Up Close: Suzanne Daugherty, CFO of PJM Interconnection

Suzanne Daugherty ’86 is the first woman, and longest serving, CFO at PJM Interconnection, which operates the high-voltage electric power system in all or parts of 13 states and Washington, D.C.

My father was a wonderful role model. He was first-generation Irish-American from a traditionally patriarchal family, and ended up with three daughters—and no sons. In his mind, there was no difference. Every night, when he tucked my sisters and me into bed, he told us, “I love you, and anything you want to do in life, you can do.” When somebody you love and trust so much tells you that’s the case, it gives you a lot of confidence.

My 18-year-old self was very focused on meeting other people’s expectations. I still care a great deal about meeting or exceeding people’s expectations, but sometimes, if you want to take a risk, you have to step out of what people expect you to do. That does mean you’re going to fail sometimes. I’ve failed sometimes, and it feels horrible, but I’ve learned from every one of those failures, and I got strength from recognizing my resilience and picking myself back up.

When I started to work at Compaq Computer Corp. in Houston in 1995, a director of finance to whom I reported encouraged me to embrace the fact that I’m ambitious. For whatever reason, until that point, I had somehow felt “ambitious” had a negative connotation. He pointed out to me that it’s just the opposite. “Ambitious” means that you want to push yourself, you want to contribute, you want to grow, and those are positive things.

At Lehigh, I wasn’t anybody’s child or sibling. I was Suzanne the person. The four years at Lehigh, beyond the academics, helped me to grow, to recognize that I liked to be outgoing and that I liked to suggest how to solve problems.

Lehigh showed me the people who stimulate me intellectually. They showed me I was going to enjoy working at companies where people are problem-solvers, motivated and willing to say, “We may never have done it that way before, but could we and should we?” That has carried through with the caliber of folks I worked with at Price Waterhouse [my first job after Lehigh], the innovative folks I worked with at Compaq Computer and now the wonderful people I have worked with for 20 years at PJM.

I never got to know my grandmother who came from Ireland, because she unfortunately passed before I was born. But I think about the bravery of a new bride agreeing to move to another continent, where there wasn’t a single relative she knew, and take that leap of faith with her husband that they were going to find a better life for the children they wanted to have. I think, what can I possibly try to do that’s more risky than that? So take the risk.

Life will hand us all little moments of bliss. You need to be present enough to recognize them and be grateful for them.

Ask for what you want. It can be uncomfortable, but don’t assume your boss, your mentor or your champion at work knows exactly what you want. Also, what you might want over your career might change, depending on family circumstances. When you might be ready for new challenges, you can’t assume people you work with will know that.

There are going to be times you’re going to ask and you’re going to get a “no.” Trust that those around you see your capabilities and your commitment and will put that together with your request for more or different work and help you get there.

There’s no wrong career path. What I want and what anybody else wants are not going to match up identically. Figure out what drives your own satisfaction, then pursue that for yourself.

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