April 24, 2012 | Leadership
Editor's note: Last week, Jan Blittersdorf was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for her work advancing new ideas that are leading the way to a clean energy future and an economy that’s built to last. This post first appeared on the Champion of Change blog.
It is truly an honor to be recognized as a White House "Champion of Change." As I’ve learned more about this award and read the words of fellow Champions, I am humbled to share their company.
It’s inspiring to hear the stories of average Americans creating change in every corner of the nation in every discipline—what a great opportunity for shared learning and connection!
My path to serve as the CEO of NRG Systems, a manufacturer of measurement equipment for the global renewable energy industry, was somewhat unique. I received Bachelor’s degrees in both nursing and human development from the University of Vermont, and started my career as a women’s health nurse. When our two children were small, I decided to leave nursing and join my husband, the founder and initial visionary for NRG Systems, in running the business.
Through continuing education classes, I taught myself cost accounting and business management. I took over the book keeping for the company; then as the company grew, I assumed responsibility for company administration, finance, and human resources.
Together, my husband and I grew the company and witnessed the boom and bust of the wind energy industry over the years. When the U.S. market collapsed in the 1980s, we began exporting our technology overseas to serve the burgeoning European market, offering solutions for developers and utilities looking to measure the potential resource before constructing a wind farm. Later, in the 1990s, when federal support for wind in the U.S. grew, we helped develop the market here by offering measurement technology to improve the economics of wind energy projects – from resource assessment through operations and maintenance.
As time went on, I realized I had become a business person, passionate about the promise of wind energy and a renewable energy future. In 2004, I became CEO of the company and in 2010 I became the sole owner. My company is one of only a few independent, woman-owned companies in wind energy, something I’m quite proud of.
For thirty years, NRG Systems has remained dedicated to wind energy. Most recently we broadened our focus to serve the solar energy industry and expand our offerings for the wind operations and maintenance segment. NRG Systems has grown from a two-person company based out of an upstairs bedroom to a 118-person company operated out of two LEED-gold certified buildings, where we produce all of our own electricity on site. Our products can be found in 150 countries on all seven continents, serving electric utilities, renewable energy developers, wind turbine manufacturers, and research institutes.
Environmental stewardship is core to our business and our mission. It is reflected in our products, our internal processes, and human resources programs. For example, we operate according to the principles of lean manufacturing to reduce waste and improve quality throughout the value stream. We also offer incentives to support our employees in living more lightly on the planet. These benefits help employees invest in residential efficiency, purchase hybrid vehicles, tune-up their bicycles, and ride trains or busses anywhere in the world.
Beyond our doors, we work to further the development of renewable energy through philanthropic initiatives and community partnerships. NRG Systems was a founding member of the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI), an organization devoted to facilitating timely and responsible development of wind energy, while protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat. Today I serve as board chair of AWWI. In its four short years, AWWI has developed tools to help developers understand potential impacts before initiating projects, preventing conflicts before they arise.
Next to environmental stewardship, I’m also passionate about supporting the growth of women in leadership positions. I’m active in WoWE (Women of Wind Energy), an organization dedicated to the education and professional advancement of women to support a robust renewable energy economy. When I began my career in wind, I was one of a dozen women in the field. Today, the industry supports thousands of women at all levels, from turbine technicians and engineers, to permitting experts and CEOs. The progress we’ve made is apparent. Last year, the WoWE annual luncheon gathered over 600 women to recognize wind energy pioneers and welcome new faces into the industry. The sold-out event continues to grow year after year.
Serving this industry and watching it grow, evolve, and mature has been a highlight of my life. I remember being on the margins of energy conversations— now, through the efforts of NRG Systems and our partners, I help represent our energy future. I know there’s much more to do, and that steady headwinds are pushing against our progress, but I relish the challenge to bring renewable energy into the fore as a mainstay source of power.