company. It’s like learning golf; it’s something you’ll use your whole life.