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How I Made It: Debra L. Reed

Leave your comfort zone

September 28, 2008|Elizabeth Douglass | Times Staff Writer

The gig: President and chief executive of Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co., regulated utilities owned by San Diego-based Sempra Energy. SoCalGas is the nation's largest gas distribution utility, with 5.6 million business and residential meters. SDG&E supplies electricity to 3.4 million homes and businesses and is the natural gas provider for 825,000 customers in San Diego and southern Orange County.

Background: Born in Long Beach. Reed, 52, started her utility career 30 years ago as an energy systems engineer at SoCalGas and had what she described as "about 10 different careers" within the company. Among the jobs she held on her way up: marketing services manager; manager of environmental engineering; personnel relations manager; vice president of administrative services; vice president of human resources; president of SoCalGas; chief financial officer of both utilities; and chief operating officer of both utilities.

Non-utility posts: Reed is a board member at Halliburton Co., Genentech Inc., USC's College of Arts and Sciences and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.

Personal: Married, with one daughter and four stepchildren. She has 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Education: Graduated from Robert A. Millikan High School in Long Beach, then summa cum laude from USC with a bachelor's in civil engineering.

Climbing the corporate ladder: Reed's rise was unorthodox. She strayed far from her engineering background and took on many jobs that she says were "totally outside my comfort zone." But it got her the breadth of experience that top managers need. The lesson, she says, is "be willing to take on career risks."

Being a trail-blazer: At age 32, Reed became the first female corporate officer at SoCalGas -- and the youngest. When she started, she said, "there were no role models. There were no female officers." Though it is still somewhat unusual, there now are a few other women in the top echelon of U.S. utility executives, Reed says. She hopes that her achievement "creates the possibility for others."

Second-choice career: Pediatrician. Reed had "a high affinity for the science," and her interest in medicine was firmed up working for a dermatologist at age 16.

Advice: "Don't restrict yourself by saying things are not possible." When she started working at SoCalGas, Reed says, "I would not have thought it was possible for me to be in this job."

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elizabeth.douglass@latimes.com

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Got an idea for How I Made It, a feature that appears in Business every Sunday? Send it to howimadeit@latimes.com.

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